September 9, 2016

Errant thoughts…#1

I’m in an airplane flying to Anchorage, Alaska to work for a couple days. I’ve been thinking lots about governance. Just cause I often do. And because I’ve been reading final papers (on governance) from Cohort 25 at SMU.

So here’s an errant thought: What if we constructed a set of games (maybe like Jeopardy or ??) and used it as part of a screening interview with candidates for board membership? Then we’d grade how well they did and if they qualified…

Okay. That’s not practical. But what questions do you think should be asked of candidates? Just like the questions you invent for interviews with possible employees…

For example:

  1. What does the concept “corporate governance” mean to you?
  2. What have been your best and worst governance experiences?
  3. If you were assessing the quality of a board and its members, what kinds of questions would you ask?
  4. How would you explain the purpose of a board to someone who has never served on a board?
  5. How would you describe what makes an excellent board member to someone who has never served on a board?

What do you want to add?


July 25, 2016

Twitter and Simone

Okay. Finally. Yes. I know.

I joined Twitter. So now I Tweet on Twitter.


John Lepp kept nagging me. Others got all excited when I joined up. Thanks, people. So there I am.

May 16, 2016

A recipe for failure and embarrassment, too

I can’t remember who said this to me. But it’s absolutely MARVELOUS!!! (And if you read this, please contact me so I can give you credit!)

Plethora of ignorance + paltry integrity = pathetic performance.

Then I suggest adding the following: A dash of privilege.

And top it off with an unwillingness to inconvenience oneself

That all equals negligence…whether criminal or just plain lousy

Which produces crushed organizations and bad reputations for the individuals involved and well-deserved disrespect.

So here’s the total equation. And how many times have you seen this or elements thereof? Because I sure have.

Plethora of ignorance + Paltry integrity + Dash of privilege + Unwillingness to inconvenience oneself = Pathetic performance + negligence + crushed organizations + well-deserved bad reputations and disrespect for the individuals involved.

March 7, 2016

Two great fundraising and management items!!!


  • About diversity. But about much more than diversity. About the complexities of building a better organization (for-profit or nonprofit) for creativity and change and success.
  • About the dominant people and the non-dominant people. About power and position… gender and sexual orientation and race and so much more than diversity. And unearned privilege.
  • All managers should read this book. All employees should read this book. Anyone who wants to be a leader and to be productive and successful and and and …. should read this book.
  • Yes. I really like this book. I’m going to assign it to some class of mine. Go to Amazon right now!
  • And you can hear Laura Liswood present in the very special track of Rebels, Renegades, and Pioneers at the AFP International Conference in Boston, March 2016.


And check out this information from the wonderful Melissa Brown.

  • 60% of Americans give to charity in a year, and voter turnout is not likely to be much higher than that, based on prior year’s experience (it was 62% in 2008, the highest in a presidential election year since 1960). Further, of registered voters, 43% are independent of a party, so are not likely giving to the party coffers. 
  • More telling, according to, just 0.4% of the US population gave more than $200 to a political campaign in 2012. That includes contributions to parties, PACS, or campaigns. An average donor household in 2008 gave about $2,300 to charity.
  • Charitable giving total is $360Billion + or minus.  ALL campaigns in a presidential year total somewhere south of $10 billion (The Federal Elections Commission reports $7B spent in 2012).
  • $10 billion is 3% of of $360 billion, and following the OpenSecrets report, almost all of that $10B is from a very small number of donors, most of whom are engaged at a high level in the political process. (Think Koch brothers, George Soros, the Bass family, Michael Bloomberg, etc.).
  • It is possible that some subsectors where legislative activity is important – such as environment, civil rights, or movements such as for charter schools — will feel the pain more than arts, higher education, health care, etc.  It is possible that communities where highly politically engaged donors live will feel the pinch – Fort Worth or parts of New York, for example.
  • But for the rest of us, it is not likely that politics will siphon dollars away from charity.
  • And a survey of donors just released also supports this: Dunham+Company Survey Indicates Charitable Giving Won’t Be Affected By Presidential Election Year | Dunham+Company | fundraising research


December 11, 2015

How many times do board members say… “I just can’t ask…”

A happy holiday gift from Jerry Panas…………

Every fundraiser has heard this same refrain so many times…. “I just can’t ask for money.” “I simply refuse to ask for money.” “You can’t make me ask for money.” “I won’t serve on your board if you make me ask for money.”

