Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New volunteerism data, resources

My Twitter feed brought an unexpected gift this morning, word that the 2009 Volunteering in America report has been released.

Based on 2008 data, the report offers a rather detailed picture of the scope and the depth of the ways in which we give our time in service to others. Statistics are available at the national level. They also are available for individual states. Wyoming's latest volunteerism information can be found here.

A few highlights that stick out to me this morning:
  • 132,100 Wyoming residents volunteered their time in 2008, 32.4 percent of our state's population (29.6 percent of adults). We rank 16th amongst the 50 states and DC.
  • We donated 40.1 hours per individual, placing us 19th amongst the 50 states and DC.
  • The value of that human power is an estimated $331.2 million.
While perusing the site this morning, I also wandered to the Corporation for National and Community Service's research reports section. There I found several papers of interest, research that I look forward to reading in the days ahead. To check out what is available, visit that research portal by clicking here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Personal qualities of effective board members

This morning, as I was perusing new online resources for a workshop I'm developing on Mission-Focused Boards, I discovered a rather wonderful list of "Personal Qualities of Effective Board Members" that readers of this blog might find inspiring.

Posted on the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals site, the list is broken into two sections: "Fundamental Characteristics" and "Personal Commitment." That framing resonates for me, because I've always felt (and you and I both know) that governance is more than the bottom line list of roles and responsibilities. There also is a fundamental need for not only basic acceptance of the organization's mission but a deep commitment to advancing that mission, as a member of the governance leadership team and as an individual member of that group.

I wouldn't say that anything on either list is particularly revolutionary. But the its creator did a nice job of articulating what is needed beyond the bottom line to serve your organization -- and your organization's mission -- effectively. You may have your own additions, qualities that you may think that the author left off.

Share this with your board as a conversation starter. Use as an opportunity for individual reflection on how you can increase your commitment to moving your board and your nonprofit closer to fulfilling your mission.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Questions for mission leadership

As I write this entry, I’m putting the finishing touches on the agenda for a retreat focused on a discussion I wish more boards would have amongst themselves.

Usually, when I am asked to facilitate a retreat, the goal is focused on a specific outcome, often a strategic plan (or the framework for a plan – it’s virtually impossible to create a complete, useful plan in four to eight hours). In this case, I’m helping the board engage in an extended conversation about its leadership role.

While I’ll leave the specifics of the session to the retreating board, I thought I’d share some of the general questions that will help frame the discussion.
  • How are we, as a governing body, moving our organization closer to its mission?
  • How am I taking an individual leadership role in that process?
  • How can we frame our work (e.g., how we spend our meetings) to enhance our governance responsibilities?
  • How do we move forward?
How might such a conversation be used to guide your board to greater productivity as a group and greater governance leadership?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Your nonprofit's economic impact

I just posted information about a workshop on the impact of the Wyoming nonprofit economy on the Snowy Range Nonprofit Institute blog, which prompted me to wonder:

How clearly can our nonprofit boards articulate the impact their organization's make on our local economies?

Whether the services provided can be described in tangible ways (e.g., jobs create, budgets spent) or in more subtle ways, every nonprofit adds value to its community economy. I'd like to challenge your board to do this: articulate, in ways that are meaningful to your stakeholders, the ways in which your organization contributes to the vitality of your local economy.

What appears on that list? What was an obvious addition as you began thinking about this? What were the surprises? How will you communicate what you have created with groups and people who need to hear it?

Friday, July 3, 2009

A few of my favorite nonprofit reads

If you follow me on Twitter (I'm @npmaven), you know that I've been tweeting several of my favorite summer nonprofit reads for the past several weeks. Today, as a small holiday gift to readers of this blog, I offer up a summary of some of those favorites.

Since it provided the foundation of my dissertation -- and has kept me pondering the possible in nonprofit board work -- the title at the top of my list goes to Chait, Ryan and Taylor's Governance as Leadership. The authors introduce a model of nonprofit governance that I find fascinating and exciting as both a board member and a consultant. Their model focuses on three modes of governance: fiduciary, strategic, and generative. Most of us are intimately acquainted with the fiduciary parts of our job. Many of us give a good effort trying to carve out time for the strategic work (and find it exciting when we do). Generative governance, the topic of my dissertation, truly has the potential to transform board work. It's a "must read" for nonprofit boards and staff.

Culture of Inquiry: Healthy Debate in the Boardroom also had a strong presence in my dissertation. This brief, accessible book from BoardSource offers up a vision of a board environment in which curiosity is encouraged and where divergent views are welcomed as opportunities to seek creative solutions to emerging issues. In my experience, such a culture is not as easy to create as it should be; but it is possible and it is effective in helping boards fulfill their governance potential.

Don't let the cheesy subtitle ("8 Ways to Grow a Nonprofit that Builds Buzz, Delights Donors, and Energizes Employees") sway you away from reading the third book on my list, The Charismatic Organization. Board members and managers alike will find ideas that resonate in the eight focal points described. Four in particular -- "Mission Motivation," "Active Outreach," "Meaningful Involvement," and "Data-Driven Decision-Making" -- should resonate for boards exploring ways to enhance their effectiveness as a leadership body.

It's hard to avoid discussions about generational differences in work and life lately, particularly comparisons between "Baby Boomers" and "Generation Y" or "Millennials." The best nonprofit-focused work exploring ways to bridge the divide to benefit our organizations is Working Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership. The authors discuss the varying needs and motivations of individuals drawn to nonprofit work from different life phases. They also offer strategies for appreciating their diverse talents and drives and bringing them to a common purpose: fulfilling your mission.

If your organization isn't actively engaged in reaching your audiences via social media -- or at least actively exploring ways to do that to move you closer to your mission -- now is the time do do so. If your board isn't part of that discussion, thinking strategically about taking advantage of new paths to outreach, it should be. Allison Fine's Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age is a good starting point.

Speaking of social media, a terrific board resource that I met on Facebook, Hildy Gottlieb, has written my favorite book on that perpetually terrifying topic: board members' fund-raising responsibilities. That title, FriendRaising: Community Engagement Strategies, is chock full of practical, fun, non-intimidating contributions that fit a range of board member comfort levels with their fund-raising role.

Finally, I offer up an oldie but a goodie, The Seven Faces of Philanthropy: A New Approach to Cultivating Major Donors. As the name suggests, this book outlines seven giving personalities that emerged in research targeting major gift donors. I've always believed that, while some of the specifics described reflect that limited focus, the bigger picture -- the donor personalities themselves -- actually can be used to describe and understand giving of both time (volunteers) and giving at all levels.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What is your nonprofit fish?

The morning RSS feed brought a link to the latest post at one of my favorite nonprofit blogs, Blue Avocado. The post, "Nonprofit Fish Quiz," introduces a fun online activity designed to offer a snapshot description of your comfort level swimming in the "nonprofit ocean."

The direct link to the quiz can be found in the Blue Avocado post, or here. It's quick, easy and interesting.

While it's probably written to target those employed in the sector, having board members take the quiz and then compare results would be a terrific developmental exercise. (I'm a "Blue Whale:" I am "thoroughly immersed in nonprofit culture" and can "swim anywhere in the ocean.") How committed to nonprofit work are your members? What's better for your organization: consensus and full commitment or diversity of motivations and interest? How have individual members exemplified the outcome of their quiz on behalf of your organization?

Periodic group reflection, particularly reflection that affirms members' commitment to your mission, is healthy for any nonprofit board. It is healthy for your organization, too, as board members have new opportunities to clarify and commit to their critical role in your success.