Monday, February 29, 2016

High-impact leading, learning: One path to nonprofit governance success

Ensuring that a nonprofit board has the kind of impact we expect of that body begins with a vision of nonprofit governance that is high impact. For too many boards, the job description just isn't set up to deliver what we say we want from our volunteer leaders.

If we want nonprofit governance that matters, we need to define nonprofit governance work in ways that matter. One framework that accomplishes this is Chait, Ryan and Taylor's Governance as Leadership, a revolutionary model that informed my doctoral research and shifted my entire nonprofit board worldview in the years since its introduction.

In a year dedicated to focus on high-impact board leading and learning, I must begin with grounding discussion about expectations and aspirations in a governance model that facilitates - demands - that work. For me, that framework is Governance as Leadership. It is not the only path to the kind of impact that we say we seek, but it is one that has the potential to lead us there. Whether a board accepts the framework as a whole or simply uses it as a guide for rethinking what we ask of our boards, there is value in using Governance as Leadership as context for discussing nonprofit board impact.

This weekend, as I was uploading the video above to the blog YouTube channel to share with a new group of learners, I realized that is also offers a launching point for the GAL-themed posts to come. It's long but worth a watch, a bookmark for later reference, and a share with your board.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Governance toolbox: Late-winter tidbits

Three governance-related items that caught my eye this week:

Infographic: 11 questions nonprofits should ask to assess their risk management practices -- The title says it all: This BDO post, offered in the form of an infographic, offers questions designed to engage nonprofit leaders in powerful discussions about the potential and role of risk in their mission areas and within their operations. They are examples of higher-level inquiry where board work needs to take place. Have you had these discussions yet?

3 questions: Warren Berger on why some leaders fear questions -- A brief video featuring an author discussed here many times, this may be worthy of sharing with your board as a centerpiece of a discussion about why questions need to be at the center of its governance work. I've occasionally encountered board members who may not have feared questions but who found the idea that their role was more than dispensing answers occasionally challenging. That's their primary role in other areas of their lives; it's one where they feel quite comfortable. That mindset may contribute to push-back that may be familiar to some here: the idea that setting aside time for questions and open discussion takes away from "real work."

Creating a mission statement that transforms a community -- The latest Movie Monday offering deserves a wide viewing and discussion among nonprofit leaders. How do we frame our purpose? The work that we do to meet that purpose? To engage others in that purpose? To create the change that we say we want to make in the world? Please share. Then discuss.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lend a helping paw (and hoof): More examples of great nonprofit storytelling

Some missions lend themselves well to visual storytelling. When that is the case for our mission, providing visual representations of our impact to support our board members' outreach work can enhance their potential success in fulfilling those important responsibilities.

I shared a local example in last week's post, one introducing our local Head Start and its case for support of a new facility for its students. While exploring the videographer's YouTube channel, I found another wonderful example, this video created for the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region in Colorado Springs.

It's tagged for the Fur Ball, one of the organization's fundraisers. I'm not clear whether it was shown at the ball, or in promotion related to the ball. Whatever its original role, it offers an excellent example of stewardship (thanking donors) and demonstrating impact via individual animal stories.

Lest we view these excellent, professionally-produced videos and throw up our hands in budget-limited defeat, let me share a powerful example of video storytelling that takes a very different approach. If you are an animal-loving member of one or more social media outlets, you may have encountered Hope for Paws, a California nonprofit known for gritty rescue stories like this one.

Hope for Paws' YouTube channel and the social media outlets it feeds are full of compelling stories like this one. Clearly, these are amateur videos, shot on a phone or camera by a volunteer or staff member as the rescues are unfolding. They lack the professional polish of the one shared earlier and in last week's post. But it's impossible to deny their storytelling/impact power.  It's also important to note that most, if not all, include at least two calls to action - one to donate and one to adopt.

I offer the Hope for Paws example as evidence that our ability to tell our stories with technology support need not be hampered by lack of access to professional resources.

As with last week's example, having ready access to either of these resources can make board members' outreach work easier and even more compelling. They have visual evidence of lives saved and impact made to back up the data and whatever else you give them to share with donors and other stakeholders. Certainly, they should have a ready pool of comparable stories to tell. But having access to visual representations of some of those stories adds to their power.

What kinds of stories can your board members tell? What kinds of stories can you capture to support their storytelling on your behalf?

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.