Okay…Whining is okay. Sometimes. Then move on!!! And that’s the fundraiser’s job…to help board members move on and help with fundraising, including asking.

So Jerry Panas has just written another book: I’m Not Going to Ask!

And Jerry is giving this away… An e-book… A tool for you and your boss and your board chair and your board fundraising committee…

A resource for everyone… The top 24 reasons that board members say, “I won’t ask!!!”

Here are a few I particularly like … Like a big grimace and a rant!

“I’m too busy.” Wow. Are you going to show up at board meetings? What else are you too busy for?!

Get a copy of Jerry’s e-book. Have a board conversation. Change the whining for 2016!

November 2, 2015

Board members must attend board meetings

Or get rid of them . . . graciously!

I was looking through my blog archives…And encountered this 6-year old post. It’s time to share this again. Because the situation isn’t any better! So here goes, with modifications.


You’re not a good board member if you miss lots of board meetings.

What do I mean by “lots”? Attend at least 75% of board meetings. Miss more than that and the organization should professionally, objectively, and respectfully get rid of you.

And don’t start whining about this. Here’s what I hear all the time:

  • “Well, I travel lots and so I miss a fair amount of board meetings. But I’m a great donor and I always read board meeting material and send an email with my opinion.”
  • “We cannot remove our largest donor from the board, even if she doesn’t attend regularly. After all, she’s our largest donor.”
  • “It’s so hard to find board members. We keep the good ones even if they don’t attend regularly.”

Oh please. You’re missing a very important concept: Corporate governance is a collective act. The legal corporate entity is the board. The board is a group. The board does governance. Governance only happens when the board (e.g., the group!) is together, virtually or in person.

When a board member is missing, he isn’t a good board member. When a board member is missing lots, she’s a lousy board member.

Being a great donor doesn’t make the person a great board member. Keep the good donor through great relationship building. And remove the person from the board.

Sharing ideas and thoughts outside the board meeting does not make a good board member. It’s board conversation that matters. Together people share insights and wisdom. They listen to each other. They question each other and themselves. And together, through conversation together, they make a decision. Sharing thoughts outside the group that is the board isn’t useful.

Adopt performance expectations. See my sample performance expectations. Evaluate board member performance. See my sample evaluation tool. Hold your board members accountable. Enforce performance expectations.

Graciously, professionally, objectively — enhance attrition. That’s when you help the board member understand that s/he isn’t fulfilling the performance expectations. The board member acknowledges the problem and offers his / her resignation. And you accept it with alacrity.

And if the board member isn’t smart enough to honestly see his/her performance, then the organization explains clearly and explains why resignation is necessary. That’s thank and release.

Hold board members accountable. Each board member holds himself / herself and the others accountable. Staff hold board members accountable, too. Hmmm… How can you do that better? List cumulative year-to-date attendance in every set of board meeting minutes. Try this approach: Alpha list with a parenthetical note stipulating year-to-date attendance. Here’s what this looks like:

  • Attending: Mary Black (4/5), Bob Dylan (3/5), Enya (4/5), Eartha Kitt (5/5), and Bruce Springsteen (1/5)
  • Unable to attend: Pete Seeger (1/5)

By the way, even if they’ve informed you of their inability to attend — you still don’t keep trustees who miss lots of meetings. You don’t want board members who travel so much, are so important that your organization’s board meeting isn’t important enough.

Recruit board members who are so committed to you that they rarely miss board meetings. Keep board members who are willing to inconvenience themselves for your organization.

For more, read my short book Firing Lousy Board Members – And Helping the Others Succeed. Carry the book around at board meetings. Make sure board members see the cover. Hmmm… Maybe that will launch an improvement revolution!

