The Case of the Disengaged Board

Hi, I’m Joan Garry, and I’m here answering questions that board and staff leaders of nonprofits ask me, everything from occasionally to all the time.

Here’s a big one. I think of these as kind of like cases, like I’m Nancy Drew. Today we tackle the case of the disengaged board.

Are you hungry for a board that’s more engaged? I bet you are. So here’s three practical ideas and a bonus suggestion. Whether you’re the frustrated Board Chair that feels like you’re knocking and nobody’s home, or the frustrated Executive Director who feels like every request is met with crickets.

  1. Remember that no board is monolithic, so find your stars and bring them together in an alliance. Take your list of board members, divide them ones, twos, and threes. Your ones are your rock stars. Find one or two of them. It doesn’t take much. Bring them together, make them feel like a million bucks, and engage them in the process of working with you to tip the board in the direction you want to go.
  2. Make board meetings count. They are your best opportunity to create first-rate ambassadors. You want to do several things. You want to enrich them, something that gives them context about the sector or why the work matters. You want to engage them. Ask them legitimately and authentically for their advice, ideas, and suggestions.
  3. Keep them informed enough so that they can share accomplishments of the organization with the people they encounter. If you can enrich, inform, and engage you can ignite your board members to be engaged ambassadors for your work.
  4. Keep things alive between board meetings, and by this I do not mean nag them to sell tickets to the next event. You can nag them, but it has to be mixed up with some enrichment, a victory, a story they can tell, a mission moment some people call it. You’ve got to give them. You’ve got to feed them between board meetings if you want them at the next cocktail party to say, “Hey, you know, my job is great but boy am I loving board service. Let me tell you about something recently that happened at XYZ org.” That’s how it works.

Now, here’s the bonus. At your next board meeting try something.

Ask your Executive Director, maybe it’s an executive session with just the ED and the board, ask your Executive Director to offer his or her thinking about what he or she needs from the board in order to be successful.

Ask her to be specific and flip chart it, then turn the tables. Ask your board, “What does the board need from the Executive Director and the staff in order to be successful?” Flip chart that, too.

Take those two flip charts and make that the primary central focus of the next agenda for your ED, Board Chair check in.

How do those things come together in a way in which the ED gets what is needed from the board and the board gets what it needs to be successful, because you as copilots of this twin engine jet that is your nonprofit have to really make those engines work in sync. I think an exercise like that could be really, really valuable.

If this was helpful to you, join us in two places. One, on Facebook, Thriving Nonprofit with Joan Garry. Join us any time. There are almost 11,000 folks in there who find the conversation useful and valuable, and you can always subscribe to my blog, weekly pieces of advice just like this at joangarry.com.

See you next time.

How Nonprofits Should React to the New Tax Law

new tax law

Is the new tax law making you anxious? You’re not alone.

What will the impact be? This question is coming up everywhere we turn – emails from readers, conversations at nonprofit conference room tables, and certainly in our Nonprofit Leadership Lab. In the Lab, it’s been such a big topic, we’re working to bring in a tax expert to help us make sense of it all.

(Side note: if you’re curious about the Lab, which is designed to support leaders at smaller nonprofits, there’s a lot of information available here.)

Will our worst fears be realized and way fewer people will donate? Or simply donate less?

Some have argued that wealthy people will have more disposable income and actually donate more, offsetting other potential losses. It’s possible that some – even many – nonprofits will see an increase in revenues this year.

For now, we can only speculate. Time will tell.

But one thing I know to be true is this. It’s time to take a renewed look at how we approach fundraising. Any strategy that relied on the tax deduction is going to be a whole lot less likely to work.

So what should we do instead? Here’s a hint… think about New Year’s Eve.Continue Reading

It’s Time to Hire Your First Development Staffer

first development

Executive Director: “We need to hire a development director but we don’t have the money because my board isn’t helping me raise money.” 

Board Member: “If the E.D. would just raise more money, she could hire a development director and she’d stop nagging me to ask people for money (and I am quite sure that when I was recruited, I said I can’t do that.)

Sound familiar?

But let’s say you bust out of it. You’d shift things around, maybe you eliminate a position or you escort a poor hire off the organizational bus. VOILA! You have a full year of a salary for your first development hire.

Guess what? That’s the easy part. The hard part is making the right hire. Who exactly should you be looking for?

A poorly paid senior person?

An admin to support your development efforts?

Someone in the middle you expect to do it all?

Today, I’ll help you tackle this question. I’ve even included a sample job description you can download outlining the key responsibilities for your first development hire. It’s something you can review, tweak, and share with your board chair and your development committee (please tell me you have one) so you can set your hire (and you) (and your board) up for success.

Download a free sample job description here.
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The Roles and Responsibilities of the Board Chair and Executive Director

roles

In most companies, there is a hierarchy of power. Typically, the CEO is at the top and it goes down from there.

Nonprofits are different. There are a lot of power centers. The board. The staff. Donors. Volunteers. Clients. Constituents. And on and on.

