Stop Feeling Guilty For Wanting to Work Less

work less

A nonprofit executive director client of mine is headed out for vacation next week.

Re-read that sentence if you don’t mind. Note that the word “executive director” and “vacation” appear in the same sentence. Without the word cancel.

So we are headed in the right direction. Then I ask the key question. “Will you be checking your email while you are out of the country?”

The answer is pretty typical: “Maybe just a few times a day, but that’s all. I’ll definitely work less.”

Like I was supposed to offer a round of applause. Like “that’s all” is evidence of a remarkable commitment to self care.

She received no applause from me.  

“That’s all.” Let’s tease that out, shall we?  

  • That’s all… Because I don’t trust anyone else to take care of things?
  • That’s all… Because I have to demonstrate that I work really hard all the time?
  • That’s all… Because I’m a “pleaser” who has trouble saying “no”?
  • That’s all… Because just the thought of focusing on my own well-being makes me feel tremendous guilt?

I’m going to dive into this issue – this sense of guilt so many nonprofit leaders have about any kind of self-investment – a whole lot deeper as part of my upcoming free online mini-series which I’m calling: High Impact, No Burnout: The Nonprofit Leader’s Guide to Loving Your Work AND Living Your Life. Click the link to request access.

I’m so excited for the mini-series and hope you’ll watch and participate. I think it will be game changing for a lot of people.

But in the meantime, it’s time for some tough love from Joan.Continue Reading

Should You Ever Cover Board Member Expenses?

board member expenses

When my wife ran The Food Network, she often got 911 calls during Thanksgiving week.

“Eileen, do you brine your turkey?”  

“What’s your favorite stuffing recipe?”  

It was actually hilarious. Eileen is a very good cook mind you but she would respond to all callers the same way. “I am not a chef; I make TV shows.”

As for me, I get more than my fair share of 911 calls. Some folks expect me to be an accountant, a human resources professional and oh my, lots of folks ask me for legal counsel I can’t and have no business providing.

But a former client called 1-800-JOANHELPME (not a real number, don’t actually call that) last week and asked me a really good question.

I thought many of you might have this same question and would benefit from knowing my point of view.

Ready? It’s this.

What board member expenses should nonprofits pay for?

GREAT question! Here’s my answer…Continue Reading

How to Get Your Board to Approve a Give and Get Policy

approve give and get

Don’t you just love when an episode of your favorite TV show comes in two parts? Complete with cliffhanger?

This week I’ve got one for you. It’s no “Who Killed J.R.” on Dallas or “Is Jon Snow really dead” on Game of Thrones. But it’s the best I’ve got.

When last we left our nonprofit heroes, I made the case for why a board should have a give and get policy. Why it’s so critically important.

Board members are leaders and ambassadors for your organization and simply cannot be 100% credible messengers without 100% giving. If your role as a board member is to invite folks to be a part of the organization as a donor, the two most important words you will utter?

Join me!

I hope ‘Part 1’ persuaded you that this policy is a must have. Now comes the harder part – getting the policy approved by your board.

I heard you. You tried to cover the laugh over with an awkward cough. Stay with me. I cannot guarantee my advice will work but I can tell you that without some of these strategies, you don’t stand a chance.

Ready…?Continue Reading

5 Reasons Your Board Would Benefit from a Give and Get Policy

give and get

A give and get policy can mean slightly different things to different organizations.

But essentially it means that every board member must ‘give’ a donation of a certain amount AND help to procure financial resources.

It is typically something that the board votes on so that it becomes part of what candidates are told when they are being vetted for board services.

Please note that it is not a give OR get policy. Every single board member must give. There are many reasons for this, but my favorite? Because the two most powerful words a fundraiser utters?  

“Join me!”  

But all too often, boards push back. They don’t want to be on the hook for this. And it’s not just board members who push back – executive directors and development directors do too.

Today my goal is simple. To introduce you to the benefits. Staff leaders can be dogs with bones about this (not helpful) and just pound their fists that it’s the board’s JOB.

This is not the path to success.

Why not try framing the conversation differently? The list of ‘why nots’ is clear (and long). And if they’re not, I’ll write more about them below.

Let’s focus on the benefits instead, shall we?

Here are five benefits for a give and get policy. I bet you will find that at least one of them will offer you an ‘AHA’ moment.Continue Reading

5 Questions to Ask Before You Join a Board

Join a board. Please. Nonprofits everywhere are desperate for people like you.

There are great reasons to join a board.

But as much as I want you to raise your hand and jump onto the playing field, and I really want you to do just that, I also have to recognize that sometimes people have bad board experiences.

And we certainly want to avoid that.

So before you join a board, how can you know what you’re getting yourself into? Are there questions you can ask that will help you figure it out before you say yes? You bet there are!

