Monday, February 8, 2016

The power of video in nonprofit storytelling: a local example (with a fundraising theme)

How can video help you tell your nonprofit story? How can it expand your board members' outreach toolbox as they interact with key community stakeholders? Is incorporating video even a realistic option for some of our smaller organizations?

I've so immersed myself in nonprofit storytelling writings and examples lately that I think I might be drowning - or at least deeply in "incubation" mode, ready for something to explode in this space. In the meantime, I've been thinking about the video posted above, promoting a local nonprofit and its drive to build (much needed) new facility. It caught my eye, and caught me by surprise, when it appeared in my Facebook feed. It also illustrates some of the storytelling power described in my informal research.

I don't know where this particular resource fits within Head Start of Laramie's larger community outreach program generally, or this capital campaign specifically. What I can say is that it does a good job of introducing the organization and its case for giving the sweet children it serves a better, more young person-friendly place to learn.

I also can say that this can be - should be - a nice little tool for Head Start board members to use in fulfilling their roles as ambassadors within our community.

Imagine being a Head Start board member speaking before our local Rotary Club or your community of faith and having this as the centerpiece of the talk. Imagine being able to pull out a cell phone, calling this up on your YouTube app, and sharing in conversation with a local business owner.  Or having a copy downloaded to your tablet for sharing in similar settings. Or being able to share a link in an email message advocating for early childhood education to a legislator. It would be only a start to the discussion that each scenario demands, but it's a good and fitting start.

Expert story analysts may pick up on more nuanced strengths and gaps than I do. But as a professional communicator (30+ years in public relations) and someone who knows our local nonprofit sector, the elements that stand out to me are:

  • A decent picture of the dismal setting in which the children learn. Head Start staff and parent volunteers do their very best with what they have, but the fact is that the facility (an old, creepy, former junior high school turned civic center) is not only a less than welcoming place for play but the security hazard described by the narrators. That outdoor play area, so beautifully and lovingly created by someone for those children? A lower-level roof in the center of the building that was never intended to be anything but a roof.  The next step in making the case for their new facility is a tour so supporters can see for themselves. But this gives a good, general picture of Head Start's current existence.
  • Ideally, children would be all over a video promoting an organization like this. But children are a naturally vulnerable population that requires special care, and special rules, when showing them in public settings. (I've worked with similar constraints in another part of my professional life.) Still, we see young children in enough of the brief video to remind us why all of this matters.
  • We don't know who the adults shown are - my lone critique. But I'm assuming they are teachers and the director. Hopefully, at least one is a Head Start board member and another a Head Start parent. Maybe there's a Head Start alum, too. There are different voices to be heard in this particular story, filling in some of the inevitable gaps in not being able to focus on direct beneficiaries of the fine service provided.

Now, you may be as wowed as I was by the professional production quality of this brief clip. You also may be thinking, "We operate on a shoestring budget. There's no way we can afford something like this." I have no idea how this particular video came to be or what the agreement was between videographer and the school. I'd intended to offer a counter-example in the post that unfolded in my head, but that promises to become unwieldy if I actually follow through today. I'll leave the second half of my point, and the two contrasting examples, for another post. For now, please know that you have options, whether or not you have the budget for a professionally-produced product.

In the meantime, have conversations with your staff and board about the kinds of stories you have to tell, and who needs to hear them. If you have great examples you are willing to share - in whatever format - please consider doing so in a comment below.

Storytelling is a core topic in the theme I've selected for 2016. This is only an opening, but one that I needed to take to begin releasing what's floating around in my brain right now.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Governance toolbox: Engaging, relating, inspiring, leading nonprofit boards

I'm not sure there's a grand theme to the resources shared this week, but each of the four resources definitely called out to me.

How to build a better board and staff relationship -- I can't help sharing this Nonprofit Hub interview with author John Fulwider. His work on building an effective board chair/CEO partnership is too important not to share whenever I have a chance. While I still encourage every nonprofit to add his excellent book to its leadership library, this post is an excellent, brief overview that also offers sample conversation-starting questions from the text.

5 whys for problem solving -- While the embedded video explaining the "5 Whys" process clearly assumes a private-sector context, the process it describes - and the surrounding post - has strong potential value in any problem-solving scenario. Its focus on digging beyond the surface makes it worthy of consideration for a board's leadership toolbox.

5 reasons you aren't raising more major gifts -- I'm a longtime fan of Gail Perry's approach to fundraising - especially her perspective on engaging board members in authentic ways. This post reminds me why this is the case. The five "reasons" featured represent conversations nonprofit boards and senior staff should be having about their organizations' major gift fundraising programs.  Share it with your board and use it as a focal point to begin those discussions yourselves. P.S. If you don't already have it in your agency library, buy Gail's excellent book, Fired-Up Fundraising. Her humane approach to meeting board members where they are to bring them into the development process is what so many of us lack.