Yes, the board does have the ability to hire and fire the CEO or Executive Director. But the best run nonprofits run like a twin-engine jet with the ED and board chair acting as co-pilots. Leadership is shared.

But that doesn’t mean all decisions get made in tandem. There are certain things the ED must handle and other things that are the purview of the board chair.

Today, I’m going to break it all down for you:

  1. The responsibilities of the Executive Director
  2. The responsibilities of the board chair
  3. The grey area where the two need to work together

Here we go…Continue Reading

Is It Ever OK to Micromanage Staff?

micromanage

A coaching client asked me this question last week:

I think I might be micromanaging my development director but I’m not sure. AND I’m not sure that is a bad thing. What does it look like? And is there ever a time when micromanaging is not my fault but rather a need to manage someone more closely?”

What a great question!

It’s so easy trap to fall into the “micromanage” trap, but especially as a nonprofit manager. At most nonprofits, everything feels critical. Sometimes, mistakes can even mean lives.

I think back to my first job out of college, distributing supplies to patients around the country who were on home dialysis. My job literally could mean life and death. This certainly wasn’t working customer service at Macy’s.

My boss made the seriousness of my job clear from day one and instilled in me the values of getting it right. But he also told me I would make mistakes and outlined the Plan B for sending the wrong materials or what to do if there was a trucking delay.

While I knew that lots of mistakes would mean brief employment, I was also given permission to make them along with a plan to contend with those I made.

It was a great job in that way.

So does that mean if you don’t give a staff member a ton of space to fail, you’re a micromanager? Well, not necessarily.

And if you are concerned you are a micromanager, I have some antidotes to suggest below…Continue Reading

A New Resource for Nonprofit Leaders

Nonprofits are messy. You may have heard me say that before.

And if you’re a leader at a nonprofit, you know that it takes a village. It’s impossible to do it all on your own… even if you ARE kind of on your own. And so many nonprofit leaders I hear from do often feel alone, overwhelmed, and awfully frustrated in their jobs.

But I truly believe that if you stepped up and took a leadership position at a nonprofit, you’re a superhero. And like any superhero, you need your Lois Lane or Mary Jane Watson. Your Justice League or Avengers… A group of fellow superheroes and supporters in your corner.

And that’s why I’m SO excited today to announce that I’ve opened the doors of the Nonprofit Leadership Lab to new members!

I created the Lab to help nonprofit leaders like you – both on the board and the staff – with the ongoing education, support, and community you need to thrive.

And if you could see my email inbox, you’d see how badly the sector needs this.

Just a quick heads up that if you think you might join the Lab, this registration period will close at midnight on Wednesday, October 18. This is so I can focus on the members instead of on marketing the Lab (which is very time consuming). So think about it, but don’t wait too long and miss the deadline.

WHAT IS THE NONPROFIT LEADERSHIP LAB?

Rather than write a long blog post explaining what this is all about, I whipped up this fun animation. It’s just a few minutes long.

 

I hope to see you in the Lab!

I invite you to learn more and see if the Lab is right for you at https://nonprofitleadershiplab.com.

Do You Need a Coach, a Mentor, or Both?

mentor

The life of a nonprofit leader can be quite lonely. I hear that all the time.

New board chairs are offered precious little in the way of direction and guidance. Executive Directors might use the word “lonely” as much as they use the word “overwhelmed.”

When I first arrived at GLAAD, I knew that I needed some real support if I was going to successfully transition from the for-profit sector. This new nonprofit world I had entered was strange!

What I really needed was a navigator, a guide for coaching for executives, someone to help me learn the ropes and provide some wisdom about what it meant to be a leader in a movement.

But you can’t always get what you want… or need. (Do you have a certain song stuck in your head now too?)

Hire a coach? Ha! There wasn’t enough money for new letterhead.

But I got very lucky. The choice just happened. A colleague E.D. with a long nonprofit history extended herself because she saw my success as important to the movement.

She offered support. Generous.

I took her up on it. Turned out to be one of the smartest moves I made.

Thanks to her, I learned the ropes and avoided falling on my face a few times. I was reminded that I was a leader. She was a sage navigator for me and not once did I label her my mentor. Not until someone asked me years later if I had one.

Fascinating.

Today I’d like to explore the distinction between a coach and a mentor and offer some advice on how to find a mentor.

It’s free and it’s way easier than you think.Continue Reading

Nobody Warned Me About the ED 20!

I knew what she meant the moment she hit “post.”

executive director stress

If you’re unfamiliar with the “freshman 15,” it’s all about that first year of college…. Too much pizza and beer. A lot of stress. And 15 pounds gained.

So this is the “Executive Director 20”.

Nothing in the Thriving Nonprofit Facebook group (my free Facebook group for nonprofit staff and board leaders which you can join here) has ever struck a chord quite like this. 371 likes and counting.

Plus, more than 80 folks weighed in with comments (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.) I have a feeling they’ll resonate with you.

