Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Few of My Favorite Nonprofit Books

As summer reading season begins, I’d like to share links to a few of my favorite nonprofit books (Click on book name to for a link.). Enjoy!

The Nonprofit Leadership Team
by Fisher Howe. I believe I’ve shared this one before, but it’s worth mentioning again. It provides a good ‘101’ overview of not only board responsibilities but also the critical importance of recognizing and nurturing the leadership partnership that should exist between the board and the executive director.

Governance as Leadership by Richard Chait, William Ryan, and Barbara Taylor. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this one in future entries: it’s taking a centerpiece role in my dissertation research (on how nonprofit boards learn). Reading it was a paradigm-shifting experience. I continue to draw new insights – and new questions – each time I read it.

The Seven Faces of Philanthropy by Russ Prince and Karen File. While this ground-breaking research into the motivations of giving focuses on major donors, I believe we can make the case for applying the seven “faces” to giving of money at all levels and giving of time. A fascinating framework for thinking about the ways in which we match donor interests to organizational needs.

Leaders Who Make a Difference by Burt Nanus and Stephan Dobbs. The authors provide an accessible, thought-provoking perspective on the unique leadership challenges that the nonprofit sector provides.

Breakthrough Thinking for Nonprofit Organizations by Bernard Ross and Clare Segal. The authors encourage nonprofits to stretch their thinking about the ways in which they address opportunities and challenges, and to explore different approaches to their work.

Working Across Boundaries by Russell Linden. This is a great text for exploring the ways in which collaboration for the common good can be designed for success.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Few of My Favorite NP Links

This spring, I set up a social bookmarking site for my favorite nonprofit-related websites that may be useful to readers of this blog.

Click here to access that site. On the right side of the page, you’ll see a column titled “tags.” These are categories of the links I’ve provided to assist visitors in their search for online resources.

Please bookmark my bookmark site and visit again soon – I’ll be updating regularly.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

My Favorite Bookmarks - Publications

I’m a reader. To me, nothing is better than sitting down with a stack of new magazines of journals, a highlighter and a notebook where I can capture the ideas that most excite me – that expand and inspire.

While they will never replace the pleasure of marking up a hard copy, the following online publications provide a great way to access some of the best and most accessible writing for nonprofits and their boards.

Nonprofit Quarterly. The print version is my nonprofit lifeline. The topics are timely and thought provoking, the writing accessible but not overly simplistic. The online version offers few articles, but whatever is posted is guaranteed to be of interest. I assign many of those online articles in my nonprofit courses; and they usually generate lively, rich discussions.

Stanford Social Innovation Review. SSIR is a fairly close second on my print reading list. The topics are more of a stretch from my natural interests, but I always find something that expands my thinking. As with NPQ, the writers and editors always manage to provide content that acknowledges both the practitioner’s need for useful information and the nonprofit professional’s intelligence. Like NPQ, SSIR posts a limited sampling of articles online.

Nonprofit World. Different in feel and tone, Nonprofit World has found its own place on my regular reading list. Non-subscribers have online access to a sampling of articles from the print publication.

Great Boards. While focused on the issues affecting its target audience – hospital boards – this online publication frequently features articles of general interest to any nonprofit board.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Laramie-Based Board Development Opportunity

One of the great joys of my life is coordinating the Snowy Range Nonprofit Institute, an annual professional development opportunity held on the University of Wyoming campus.

While I’m always proud of the quality of our curriculum and our attempt to tailor everything we offer to meet the needs of nonprofit practitioners and volunteers, I’m particularly pleased to alert readers of this blog to the wealth of board-focused topics this time around.

On the agenda for this year’s institute, scheduled for Aug. 5-7 in Laramie, are the following workshops:

• “Transparent Nonprofit Governance”
• “Effectively Operating a Governing Board”
• “Recruiting Community Leaders to Nonprofit Boards”

I’d encourage you to both bookmark our site – updates will be posted regularly – and to consider registering for the three-day event (and bring friends). It’s a great opportunity to access high quality board development in our own back yard.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Using the Board Building Cycle

Last time, we wrapped up our exploration of the nine components of the Board Building Cycle. The obvious question might emerge: now what?

I shared my approach to applying the BBC with students in my “Topics in Nonprofit Management and Leadership” course (offered through Online UW) earlier this semester, and similar questions arose. Some of their questions and concerns may resonate with readers who have read the BBC series on this blog.