The mindful board --  I'll close with one that is more thought piece than tool. I appreciate the way Roberts and Summerville conceptualize the "Evolution of the Board Species" for many reasons. I'll share two here. One, I am gravitating toward the highest rung of that evolutionary ladder, the "mindful board." I see many parallels and intersections with thinking - my own and others - about what really is the highest state of nonprofit governance. Still working with that. But there's another reason. For so many boards, the "working board" badge is one worn with immense pride. "We aren't (insert some term looking eerily like the "consent board" in this model)," they exclaim. "We're a working board." Yes, that is a better and more noble state than a disengaged, rubber-stamping body. But it is not the highest ideal to which we can, or should be, aspiring as volunteer nonprofit leaders. The authors of this post provide an appropriately challenging and inspiring vision of what lies beyond that "hard-working volunteer" phase. Have this discussion with your board. Please.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Governance toolbox: First potpourri of 2016

It's the first "final" Friday of the month of the year, which means it's time for the first "potpourri" toolbox of 2016. I'm opening it with a good one for discussion!

From risk aversion to risk wisdom -- My friend, Jane Garthson, challenges us to turn our thinking about risk on its metaphorical  head. The "tool" of this one is a framework for facilitating the kind of discussion that makes that shift possible. This is a conversation that all of our boards need to have, and to use as a foundation for taking a more productive approach to risk.

Different asking styles -- The most recent "Movie Monday" offers a nice extension of the conversation Emily Davis and I had earlier this week. Brian Saber of Asking Matters both discusses the general notion that there is no one, universal way to approach the ask in fundraising and shares insights about a process he helped develop to assess one's individual best-fit style for that work. In addition to the video, this post offers a link to the assessment tool on the organization's website. Consider having your board members take the assessment and compare notes. Who's a rainmaker? A go-getter? A mission controller? A kindred spirit? How can you use that information as a launchpad for helping each member find an authentic role in your fundraising process? (A note to readers finding this post in the distant future: Movie Monday resources tend to move or disappear over time. If the link no longer works, please leave a comment at the end of the post so that I can attempt to locate it in its new location or delete if it no longer exists online.)

Nonprofit bylaws: What to include and what to leave out --  This 2010 post by Ellis Carter isn't new, but it's a new addition to my bookmarks and an evergreen topic that should be of interest to any board. With the inevitable caveat that things change, I share Ellis's advice that boards may find useful.

Principles for good governance and ethical practice -- There are so few attempts to offer sector-level guidance on what it means to govern that this update of a Independent Sector document feels noteworthy. The 33 principles cover the fiduciary side of governance in vivid detail. My caveat: as comprehensive as the list is, it's still only one part of the job. We also need to tend to the strategic and generative modes of nonprofit governance - and not as frills that we fit around this work. That said, our fiduciary responsibilities cannot be ignored. Just know that they are not the only tasks to which you must attend.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A comfortable fit for the ambassador hat: encouraging board member outreach

How do we move nonprofit board members from focus on memorizing a generic 'elevator speech' to sharing their personal, authentic stories? How do we prepare and support them as they help to connect potential supporters to our nonprofits and our missions?

My friend, Emily Davis, and I covered those questions and much more today during an hour-long interview on Blab. The chance to pick Emily's brain on the value of fostering our board members' ambassadorial responsibilities - and to share the experience with you - was too good to pass up. She didn't disappoint!

The previous post here features an archived version of the Blab stream. However, as with the other interviews conducted on that platform, I'm also sharing an embedded YouTube version. That way, if Blab goes away or changes how it functions in the future, we'll still have an accessible version of our conversation.

By the way, I realized today that I haven't yet shared a link to what sparked all of this: Emily's excellent post, titled "Moving from the Elevator Pitch to Ambassadorship." I know you'll enjoy not only listening to the wisdom shared in our discussion but also the counsel offered in her original article.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Live stream: Facilitating, motivating nonprofit board member ambassadorship

How do we make the case for board member ambassadorship - reaching out on our behalf with stories of mission impact to their personal and professional networks? How do we support board members in that work and facilitate their success?

Tomorrow (1/27), I sit down with my friend, Emily Davis, to discuss these questions and more in a live-broadcast interview on Blab. Emily is president of Emily Davis Consulting, a full-service, Colorado-based practice that provides a range of training, facilitation and consulting services. Emily is a BoardSource-certified trainer and true expert on all things governance. She also is the author of a book that should be on every nonprofit's shelf, Fundraising and the Next Generation.

Our interview begins at 11 a.m. Mountain (10 Pacific, noon Central, and 1 p.m. Eastern). I shared the direct link to the session in last week's governance toolbox post; but I also want to provide a live-stream option here, as I did with my previous interviews. You should be able to watch live in either location. Tech gods willing, an archived recording also should appear here after the event.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Governance toolbox: A wintry mix of nonprofit board goodness

Take off the winter chill with an eclectic mix of governance-related goodness this week.

