November 7, 2016

Donor Bill of Rights

Has your organization adopted the Donor Bill of Rights as a policy? I hope so. It’s policies like these that help hold your fundraising accountable.

Have you engaged your board in a conversation about elements of the Donor Bill of Rights? I hope so. The most effective boards talk about this stuff.

So what are some of your favorite elements in the Donor Bill of Rights? Which ones do you think might surprise your CEO? Or surprise your program staff?

Which parts of the Donor Bill of Rights might be particularly difficult for your board to understand? For example:

#2: To be informed of the identity of those serving on the organization’s governing board, and to expect the board to exercise prudent judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.

#3: To have access to the organization’s most recent financial statements.

#9: To have the opportunity for their names to be deleted from mailing lists that an organization may intend to share.

Talk about all this with your board. Make sure every single board member – and the board as the collective – understand why and how your organization applies the Donor Bill of Rights.


September 15, 2016

Errant thoughts…#2

Sometimes I write multiple blogs at a time. And then schedule them into the future. Sometimes I have so many thoughts crashing around in my brain that I have to write multiple blogs and a newsletter or two all in one sitting!

So I’m still in the plane flying to Anchorage. The students in Cohort 25 just keep inspiring me – so I keep writing.

Here’s another errant thought:

  1. Have you asked your board members how satisfied they are with board meetings? For example:
  2. Are we talking about the right stuff?
  3. Have we provided you with the right information to talk effectively about the right stuff?
  4. Have all of us together create a safe environment to ask questions, challenges our own assumptions and those of others, talk candidly…And disagree?!?!?

Notice that these are evaluative-type questions. These are not the type’s of questions that would, necessarily, generate conversation. These questions might just produce responses on a likert scale.

I think that’s okay for this kind of evaluation. Then the board can talk about the results. Because sometimes we’re just so mad at the board and we blame everything on the board members. And we forget to look in the mirror at ourselves!


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?


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…]

December 8, 2014

Your nightmare lives! Bad board members and what to do…

Do you dream about some bad board members?
Do you feel a flush of anger when you’re calling one more time to see if those board members did what they said they’d do?
Do you wish your governance committee would talk gracefully confront the bad performers?
So here’s the bad news: Look in the mirror first. The problem may be your leadership.
And here’s the good news: You can help fix this. Read my book Firing Lousy Board Members – And Helping the Others Succeed.
Read my book. Share it with your boss. Share it with your governance committee. Read it on the beach. Make it your New Year’s Resolution. It’s short. It’s a fast read (maybe 1 hour?!) It actually makes you laugh. And frown. And cheer!
Maybe your bad board members aren’t intentionally bad. Maybe they just don’t know what the job is. Maybe they don’t realize there is a difference between the board (the group that does governance) and the individual board member (that does the right stuff outside of board meetings).
  • Does your organization have a board-adopted policy that defines the role of the board and the performance expectations of board members?
  • Does your organization use a top-notch recruitment, screening, and evaluation process for board members?
  • And… Do you know enough to enable all this to happen?
  • Visit the Free Download Library on my website for samples.
On the other hand… Oh dear… Maybe you have a bad board member who is, actually, intentionally bad. The board member just doesn’t care what the expectations are. The board member is disruptive and doesn’t play well with others.
It’s a tough life. We all encounter people like this. So every organization needs a process to fire lousy board members.
Yes, there is a process. Yes, your organization can do this if it chooses to do so.
And you can help guide the process by knowing how to do it…and what to watch out for…
  • Start a conversation with your boss about the effectiveness of your organization’s board – and the importance of the board (and board member) effectiveness.
  • If you’re the boss, get your thoughts together and talk with the governance committee.
  • Adopt the board job description.
  • Adopt the performance expectations of board members.

Read my book Firing Lousy Board Members – And Helping the Others Succeed.  Share this short, easy-to-read guide with your governance committee.

Let’s get it together. Lousy board members harm good organizations. Lousy board members make good board members leave. And none of this helps those you serve.
December 1, 2014

Overhead madness

MUST READ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The back and forth at the Agitator (Belford and Craver) …. and all the marvelous comments from people all over the world.

The back and forth at the Critical Fundraising Blog …. at the new Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy in the U.K.

Everyone in your organization should read this… THE WHOLE THING! It’s the comments that count. The original Agitator column stimulates the comments.

I’ll say it again: Read the whole Agitator thing! Now, read the whole Critical Fundraising thing!

And let’s join voices and tell the truth and explain. Explain through stories and metaphors. Don’t explain through data!

Convince some donors and get them to tell the story about why overhead matters.

Let’s launch a donor fight FOR overhead.

Keep up the critique of those silly watchdog groups who made this the center of their evaluations. Then after their leadership in furthering this fiasco… these watch doggies changed their tunes and said something like “of course, overhead isn’t bad; it’s necessary.” (Although they didn’t actually say they had helped further the fiasco and were sorry.)

Join the fight FOR overhead. Tell stories. Get your donors to tell stories about why overhead matters.

June 20, 2014

Board meeting attendance – important or?

Attending board meetings – and participating! – is vitally important.

So what is “attend” and “participate” ?

  • Attend most of the meetings. Inconvenience yourself if necessary! What’s most? More than 50%! More like 75%. (And I don’t care how busy or important you are. Attend or get off!)
  • Read the material. Bring the info to the board meeting. And talk!  Participate in the conversation. Offer your educated insights. Ask strategic and cage-rattling questions.

Corporate governance is a group activity. You attend and engage to be part of a group. Sending in your insights – without benefit of group conversation – are pretty much useless. It’s group conversation and group decision-making that matters.

How about those big donors? Or how about those really important community leaders? Hmmm…. Mostly I don’t care. Don’t talk to me about “political realities”. Instead, identify and recruit committed individuals who will – yes indeed – inconvenience themselves on your behalf. People who will follow good governance. People whose egos are not outsized.

Always remember: Being a big donor doesn’t make someone a good board member. Being a community leader doesn’t make someone a good board member.

Your Governance Committee – and the full board – need to talk about this stuff. Your organization needs policies that define the role of the board and the performance expectations of board members. And enforce these – the role and the expectations.

Staff and board leadership enable these proper behaviors. And when things get out of whack…When board members aren’t performing well… Then the Governance Committee steps in.

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. But usually enhancing attrition works.

For more information, read my board blogs.(See the categories archived on my website.) Visit the Free Download Library on my website – and select from all the handouts explaining all this.

Read my book Firing Lousy Board Members – And Helping Others Succeed. Get your own copy from Amazon or CharityChannel Press. Everything included in one slim, easy-to-read volume.

And do it. All of it! Then your board is stronger. And that makes your organization stronger. And that produces greater impact.

May 8, 2014

Check out this fundraising cookbook

Do you need help training your board members to tell stories…ask for gifts…identify prospects…say thanks to a donor?

Do your staff hate fundraising, avoid relationship building … (and run away from the development staff)?

This cookbook of easy-to-use fundraising exercises can help. Andrea Kihlstedt and Andy Robinson give us a new tool in their new book: Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise More Money. 

Tom Ahern just pulled out an exercise from the book and put it in some workshop he is developing upstairs in his office. I like the Instant Donor exercise. And how about the Pizza and Beer (rating your prospects) activity. I can see using some of these for an upcoming client retreat and a summer workshop, both in development right now.

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