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Mission Statement Possible

Posted by Stephen Lemire on September 7, 2013 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Your nonprofit’s mission statement needs to succinctly capture the essence and define the purpose of your organization. It should distinctly state what you provide, for whom you provide it, and why you exist.
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The mission statement is a key component of your legal documents and strategic plan. It guides all important organizational decision-making. An effective mission statement provides a mapped out course from which measureable goals and objectives may be developed.
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The mission statement is not your organization’s vision (where you plan to be) because it is written for the here-and-now. It is neither a marketing nor promotional piece. An unclear mission statement can lead to indecision, lack of direction, inability to reach consensus, reduced ability to attract donors, and many other pitfalls.
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Prior to filing for nonprofit status (or sooner if you may need it to seek seed funding), the process to craft the mission statement must be undertaken. My strongest recommendation is to avoid “group-write” and “group-edit” which will stall the process as individuals will haggle of each word and phrase. I like to use the example of the Second Continental Congress. A small committee was formed to craft the Declaration of Independence, but they assigned Thomas Jefferson to draft it. In this way, your committee will have a few key people from the Board of Directors and the executive director to create the draft mission statement.
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From this stage you have options to have the board either: 1) accept or reject as is; 2) choose from a couple variations; or 3) interject a few interchangeable phrases they may wish to use (based on upfront general input they provided before the committee began its work.
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I am partial to a mission statement that contains both a narrow and a broad view. By this, I mean it states primarily who your stakeholders are but also sets out to demonstrate that you have a grander purpose in the respective (market, industry, or field).
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For example, when I was the founding executive director of the National Professional Science Master's Association (NPSMA) I was closely involved in the mission statement crafting and revising:
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“The NPSMA is a collaborative of Professional Science Master's (PSM) degree program directors, faculty, administrators, industry representatives, alumni, and students that supports PSM degree initiatives. It engages businesses, industries, nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and trade associations in the development of PSM degree programs and internship and job placement opportunities for PSM students and graduates.”
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As you can see from this example, the narrow view is “supports PSM degree initiatives” while the broader one is “job placement opportunities for PSM students and graduates”. The primary purpose was to help create the programs but the NPSMA needed to, secondarily, create a market for the programs’ graduates.
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The Leadership - Vision Connection

Posted by Stephen Lemire on September 7, 2013 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (2)

I was very fortunate to have been able to learn many lessons about leadership from my Dad. In addition, I have benefitted from great mentors who also willingly shared their views.

As a result of my own experience, and having worked with many influential leaders, I have had the pleasure of teaching graduate and undergraduate students seminars on leadership principles and practice. These students are eager to list traits they find in people they have worked for whom they consider to be effective leaders.
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All of these lessons which have had great impact on my career, as well as the opinions of former students, I frequently pass on to junior executives and new students.
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Most effective leaders have a vision about their individual purpose and, more importantly, their organization’s overall direction. I like to break it down this way:
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V – VALUE others around them by communicating with a purpose. They directly let others know how their role fits into the big picture and how the fulfillment of that role is important.
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I – INCLUDE themself in all the difficult work to be done. They lead by example and ask nothing of others that they wouldn’t do themself.
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S – SHARE all successes equally. On the other hand, they accept responsibility for any setbacks personally.
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I - INSPIRE staff by placing them in positions and situations in which they will have the greatest opportunity to succeed. They recognize that the best way to motivate and reward an employee is through empowerment.
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O – OFFER to listen to complaints only if they are accompanied with credible suggestions or recommendations to remedy the perceived situation. They don’t complain or gripe publicly and accept new challenges willingly.
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N – NURTURE those whom they oversee by providing an appropriate balance of responsibility, feedback, constructive criticism, and autonomy. Their people skills include a warm smile, a pat on the back, a sturdy handshake, and an upbeat, positive, and confident demeanor.
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There are many other important traits that would appear on a more comprehensive list. I invite you to add those below.
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The Dynamic Strategic Plan

