No Virginia, Development Directors Don’t Do ALL the Work

development directors

Hello my fellow nonprofit superheroes! Today, let’s take a very brief quiz.

There’s just one question.

Please read the following statements and put a mental check mark next to any you’ve heard somebody say. If you’ve heard something close, that counts too.

____ Board member: “We finally have a development person! Wonderful! Now they can stop hounding me for money!

____ Board recruiter to prospective board member: “Yes, technically there is a fundraising obligation, but don’t sweat it. We have an awesome development person.”

____ Development Committee Chair: “Our primary role is to monitor the fundraising efforts of the staff to make sure we hit our goals.”

____ Lead Program Officer: “My development director wants me to go out on an ask? Doesn’t she know how busy I am???

____ Executive Director: “I don’t get it. Why is my new development manager always at her desk? Shouldn’t she be out asking for money?

Ok, quiz time is over. Just the one question. I meant it.

So how many check marks did you make? More than one?

If you checked any of them at all, you have some rather unreasonable expectations for your development directors and I have a few important thoughts to share with you.
Continue Reading

What If Your Board Just Disappeared?

board disappeared

I have always been a sporty person. As a kid, softball and basketball (yes, even though I stand at a towering 5 foot 2 inches tall).

In the last decade I have been more strategic. I picked up racquetball a while back – only needs two people, can play regardless of the weather and heavy cardio. Next up for me will be pickleball and platform tennis.

I do love a good sport. Great for socializing and not gonna lie. I have a competitive streak.

I’ve learned that nonprofit leaders love sports too.

And I’ve learned they have a favorite – Board Bashing!

Executive Directors consider it sport to blame the board for lots of things – not responding to emails, not reading board reports, focusing on the trees rather than the forest. And oh yes, then there is the sport of nagging board members to raise money and getting nowhere.

Executive Directors seem to really enjoy complaining about their boards. It’s like they would like the board to just go away and leave them alone.

So today, let’s play that game.

What if after a lengthy nagging session at a board meeting, your board members stood up and never returned.

Or if one day you sat at your desk and said, “I wish my board would disappear.”

And they did.

What would your E.D. life look like without a board?Continue Reading

Strategic Planning Sucks the Life Out of Nonprofits

strategic planning

**First published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on Oct 23, 2019**

It’s time for some truth-telling. The nonprofit sector has created a culture in which strategic work is seen as a necessary evil, a process to endure, something to suffer through. Executives often enter the process begrudgingly. They may insist there is no time, money, or support. They may say that the board adds little value, that a bold and expensive vision will be hard to “sell” to a board that must raise money. It’s pretty easy to see how an executive director could have an attitude problem.

When it comes to strategic planning, chief executives often feel sure they know the right answer and already have a sense of what needs to get done in the next few years. Board members will tell you their voices aren’t heard or valued. Precious few board members find making plans invigorating or enriching, nor are they excited to promote a new strategy to potential donors.Continue Reading

10 Tips for a Successful Staycation

staycation

Since the pandemic began, I have been sheltering in place at my home on the Jersey Shore.

And since then, I have been a total workaholic. I suspect I’m not alone.

Now, I totally get that given everything going on in the world, I’m privileged just to be able to work. So many don’t have that opportunity right now. But still.

I live inside my house in front of my laptop. Up with the birds, coaching, consulting, writing a second edition of my book (coming out in December – be on the lookout), and lots of virtual keynotes and webinars. Literally obsessed with helping leaders during this unprecedented time of pandemic and social unrest.

But after months of working long hours, right through weekend after weekend, I definitely needed a break.

There was a thought we might travel to Acadia National Park and find a pristine AirBnB but we got nervous about the risk. So we decided to stay right here.

A two week staycation.

It didn’t start off great. After a whole two days, I was convinced the entire thing was a bust.

Spoiler alert. It wasn’t the weather. In fact, it basically rained the entire time.

But then something changed. Something really important.

And so as someone who preaches about self-care to nonprofit leaders, I thought I’d share the lessons I learned during my staycation.
Continue Reading

The Letter You Hope You Never Have to Send

disaster plan

Recently, I introduced you to Cathy, who runs a residence for women struggling with dementia.

In the context of a country being ravaged by COVID-19 there are many awful things that could happen with Cathy’s organization. Families prohibited from visiting. Cash flow problems. An inability to bring in new residents. Social distancing inside the facility.

But we all know what the worst thing is: a resident or staff member could die from the Coronavirus.

Cathy and her board had that hard conversation. That demonstrated real leadership. They all decided that it was important to have a statement at the ready. This is part of their disaster plan.

A lot of you asked to see the letter. I spoke with Cathy and she generously agreed to share both the original draft and the final version so we can pull out the lessons in detail.

I’m very grateful to Cathy for allowing me to tell this story. As you can imagine, she is reluctant to share specifics for fear of alarming her organization’s family but the letters offer us all some valuable lessons.

Here goes.

Continue Reading

5 Steps the Best Boards Are Taking Right Now

best boards

True story. Amy Graves picks up the phone and calls one of the many friends of her organization, BCT Brooklyn Children’s Theatre in Brooklyn.

Her goal is simple – to check in and see how he and his family are doing.