Inspiring and empowering your nonprofit board ambassadors with Emily Davis -- I'm thrilled about my next live Blab interview for two reasons. One, my guest is one of my favorite governance thinkers (and friends), Emily Davis of Emily Davis Consulting. Two, we're talking about one of her areas of expertise and and a spotlight topic for the blog this year: engaging nonprofit board members as ambassadors for your organization and your mission. We'll be live-streaming our conversation on Blab at the link above on Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 11 a.m. Mountain, 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific. As with my previous two interviews, I'll also embed the live stream in a post on this site, allowing you to watch on the blog itself. An archived version of the discussion will be made available as a more permanent record of our talk. Emily is one of the most creative minds I know.  You'll want to benefit from her deep expertise on this important topic.

Great Boards Newsletter (Winter 2015-2016) -- This link takes you to a PDF download of the latest issue of the American Hospital Association's excellent publication. While readers connected to hospitals or other nonprofits in related fields may find value in the entire issue, I'm sharing for the lead article written by Pamela Knecht, "Committees: The Key to Generative Governance." Finding quality sources on generative governance always is a thrill, because they're few and far between. This is a good one, especially for centering that critical creative work in a place where impact can be huge: our committees.

Got a fundraising-resistant board? Ask these 11 questions -- If we're honest with ourselves, most of our board members do not yelp "Wahooo!" at the prospect of participating in the fundraising process (Those of you for whom that is the case have our collective awe - and a mild case of envy.). For those of us in this more common situation, Amy Eisenstein provides a solid list of discussion questions designed to generate board conversation about the need for external financial support and, hopefully, some additional context for why their participation in that process is important.

How to generate word of mouth marketing for your nonprofit -- Who are your superfans? How do we create board member superfans? This Movie Mondays video isn't board-specific, but it's germane to the year's theme and to my coming talk with Emily. I offer it as much for context as it is for a specific action resource. I also offer it with encouragement to share with your board, using it as a starting point for a discussion about the myriad ways they - and other superfans - can spread your mission and impact stories.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Unearthing board blind spots: A few potentially illuminating questions

If we acknowledge that our nonprofit boards undoubtedly have blind spots that limit their thinking, are they doomed to govern in semi-ignorance?

In last week's post, I talked about the inevitability of being bounded by our personal experiences, biases and worldviews in our boardroom deliberations. While we may not be able to access whatever lies deep within our individual psyches, and we may not be able to dive into fellow board members hearts and minds, we can frame our discussions in ways that encourage them to stretch our collective thinking. (Note: This doesn't excuse board from their legitimate responsibility to set and fulfill recruitment goals that bring a broader range of perspectives and experiences into the room in the first place.)

As I wrote last Monday's post, a flurry of questions that might help facilitate discussions that stretch our blind spots emerged. They felt like too much for the post that was unfolding. Instead, I offer up a few of them today, with the caveat that they represent only a sampling of the kinds of questions that could stimulate more expansive boardroom inquiry. I also ask that readers share their own recommendations of questions that might help alleviate board blindness.

Here are a few examples of simple conversation starters:

What do we know for sure about this situation?
  • How do we know that?
  • What evidence do we have?
  • From what source(s)?
  • How credible are those sources?
  • What are the impacts we want to see?

What don't we know?
  • What would having access to that (information) inform our thinking about this issue/opportunity?
  • How do we go about accessing this information?
  • What's keeping us from doing that?

What if we're wrong?
  • What would be different?
  • For whom?
  • How would we operate differently?
  • How would our decisions change?
  • What evidence would we use to demonstrate impact?

Who would have a different perspective than ours?
  • What are their interests in this issue?
  • Where do their interests intersect with ours?
  • Where do their interests conflict with ours?
  • What do we need to learn about, from them, before we act?

What are our lingering questions about this?
  • What do we need to do to fill in these knowledge gaps?

What makes us uncomfortable, as a board and as individual members?
  •  What is the source of that discomfort?

That list is long if you're a board wanting to expand your knowledge horizons. No, I'm not suggesting you sit down and churn out answers to every one offered. But it's still also only a small sampling of the kinds of inquiry that boards should be committing to making part of their ongoing deliberation processes.

The questions also aren't the most complex, and that is by design. Testing our assumptions can be a challenging process all by itself. Reviewing the list again, the most adventurous conversation thread (and potentially the most fun) is the "what if we're wrong" set. An alternative way of framing that I considered posing was this: "What if the world turned upside down and we faced the exact opposite circumstances of what we do now?" (Actually, in a confident group open to surprises, that can be a powerful retreat discussion.)

I know I just said I didn't expect our boards to tackle the list as a whole. But some clearly are essential to any thoughtful, governance deliberation.  I also said that it is far from a comprehensive list - and that I'm interested in your additions. How would (how do) you encourage your boards to test their assumptions about what is true and how you respond to that truth? For my consultant and board educator friends, what tips might you share to encourage boards to challenge their thinking about important issues?