Posted by Stephen Lemire on March 28, 2013 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Many nonprofit organizations traditionally go through a laborious and necessary process to revise their strategic plan every three-to -five years. This cumbersome effort can generate a literal binder of ambitious goals and work plans. Yet, this handsome document sadly ends up often as a doorstop or a bookend.
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Setting aside the time and energy to revisit a strategic plan every few years is very important. One effective technique to keep your strategic plan at the forefront of your organization’s activities is a technique which I call the Dynamic Strategic Plan. The goal is to help keep your work plan focused on the mission and in the mindset of board.
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I like to think of a small nonprofit as a motorboat which can make frequent and nimble shifts in its course, as needed. It need not be bogged down like an ocean liner which requires a lot of time and space to make necessary adjustments.
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Assume that a typical nonprofit conducts a monthly Board of Directors’ meeting which includes an executive director’s report that highlights recent activities and outlines upcoming key organizational events. I recommend that every third executive director’s report be framed within the format of the strategic plan.
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This process affords the Board the opportunity to fine-tune the strategic plan on a quarterly basis. In reviewing the goals and objectives in this fashion the organization can take actions such as deleting those which have been completed, changing short-term and long-term objectives as the market dictates, and adding new objectives as pressing needs emerge.
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In some quarters no changes will be made which means the organization remains on course. (Steady as she goes.) Other quarters, there may be as many as two or three minor adjustments in the plan.
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These ongoing efforts, as part of the Dynamic Strategic Plan, are in investment which yield big savings in the commitment of time, energy, and resources which are still required when the organization revisits its strategic plan. Fortunately, many of the revisions have already been made along the way.
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Rite of Spring

Posted by Stephen Lemire on March 19, 2013 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (0)

As baseball ‘s annual return to spring training marks a new season, so too I view my return to the keyboard for a new year of blogging. The off-season allowed me to gain perspective on the past year and to develop a renewed sense of excitement and energy for the coming one.
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Having taken a couple months away from the blog was not, at first, a planned occurrence. Yet, in the natural ebb and tide of production and creativity it felt like the right the thing to do once I pushed back.
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Last year I covered many issues related to Board of Directors’ development, the partnership between the Board and the Executive Director, professional issues for Executive Directors, and many more.
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As I step on the mound to begin the new blogging season, I am armed with the review of the last season as well as a plan to approach the new one. I will revisit a few topics such as leadership, but in a more detailed way, and introduce others: dynamic strategic planning, crafting mission statements, and health policy reform. As usual, I will end the year with the announcement of the annual Red Lemire Award winner.
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Re-grouping was productive and the clarified approach for 2013 is exciting. Most importantly, the fresh start will rely on you for your feedback and comments. Blogger up!
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FAQs: Nonprofit Advisory Boards

Posted by Stephen Lemire on September 21, 2012 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (0)

What is an Advisory Board and how does it differ from a Board of Directors?

An Advisory Board is formed to support the Board of Directors and Executive Director. Whereas, the Board of Directors is bylaws-driven and primarily focused on the mission, the Advisory Board is an expert panel that is formed to speculate about the long-term vision, external market influences, and anticipated needs in the field or industry. They are asked to present opinions and make recommendations for the Board of Directors to consider, but not necessarily implement. The Advisory Board has no impact on governance.
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How do we know when we need (or want) to form an Advisory Board?

An Advisory Board can be established as soon as the nonprofit begins to have a sense of identity and purpose (even during the formative stage). The Advisory Board will consider opportunities for growth, new directions for funding, potential market changes, and major policy concerns.
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What is the purpose of the Advisory Board and what are its main roles?

The Advisory Board will offer perspectives, opinions, and viewpoints from outside the organization. They will take a “market pulse”, suggest broad strategic alternatives, consider long-term issues related to the industry, and support funding and policy developments, as needed.
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Who should serve on the Advisory Board?

Members of the Advisory Board should be more senior than the Board of Directors. They should represent different constituencies and alternative perspectives. Examples of Advisory Board members are leaders in the field, policy experts, Directors’ supervisors, and funding representatives.
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How do we proceed to form the Advisory Board?