  • “Per year?”
  • “Those long nights are comforted with food. Nobody told me.”
  • “Or the one meal per 14 hour day which may be at 9 pm and will be fast food, because it’s easy and you’re starving. The rest is sugar and caffeine.”
  • “Grrreaattt. another job perk!”
  • “It’s all the drinking”
  • “Make it 40 for me!”
  • “Totally real. I think it’s from being chained to the desk for 40+ hours per week, stress, and being to tired to cook good food when I get home. Chipotle has been very accommodating since this job started.”
  • “Don’t forget the ED blood pressure meds & antidepressant lol or is that just me?”
  • “For me, first time ED following the founder… ED 35, migraines, bronchitis, six months chronic back pain, some other stuff I can’t remember. Trying to get some sort of handle on managing the stress and pressure, and loneliness.”
  • “The comments on this thread are crazy. I really thought it was just me.”

While some of these comments illustrate the sense of humor that I really appreciate in nonprofit leaders, others border on heartbreaking. Folks are working their asses off (hope I’m not offending anyone but that feels like the real deal phrase) and working themselves into the ground.

I get it. I know I work too hard too. Just the other day I wrote the words “self care” and for some reason my iPhone autocorrected to “self scare”.

Clearly, many of you are stressed out beyond all reason. It’s not healthy and it’s not good.

But what can we do about it?

This topic is a big part of my upcoming free workshop, How to Build a Thriving Nonprofit, which starts on October 4. After all, you can’t thrive if you’re overwhelmed, stressed out, or if you feel completely alone. If you’re feeling those things, I invite you to please reserve a spot so I can help you.

I also want to say a few things about this here in the blog that I hope will help.

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Small Nonprofits Are Anything But Small

small nonprofits

There is something wonderfully unique about small nonprofits. Sometimes they are one-person shops – not a lot of bureaucracy. There is often a camaraderie – together as a community you are fighting for clients, for their needs, for what is right and just.

Here’s what I have learned. The only thing small about a small nonprofit is its size.

But with that size also comes some unique challenges. Maybe you recognize some of these in yourself or your organization?

  • Your mission is bigger than your bank account
  • You believe you can’t ever take a vacation because if you missed even just a few days all the work would literally stop
  • You have an overwhelming feeling that everything rests on your shoulders but still think it’s easier to try to do everything yourself then ask somebody for help. Who would you even ask?
  • You feel frustrated about your inability to get the word out given your limited resources and time
  • Your board isn’t stepping up or is made up of the wrong mix of people. Or they mean well but they just don’t know what to do next.

Just this week, I got an email from an Executive Director of a small nonprofit – the board voted to close down the organization because of its inability and skepticism about raising money.

Board and staff leaders of small nonprofits throw their hearts and souls into the work, feel totally responsible, wildly overwhelmed, and far too often like the “man behind the curtain” – the imposter behind the Great and Powerful Oz.

And there’s another thing that makes it especially tough for a small nonprofit. Not a dime for outside help. No coaching, no consulting, no supportive community. Little opportunity to learn from others, to secure a mentor and feel more competent, in control and less alone.

It’s time to do something about this. Here’s what I have in mind…

Continue Reading

How to Know When You Are Overdoing It

overdoing it

One of my early forays into therapy was in 1997 when I became the Executive Director of GLAAD. I remember my first day in my new therapist’s office and of course she asked, “Why are you here?” My answer came quickly. “I like to solve problems for people – I’m a helper – but I’ve gone overboard. Now I feel like I have to take care of all the gay people everywhere.” 

I bet many of you feel this way. Not necessarily about gay people. But about all the cats who haven’t been adopted, or the community center you know would benefit so many, or the marginalized groups you lobby for, or the communities of faith you support with your work.

It’s a lot of pressure. And as I have been known to say, a profound privilege.

I wish I had the antidote for the tremendous pressure and overwhelming responsibility.

I don’t. And I’m really sorry I don’t.

I know I have written posts and recorded podcasts about how to manage it but ok, I’ll say it. I am highly imperfect.

I pulled a fortune from a fortune cookie a few years back. I keep it with me. It kinda said it all. “The best advice to follow is the advice you give to others.”

My team will tell you I’m frequently overdoing it. I feel like so many people are counting on me. I remember thinking about all the gays and it would stress me out. Now staff and board leaders of 1.5 million nonprofits? OY. And that’s just here in the U.S.

It takes its toll. I work at the expense of my hobbies, my health, my relationships.

Crazy, right? People I don’t know take priority over my loved ones.

And so my wife and I (just the two of us) spent the last two weeks at a health boot camp. It wasn’t fun. And I am abundantly aware that only Type A workaholics select ‘vacations’ of this sort. Well, and also folks whose health is at risk. My wife and I check both boxes.

We reset our health. We ate without salt, sugar and oil. We were up at 6:30 am daily. An hour of cardio, an hour of strength training, an hour of yoga and then lectures about what happens to your body with age, with stress.

I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned. Few folks will have the privilege of spending two weeks as we did but I can share the lessons. Some of them are personal – most of these unflattering. Some more global – educational and hopefully helpful.

And while I write about these lessons from my own perspective (female of a certain age) they apply to all of us.Continue Reading