That’s it. Good ol’ fashioned connection. Something we are all pretty damned hungry for these days.

They chat – he’s doing OK under the circumstances. He asks how she’s holding up.

Amy shares her own family update and then lets him know they have decided to engage kids in making movie musicals in lieu of the cancelled live performances. Rehearsals by Zoom are working out surprisingly well and families are excited about the new concept and maintaining an end of year accomplishment.

He thanks her and Amy thanks him. They end the call the way I‘m ending every call now – please stay safe and healthy. He says that he knows nonprofits are struggling and he was going to talk to his wife – he wants to help. He asked if Amy would call him the next day.

You can imagine that it was one of the first calls Amy made. : ) And this is what she heard.

“I spoke with my wife yesterday and we really want to help. We’d like to donate $50,000 and we’ll be sure to get you the donation quickly.”

I’d like to tease out the lessons in this story and show you five ways your board can be helpful to your organization right now. This is what the best boards are doing right now.

Because how you navigate this crisis will also define how you emerge.

Continue Reading

True Leadership in the Time of Corona

You may find this story hard to read. I did.

It was told to me by a member of the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, my online training and support platform for leaders of small nonprofits.

Cathy runs a residence for people with dementia. The vast majority of her patients are elderly, many with all sorts of underlying conditions. Cathy and her team are being vigilant and as of the time she told me this story, no one in her organization had been touched by COVID-19.

But Cathy is not living under a rock. She reached out to me with a draft letter and I offered to help to edit it. It’s the letter she needs to have at the ready. That tells her community that one of the residents has succumbed to the virus.

In a future blog post, I may offer the before and after version as a different kind of lesson, but that’s not my point for today.

(Update: Here is a link to the future blog post with the before and after versions of the letter.)

Today it is about the action her organization took. Take a minute to consider all the components of that story. There are three key lessons.
Continue Reading

When You Can’t Meet In Person

virtual gathering

During the last week, one client cancelled a three-day event, which was to include a day of strategic planning, a full-day board meeting, and a professional symposium.

Another client cancelled a two-day board retreat, one of the only times each year this national board meets in person.

In one case a board chair and in another an executive director described what they saw as an either/or proposition.

“Seems we have two options. Either we are going to cancel and reschedule or figure out some way to do this virtually.”

I wasn’t certain we had all the options on the table. Sure, the organization could decide to reschedule. But in this uncertain environment where we learn new things by the hour, there seemed to be some risk in that option too.

But I had a bigger problem with the second option – figuring out how to do the same meeting virtually. For me, converting an in-person gathering into a virtual setting is a losing proposition. You can’t simply take an in-person agenda and deliver on the meeting’s goals via phone or video conference.

I believe that meetings, designed as virtual gatherings, can be very valuable. As valuable as in person? An unfair comparison if you ask me.

You have to design each type expecting different outcomes. Valuable in different ways. And in this post, I offer a downloadable resource to help you to generate the creative thinking necessary to design a creative virtual gathering.

How about an example and then off to the download I hope will be helpful.Continue Reading

How Nonprofits Can Take Advantage of the 2020 Election Cycle

Listen up! The 2020 election presents a HUGE opportunity for your nonprofit. Here’s how to take advantage of it.

Let’s Play the New Year’s Eve Game!

favorite posts 2016

It’s nearly time to light a menorah, decorate a Christmas tree, do both or neither. You’ll spend time with family or with your chosen family. You will be nearly forced to stop working because the whole world slows down in the last week or two of each year.

At some point in these next few weeks you’ll have time to reflect – to consider who you were and what you accomplished in 2019.

I know. I know. You’ll say, “I can’t believe it. Wasn’t it just Valentine’s Day?” You might utter a few sentences that start with, “If only I…..” And, of course, given the political climate, there will be some jaw dropping and eye rolling.

Perhaps you will use my favorite phrase of 2019. “I can’t even.”

That came in pretty handy every time I read the news.

But I’d like to suggest that you play The New Year’s Eve Game at some point. It’s a very simple look back on the year. You need a way to capture a list of no more than 10 things.

List the 10 biggest things you did this year that make you really really proud to be a nonprofit leader.

That’s it. Just ten things. The biggest things to you – they don’t have to be earth shattering – they can be a small thing that is actually a really big thing. Review them closely, own them. Maybe when they feel right, write an email to your staff and board with your reflections about the list and thank them for the role they played in making that list possible. Let them all know how grateful you are that their passion and determination found its way to your organization. And that their fingerprints are all over each item on the list.

That email will mean the world to them.

Speaking of lists, I have one too. It’s a list of the blog posts I wrote in 2019 that my readers – people like you – seemed to like the most.

It’s not the same kind of list but it does give me pause to reflect on how lucky I am. Over 1 million views of my posts this year supported your work. And in this very crazy and kinda ugly world, I saw thousands of nonprofit leaders – board and staff – working to create a sense of fairness and beauty in a world that often feels painfully lacking in both.  And that makes me feel lucky indeed.

So holiday reflections, a few words of advice, and a list of posts folks found most useful this year. If you missed some of them, it’s a good time to catch up. I hope they help you.

Happy Holidays from a not-so-secret admirer.Continue Reading