The Board of Directors should recommend Advisory Board candidates to a subcommittee of Directors or to the Executive Committee. Once vetted, the Directors who nominated candidates should check candidates’ levels of interest and recruit them (without yet guaranteeing a spot). Once approved by the Executive Committee, the candidate should receive a formal letter of invitation from the Board President and nominating Director which spells out the role of the Advisory Board and expectations of its members.
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How often should they meet?

Once a year for a day-long meeting.
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What does the Advisory Board need to be successful?

The Advisory Board needs a manageable package of materials sent to them about two weeks prior to the meeting to help them prepare. This summative material may include a list of recent accomplishments, ongoing projects, examples of promotional material, and a financial summary. At the meeting (in which they must be treated like VIPs), they will need a brief presentation and a strong facilitator. (Ideally, the Board President and Executive Director will fill these two roles.) Describe key policy and funding concerns, current constituents, and pressing needs, issues, and challenges. Then the facilitator can ask pointed questions in support of these issues while allowing for a free flow of ideas. Wrap up the meeting by capturing key points, major suggestions, and recommendations.
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What expectations should be placed on the Advisory Board?

Above all, the Advisory Board members need to know that they are being listened to and that their opinions and ideas will be given serious consideration. (The moment that an Advisory Board member feels that their time is being wasted, they will quit.) The Advisory Board members should leave the meeting knowing that they will be contacted electronically two-three times during the year and may be needed to support funding and policy developments with a letter, phone call, etc.
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Should the Advisory Board members be given “homework” between meetings? If so, what?

Yes, you want to keep the Advisory Board members engaged throughout the year. Realizing that they are very busy, you want to be judicious in your requests between meetings. Get them to agree to receive brief updates a couple times a year which will include strategic questions to respond to. In addition, you want to create avenues for them to suggest additional Advisory Board members, potential funders, and policy concerns.
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Lessons in Volunteerism

Posted by Stephen Lemire on August 24, 2012 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Not only have I been an executive director for a number of different nonprofits that relied on its volunteer board of directors as well as some volunteer staff, I have also served as a volunteer board member and staffer at other organizations. Aside from their major responsibilities and roles within the nonprofit, it is important, many times, to recognize that they are all volunteers when thinking about major concepts such as recruitment, retention, satisfaction, and performance.
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What I have learned as an Executive Director

It's helpful for nonprofits to focus on their volunteers as individuals rather than as a group. With this in mind, it is useful to recognize that there are many varied reasons why volunteers participate (to further the mission, to use their skills, to feed their ego, to network, to socialize, etc.). If you are able to best recognize the individual's primary reason for volunteering then you can place them in the most appropriate setting(s) which will hold their interest, make them feel valued, and keep them coming back to be productive.
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(There are, however, some group considerations such as a founding board which can be unique.

http://www.4site4nonprofits.com/apps/blog/entries/show/17747770-founder-s-syndrome-or-growing-pains-)
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What I require to be an effective volunteer Board Member

Assure that my role is focused on the big picture

Do not allow me to feel that my time, effort, nor energy is being wasted

Provide me with needed information in advance of meetings to help me be prepared

Present me only with actionable items, not reports

Make my opinions matter – that they be considered, not necessarily implemented

Make me feel respected

Identify my unique skills versus those of other board members

Do not duplicate my efforts with those of other board members

Do not consider me to just be a blank check

Do not expect me to serve on too many standing committees

Help me to continually become a better board member – provide board development
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What I require to be a productive Volunteer Staffer

Help me see the big picture that I am contributing to

Make me feel appreciated

Make me feel like part of the organization, not an appendage

Assign me to specific tasks and responsibilities

Teach me how to do a certain job, if needed

Do not have me go through the motions or waste my time

Do not duplicate my efforts with those of other volunteers

Help me to continually become a better volunteer – provide training
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Volunteers can be the lifeblood for so many nonprofits. How they are treated will go a long way to determine whether or not they keep coming back, if they bring others to volunteer with them, whether or not they have positive things to say about your organization, and, ultimately, if they are productive.
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Key Stages in a Board's Evolution

Posted by Stephen Lemire on August 16, 2012 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