Here are five really good ones.Continue Reading

Before You Take That New Executive Director Job…

executive director jobs

The story is mine but it’s oh so common. When I was hired to be an Executive Director of a nonprofit organization, I had no idea what I was getting into. The board had even less of an idea. We had a budget on paper. Paper, it turns out, we couldn’t afford. From tip to toe, there was a lot of work to be done, starting with raising enough money for payroll.

I often wonder. If I had asked the search committee the right kinds of questions, would I have understood the depth of the challenges? And here’s an even better question. Would I have walked away from the opportunity that turned out to be one of the most professionally rewarding roles in my career?

That’s the thing about applying for Executive Director jobs. I don’t think I asked particularly good or smart questions of the search committee. Funny, right? I pride myself on asking good, smart questions.

And why didn’t I? Perhaps I wanted the Executive Director job so much I did not want to be dissuaded. Or maybe I thought the board really wouldn’t know the answers.

So what should we ask search committees when we’re interviewing for Executive Director jobs?

Continue Reading

Executive Directors Are Superheroes, But They Have Their Kryptonite

executive directors

As I write this, the biggest movie in the world is the superhero film, Avengers Endgame.

Now, I’m not the biggest action movie buff in the world, but I do know a superhero when I see one. And Executive Directors are society’s superheroes. There is just no doubt in my mind.

They go toe-to-toe with their opponents on national TV.

They fearlessly meet with elected officials to influence change.

They lead with a level of determination far beyond those of mortal men and women.

But just like Superman (and yes, I know he’s not in the Avengers), Executive Directors have their kryptonite. Their (potentially) fatal flaw.

It’s not a lack of resources… or a disengaged board.

No, those are obstacles for sure. But this problem is actually harder to overcome. And it affects Executive Directors regardless of level of performance.

And it’s not an addiction to hummus either.

Want a hint?Continue Reading

10 Common Mistakes Boards Make When Hiring a New Executive Director

hiring a new executive director

As you read this, there are two things to keep in mind.

1) Great boards often screw up a leadership transition.

2) Mediocre boards always do.

The single most important job a board has is hiring/firing and THEN hiring a new Executive Director. At least a great board stands a fighting chance of getting it right.

I spoke to a board chair once who oversaw a search for a new E.D. after the current staff leader left following a long and strong tenure. The person they hired was kind of a disaster. That’s being kind.

The board chair was actually terrific. I asked him to reflect. “Did you hire the best candidate?” Oh yes, he replied. Then he paused. “But it was a lousy candidate pool and I think we all knew it.”

I’m not at all downplaying just how hard this job is. We’re talking about a group of board members who all have day jobs, working together to make a mission-critical decision.

First let’s talk about why this is so very important today and then I will offer you what I see as the ten most common mistakes boards make when hiring a new Executive Director.Continue Reading

The Best Book I Read This Past Year

useless meetings

Useless meetings? I have had my share. Bet you have too.

Back in my corporate America days I would find myself sitting in meetings that were just a pure waste of time.

Maybe the meeting was poorly led. Or the convener liked to hear herself talk. Or there was no agenda. Or the meeting got awkward for any number of reasons.

Later, as a nonprofit board member, I left board meetings thinking I could have called in, put the phone on mute and checked Facebook. I had learned nothing that I had not read in the written packet.

My technique for dealing with useless meetings? I called it “wood grain analysis.” My technique for disappearing from the room. A nice close look at the patterns and an opportunity to make mental lists about the work I should be doing.

And I’ll confess. I am certainly not immune to this problem here in my consulting shop. I have let staff members drone on (I did not want to hurt their feelings or embarrass them in front of colleagues). I have raced into meetings unprepared to lead it and pulled some agenda out of thin air.

We have all done it.

But during a recent break I discovered the antidote to this syndrome, and I felt compelled to share it with you.Continue Reading

10 Ways Boards Screw Up Leadership Transitions

leadership transitions

There are two things I want you to keep in your head as you read this.

  1. Great boards often screw up leadership transitions.
  2. Mediocre boards always do.

I spoke to a board chair once who oversaw a search for a new Executive Director when the current staff leader left after a long and strong tenure. The person they hired was kind of a disaster.

I’m being kind.

Now, the board chair was actually terrific. I asked him to reflect. “Did you hire the best candidate?”

“Oh yes,” he replied. Then he paused. “But it was a lousy candidate pool and I think we all knew it.”

One of my biggest motivations to advocate for strong boards rests right here. The single most important job a board has is to hire or fire and THEN hire a new Executive Director. At the least, a great board stands a fighting chance of getting it right.

First, I want to talk about why this is so important and then I will offer you my top 10 ways board members can screw up an E.D. search or other leadership transitions.Continue Reading