The BBC model, presented as a never-ending cycle, is impressive but potentially daunting. Where do we start? Do we solve our issues at one point before moving on to the next step in the cycle? Does attention to the work described in the BBC take over our board?

I certainly advocate the BBC’s holistic approach to board development. In each phase of the cycle, I see potential to not only increase effectiveness but also enrich the experience for the board and individual members. But I also see how the big picture can feel overwhelming. If you’re intrigued but a bit intimidated by the scope of the Board Building Cycle, I have two suggestions.

First, acknowledge that your board probably is engaged in most (if not all) of these areas. You recruit new members. You orient those new recruits and provide at least basic continuing education opportunities once they are on board. You’re not starting from scratch.

Second, select one or two areas in the cycle where you believe focus will have the best chance to improve your board’s effectiveness. Could you do a better job of identifying the skills, knowledge and connections you need at the table to govern? Are there ways to more strategically engage board members in meaningful work? Do you know what motivates your members, and do you tailor recognition to fit them? Begin where you think your efforts can have success, and can make a difference to your board and its work.

As you begin to see results, explore opportunities to enhance your efforts in other areas in the cycle.

(NOTE: BoardSource recently released a new edition of its Board Building Cycle publication. Information is available here.)

Friday, May 11, 2007


Take time to celebrate board successes, large and small, throughout the year. Celebration acknowledges achievements to internal and external audiences. It also reinforces behaviors and values that perpetuate the board’s work and its sense of community.

Different people value different types of recognition for their efforts. Some prize that certificate that they receive at the annual banquet. Others consider that to be a waste of paper. Some appreciate recognition of their accomplishments in their hometown newspaper or your college newsletter. Still others respond to new leadership responsibilities and a title to acknowledge their expanded role.

Don’t assume you know how individual members like to be recognized. Aren’t sure? Ask! This increases the likelihood that you will reward people in personally meaningful ways.

Newer boards – As you achieve milestones in your efforts to establish and build your board, take time to recognize both the milestone and the individuals who played leadership roles in attaining it. Include recognition of individual and group contributions in your strategic planning and your organizational framework.

Veteran boards – Periodically review both your recognition efforts and individual volunteers’ preferences regarding recognition of their work for you. As you evaluate your recognition program, ask these questions: do we reward what we say we value? How can we better acknowledge behaviors and attitudes that we value? Do we send any contradictory messages?

Some questions to guide discussion:

• How do we mark our accomplishments?
• How do we recognize those who help us achieve our goals?
• What type(s) of recognition is meaningful to us? To our volunteers? To our donors and other supporters?
• How can we enhance our recognition efforts?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


Regular, systematic evaluation of both the group and its individual members helps the board focus on progress made toward its mission, and to make adjustments when approaches taken prove to be less-than-effective. Evaluation can take many different forms, from highly formal to informal, and should be a regular part of your work.

At minimum, the board must revisit its strategic plan on an annual basis: has it accomplished what it intended to achieve in the last year? If not, why? Were the goals or deadlines unrealistic? Did you lack needed resources to complete the job? Use this as an opportunity to revise your plan and/or identify alternative ways to reach your goals. Consider making this a semi-annual or quarterly process, to help your group focus on goals and make adjustments as needed.

On a more basic level, take some time after each meeting to evaluate the experience and your performance. Did you accomplish your group goals for the session? Does everyone have clear direction for individual and committee work to be done between now and the next meeting? Was the meeting format functional? Listen and learn from the answers.

Individually, take time throughout the year to review your performance. Are you living up to the responsibilities of board membership? What tools/support/information do you need to be more effective? Where can you obtain them? If you continue to struggle to meet your obligations, should you reconsider your position on the board?

Newer boards – Build evaluative processes into your board and committee structures, and communicate from the beginning the importance of regular review of progress made and obstacles to success.

Veteran boards – Review your evaluation processes for effectiveness – do they exist? Do they measure what you intend to measure? Do they provide useful information? If not, revise them to increase their value to your board. If you do not already have evaluation processes in place – at the board, committee and individual level – consider instituting them at an annual (minimum) basis.