There are many important phases through which a nonprofit board of directors must pass to become firmly established and effective. In particular, I view the early stages as being marked by significant developments and transitions, and the latter stages highlighted by professional growth and maturation.
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Development & Transitions

In my most recent entry I discussed issues related to the boards of start-up nonprofits and suggested that sometimes problems arise due to Founder’s Syndrome and, at other times, it is merely a case of organizational growing pains. (http://www.4site4nonprofits.com/apps/blog/entries/show/17747770-founder-s-syndrome-or-growing-pains-) As the founding board emerges from its nascent stage, its members must constantly ask themselves: “Who’s missing from our board?”
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As founders are replaced or elected directors rotate off on an annual basis, the board is provided with an opportunity to continually augment itself with new board members who may possess talents needed to help round out the board’s collective skill set. For example, new board members with financial, legal, or marketing experience might be assets for the board. Yet, the board may also need to consider key representatives of its constituencies such as association members, community contacts, legislative liaisons, and those that will open doors to the donor community. Above all, any prospective board member must be committed to the mission and be willing to support the nonprofit or it can create a divisive and tiered set of directors.
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There are a few processes that need to be in place to ensure that these outcomes can be achieved. The nominating committee, with input from the executive director and other members of the board, needs to maintain and vet board candidates on an ongoing basis. Some worthy prospective board members may need to be reached out to as many are hesitant to volunteer or self-nominate and simply require encouragement. Also, the nomination and election processes need to be very open and public so that future candidates will come forward and not be discouraged by any impressions of a “canned process”. Finally, newly elected directors must receive a structured training and orientation provided by the president and executive director to help them on-board smoothly.
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Growth & Maturation

Most board members have never had any formalized board training. It’s important for the nonprofit to provide professional development for its directors on a regular basis. For example, they can carve out 30 minutes from every board of directors meeting to have different directors provide in-services or bring in an expert to brief the board on subjects such: How to interpret nonprofit financial statements; Social media and nonprofits; Legal issues which could impact our organization; etc. Another helpful discussion is to have each director (as many are on other boards, too) identify effective practices of the other boards that they’re on and suggest whether or not this board should consider adopting it.
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A final important, yet often over-looked, process for a maturing board to put in place is an annual self-assessment. There are a wide variety of off-the-shelf tools to use and the board should consider using the same one each year to standardize results and progress. Most importantly, the board needs to incorporate any recommendations they come up with into their operations.
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Each nonprofit board will take a different amount of time passing through these stages and some, at times, may have to repeat certain phases based on conditions such as a turnover of important directors. Many of these boards will need to be led a strong president or aided by a visionary executive director. Yet, once the board has evolved and established itself, its members can more readily focus on governance and they can serve as ambassadors in the community on issues of advocacy and development.

Founder's Syndrome or Growing Pains?

Posted by Stephen Lemire on July 30, 2012 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (0)