August 17, 2015

More notes from my board room

Continuing the board member performance expectations from Cohort 24… Ah those days at SMU.

Make sure to review the first 7 of these performance expectations in my August 3 blog.

8. Fill one table at the annual gala and assume that you’re off the hook for at least a quarter of the year.

9. Refuse to volunteer for any extra positions.

10. Assume that the executive committee has made the important decisions, and thus your attention is not really necessary.

11. Have a lot of opinions about what is wrong, but no solutions.

12. If you’re presenting, leave the moment you’ve finished.

13. Decides what font should be in the gala invitation. Bonus points if you make the volunteer who designed the invitation cry.

14. Talk to our donors about funding your other interests – especially if you can steal a major  donor for our competitors.

15. Recruit new board members based on your political goals.

16. Hire your alcoholic roommate to do fundraising for the organization. Let him keep 15% of what he makes for you.

17. Do not offer any assistance to new board members. They’re after you. Fight them. Violently. Especially any innovative or new ideas. Assume they are undermining your power.

August 3, 2015

Notes from my dorm room

Ah tristesse. (That’s French for “ah, sadness.”)

I’ve said farewell to Cohort 24 and Cohort 25 at SMU. I’ve been teaching in this Masters Program in Philanthropy and Development since 2000, beginning with Cohort 9.

This summer was the 25th anniversary. Thank you, Tim Burchill, for founding this program. You would be so proud of this program. (Tim died suddenly in February 2007. He was a great colleague and friend.)

“Notes from my dorm room” appears in my blog periodically. Live from campus. Reflections after classes.

Cohort 24 and I talked about governance. The glory. The mess. The dysfunctionality. The mediocrity. And here are some remarks – from the cohort – about performance expectations for the individual board member:

  1. Have a great deal of money. But intend to invest next to none of it in this organization. And certainly don’t be willing to work on fund development or generating new leads.
  2. Rarely attend meetings. But, if forced to show up, text other board members at the table about the CEO during staff reports. Make sure that the CEO sees you texting.
  3. Make sure to attend every board meeting bitch session over a bottle of wine.
  4. Never read email. Especially the agenda. (No thought went into the agenda anyway.)
  5. Vote on bylaw amendments without having read the changes.
  6. Badmouth the organization, both in and out of board meetings.
  7. Badmouth staff too. Plus other board members. And especially the CEO.

[To be continued…]

May 4, 2015

Simone and Ted talking on the radio on May 5

Ted Hart and I are talking on his radio show on Tuesday, May 5. That’s 12 noon eastern U.S. time.

You can call in with questions or comments.

The Nonprofit Coach with Ted Hart

And you can listen to more than 150 podcasts, too!

April 13, 2015

The resignation you want!

Cool title, eh? That’s from Marcia Coné’s recent blog.

Marcia is talking about “helping individuals and organizations navigate change…” And, as she notes, navigating change is “critical to personal, professional, and organizational success.” Does that sound like you? Or your organization?

Marcia is a consultant and personal coach. So maybe you need to contact her?

This blog continues with “do you have the right people in the right places?” (Or, as Jim Collins asked us all, “Do you have the right people on the bus?”)

Marcia then moves into the board… and references Gene Takagi’s “12 Reasons Why You Should Gracefully Resign from a Nonprofit Board.” (Good old NPQ brings us great stuff again!)

And then Marcia adds the clincher: “As I read and thought about sharing this with all of my nonprofit clients, I realized I needed to assess my own board participation and make some decisions. I invite you to do the same.

You. Me. Do the same. Apply Takagi’s 12 reasons. Read all of Marcia’s blog. All the remarks about the wildfire and the culture and the mess.

In 2014… I watched 3 organizations… move gradually towards destruction and death. All 3 because of lousy board members who should have been fired. All because of lousy board members who should have asked what Marcia is asking.

And if your board members don’t have the courage to resign themselves… then fire them. Someone must have the guts to lead… and that means firing in this case.

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