Some questions to guide discussion:

• How do we measure “success,” both for the group and individual members?
• How do we evaluate ourselves as board members?
• Are our goals measurable?
• Do our evaluation tools measure the right things?
• How can we enhance these processes?

Monday, May 7, 2007


Retaining good volunteers, particularly board members, is a perpetual struggle for most nonprofits. When we find a good volunteer, we want to retain that individual for as long as we can keep him/her. However, very long-term service is seldom healthy for either the individual or the board.

Defining -- and enforcing -- term limits for board members are essential. Term limits should be spelled out in the board’s by-laws/policies; cumulative service of no more than four to six years is optimal.

Your board may want to consider a clause that allows a new term of service after taking a minimum of one year off. Requiring a break from board service accomplishes two things: it guarantees a systematic way to infuse the organization with new ideas and perspectives, and it provides the board member with a rest. (Rotating terms also allows the board a graceful way to “retire” inactive members.) Look for meaningful new opportunities for retiring members to serve, perhaps developing projects they didn’t have time to implement while on the board.

Rotation also applies to your leadership. Make a point to shift responsibilities for committee and board leadership across your membership. Give everyone an opportunity to contribute in a leadership capacity.

Newer boards – Build term limits totaling no more than six years into board by-laws. Include an option to renew only if a break in service is required.

Veteran boards -- Enforce your board term limits policies. If desired, identify more targeted volunteer roles for retiring board members who wish to continue service to your organization. Find ways to approach inactive members to explore whether board service is right for them. When appropriate, find less time-consuming ways for them to contribute.

Some questions to guide discussion:

• What are realistic terms for board members?
• What are the greatest obstacles to completing a board term?
• How do we deal with inactive members?
• How do we encourage leadership across the organization?
• How can we enhance these processes?

Friday, May 4, 2007


All board members require regular, continuing education at two levels. First, they need a solid understanding of your programs, so that they can speak credibly in their role as ambassadors for your organization. Second, they need tools to help them work effectively as a board. Education is a board responsibility – the board itself must determine its continuing education needs and how they should be met.

Education may take several different forms. Face-to-face interaction provides an opportunity for joint processing of information, debate and decision-making regarding application of concepts learned. Consider including an educational component in every meeting – even a 15-minute presentation or discussion can produce significant learning opportunities. Retreats offer this same face-to-face opportunity, in a concentrated setting and should be planned annually.

Written, web-based or audio materials also extend the “continuing education” value for individual board members. When possible, include time to discuss what they have been learning individually, to facilitate application of useful ideas and spark exchanges about broader issues as they affect your organization. ASK your board members how they prefer to learn in their personal and professional lives - and how that might be applied to their board development needs.

New and veteran boards – Include an educational component in every board meeting ( e.g., guest speaker) to address one of two educational needs: organizational (information about the organization) and board development (how to be a more effective board). Print and electronic media may be particularly useful as delivery vehicles. Establish a board development committee, or assign development tasks to an existing committee. Assign that group responsibility for identifying and scheduling educational programming.

Some questions to guide discussion:

• What are the continuing education needs of our members, and how do we address those needs?
• RE: our organization, our mission and our issues?
• RE: being effective board members?
• How can we enhance group and individual learning opportunities?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


Engaged, active board members can be your unit’s greatest allies. It’s important to help each individual identify ways to use his/her talents to benefit the organization, via committee/task force participation, leadership positions and special projects. Offer each board member an opportunity to expand participation in ways that are mutually beneficial to the individual and the organization.

Newer boards – New boards have no room for inactive members. Involve each member in some important aspect of the groundwork, especially mission development, strategic planning and structure building (e.g., by-laws and board policies). Assign each member to an active committee charged with some core aspect of your mission; and provide (via the board) measurable goals, with deadlines. Build a culture of accountability from the beginning – the board must take responsibility for achieving group and individual goals.

Veteran boards – As new members are recruited to the board, work with them to identify individual interests and talents. Then assign them to an active committee that will utilize those talents immediately. Ask the committee chairperson to contact the new member to discuss the group’s activities and define ways to participate immediately. Verify that the board mentor/mentee relationship is meeting the new board member’s orientation needs; make adjustments, if necessary.

Some questions to guide discussion:

• How do we bring new members into our work and our organizational culture?
• What are our “bottom line” expectations for our board members?
• What does a “good” board member do?
• How can we enhance our early involvement processes for new members?