I have been the first executive director employed by a small staff professional association several times. This has given me the distinction to work closely with many founding boards of directors to bring their visions to life to create self-sustaining membership organizations.
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When looking back at the founding boards that I worked with, there were many characteristics which they had in common as a group: a clearly identified shared vision; a collective need which must be met; a way to provide mutual support; an opportunity to develop best practices; and a method to create an organization through economies of scale.
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Yet, when looking back at the founding boards, there were many characteristics which were dissimilar when evaluating the individual founders. Some were primarily driven by the identified mission, but others have participated because they were entrepreneurial, visionary, wished to network, had an opportunity to showcase skills, or were purely driven by ego.
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Founders, collectively and as individuals, serve many important roles in helping a new nonprofit get established. They are idea-brokers as they spread the word about what they wish to accomplish; they are catalysts to get people energized around their vision; they are fund-raisers as they generate needed resources; and they are partners with the executive director to put plans and strategy into action.
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Most times, a majority of the founding board members are not the directors who will have a long-term role with the nonprofit. For example, many of the founders will lose interest once the organization has been established, feeling that their vision is on course to being achieved. Others will participate less as they find the entrepreneurial challenge less exciting and will only be interested in offering ideas, rather than a willingness to follow through on them like they once did. These examples are the types of growing pains that a new nonprofit may experience and are quite common and natural.
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However, when certain board members are providing a diminishing return on their level of commitment, the organization can experience an uncomfortable level of founder’s syndrome. Some of the visionary directors can become disruptive to the organization’s development if they “don’t let go” and recognize that the newly established nonprofit requires different skills from its directors.
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Many of the founders can adapt, yet there are several types that try to hold on: the elitists who feel that they have a proprietary responsibility; the “status quo-ers” who don’t want the nonprofit to change rapidly; and the managers who have been the founders that have had operational duties which they do not wish to turn over to staff. It can be symptomatic for the nonprofit when the nomination/election process is closed and does not well represent the organization’s constituency and committees are repeatedly filled by the same handful of founders.
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The founders who stay for the longer term provide a necessary transition (and translation) to new board members about the vision, provide the organization with an institutional history, and have many of the skills still needed for the board to be successful. The founders who have been replaced needed to be swapped out for those with new skills and ideas to help the nonprofit evolve to its next growth stage.
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Occasionally a founder needs a nudge to recognize that they have provided an invaluable service to the nonprofit but their continued participation is becoming disruptive. A strong president, with the support of the executive committee, can have firm, yet delicate, conversations with this individual asking them to step down. In the event that it is an officer, the remainder of the board must rely on its bylaws to enforce changes when appropriate.
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The transitioned board now has a role of oversight and governance as the nonprofit matures. Soon they will ultimately become true ambassadors of the organization as they raise more funds, advocate on policy issues, and perpetuate the board through self-evaluation, skills-based nominations, and open elections.
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Relationship as an Early Predictor of Board - Executive Director Success

Posted by Stephen Lemire on July 17, 2012 at 1:05 PM Comments comments (0)

The most important relationship in a small staff nonprofit is the one between the board of directors and the executive director. It is a dynamic partnership which changes as the organization matures and as board members rotate on an annual basis.
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During the hiring process for a new (or start up) executive director, the board of directors will first evaluate applicants based on a pre-determined set of criteria. Once the leading candidate has been vetted and the board is satisfied that this person possesses the qualifications, experiences, and skill set that they seek for the position, they have just reached “Heartbreak Hill” in the marathon to determine if this is the most appropriate executive director they seek.
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To adequately complete the hiring process the board and the candidate must separately assess their potential working relationship. The only gauge to evaluate how well they think that they will be able to work together before the board offers the job, and the candidate accepts the position, is a limited number of interactions that they’ve had to this point (a phone interview and two face-to-face interviews, typically).
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Many times, the telephone screening and first interview may even be carried out by a search firm representative or human resources consultant that, in turn, could potentially reduce the number of board-to-prospective executive director interactions to two, or even one. In a small staff or start-up nonprofit which will require a significant amount of regular contact, bordering on a professional-personal relationship, this is inadequate.
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Likewise, the executive director candidate has very little information to formulate a strong opinion of the board of directors for whom they may soon be working. Initial judgments can be based on the professional credentials of individual board members as provided by the nonprofit’s website or by researching their LinkedIn profiles. Further, an assessment of their collective success can be drawn by evaluating their board level accomplishments, to-date. Yet, the all-important face-to-face interactions may be limited to a conference call and one formal interview. This is not enough visceral information to anticipate the dynamics with which the executive director will collaborate with the board collectively, in subsets, or its individual members.
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There are a number of ways to provide an opportunity for the board and the candidate to have a less formal way to connect during the hiring process which can go a long way to giving each party additional insight. For example, meeting for coffee or going to dinner the day before the interview is a great ice-breaker prior to the final nerve-wracking session. Building in a brief meet-&-greet session before the interview can also help to put everyone at ease. Another method, which I have found useful, is an informal get-together between the candidate and the board president at the president’s place of employment.
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Failure for both parties to enter into their new working relationship with a relatively strong degree of comfort can be wrought with potential pitfalls. For example, perceptions about mutual expectations may exist and gaps in communication may lead to organizational breakdowns. Common problems occur when the board is not totally clear on the executive director’s management style or the ED is unsure of the regular detailed reporting required by the board. The ultimate result can be a level of micromanagement with which the executive director is uncomfortable, leading to feelings of being stifled. Eventually, the ED will pull away from the board.
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The board needs to be sure that the executive director has a clear understanding of the mission, the collective vision which the board shares to meet its mission, and that the board’s goal is to evolve from oversight to strategy to governance. On the other hand, the candidate has to be comfortable that the board will allow them, as the new executive director, the autonomy to grow in the position and to develop the organization through adequate levels of responsibility, voice, and creativity.
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Before finalizing a working agreement, key board members and the executive director must be comfortable that their personalities will complement and not clash; their management styles will be supportive and flexible; their organizational, professional, and personal goals (as they relate to the association) will be in synch; and that there will be a desire to challenge each other in a productive way.
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Once both parties feel reasonably comfortable with the fit (the perceived dynamic and synergy of how the potential working relationship will be and how it will evolve over time) that they should complete the hiring process. In doing so they will have recognized that this mutually achieved level of comfort (the set of circumstances in which they are at ease and have minimal stress) is an important asset on par with communications, teamwork, and attitude. It is at this point that their partnership is truly forged and they can begin to work cooperatively to meet the organization’s mission.
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How Inexperienced EDs can avoid this Important Mistake

Posted by Stephen Lemire on July 2, 2012 at 2:05 PM Comments comments (0)


[I had the pleasure of recently being interviewed by Natasha Golinsky of Next Level Nonprofits http://www.nextlevelnonprofits.com/. Available through her website on July 5 will be a 10-part audio download, “10 Critical Mistakes First-Time Executive Directors Make when Working with their Boards (and How to Avoid Them). Below are a few of my thoughts on the subject. Be sure to download the full series to hear my 30-minute discussion on the subject.]

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The most important mistake that many new executive directors make is that they fail to clarify, and ensure that, the expectations and boundaries are clear among the roles of the executive director, the board of directors, and individual board members.
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A prospective executive director begins the process to establish clear expectations and boundaries regarding their role and that of the board and its members during the interview process - before they are even hired. When the candidate ED is meeting with the search committee and board, among the many questions they need to ask are: Why did the last ED leave? What does the board need to do more of/less of? Who’s missing from the board? What skill sets are needed on the board? This will help: 1) identify if there is a good potential two-way fit between the board and candidate (see: http://www.4site4nonprofits.com/apps/blog/show/10182515-the-fit-need-go-both-ways); 2) point out if there are control issues with the board; and 3) help the board understand that the prospective ED considers their relationship with the board to be paramount.
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Once hired, the ED needs to immediately review any past meeting minutes to note key players and important issues. Also, the ED must begin to meet with individual directors (in-person or on the phone) to establish repo ire and to get their individual perspectives of what the organization does well, needs to improve, etc. It is helpful to conduct the interviews with standardized questions to gauge board members’ responses against each other. Finally, within the first few months, the ED should ensure that job descriptions and responsibilities for the ED, officers, and all board members are current, clearly documented, and will be reviewed and enforced, as needed.
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If there develops an ED-board member rift, the only director the ED should deal with directly is the President. The ED works for the board; the President is the liaison. The President should first troubleshoot and if that does not succeed, then the President should mediate.
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If there are relational problems between the new ED and the board of directors, the ED may notice some of the following: micromanagement (http://www.4site4nonprofits.com/apps/blog/show/9243752-micromanagement-is-a-4-letter-word), attempts to bypass their authority, board members interacting directly with staff, divisiveness on the board (particularly around ED performance, role, and priorities), and directors grasping for the status quo (“this is how we’ve always done it”;).
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The executive director can be sure that any “growing pains” are behind them and that their relationship with the board is evolving, first, over time. Like any relationship (and an ED-board relationship can be quite intimate), it requires time to mature and a comfort level to develop. More importantly, the ED will notice increased levels of autonomy, responsibility, and creativity as the board defers on more decisions and seeks greater input and leadership.
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