Walk and Talk

The relationship between a nonprofit’s executive director and board chair sets the stage for the effectiveness and energy of the organization.

What are the most important characteristics of a good working relationship between a nonprofit’s executive director and its board chair? Communication, trust, and candor.

Executive leaders and board chairs can attain their most productive levels of management and governance by regularly and honestly assessing the current status of the organization, by deeply understanding their roles and responsibilities, by respecting the guidelines of best practices, and by working on those three qualities of communication, trust, and candor.

To develop those strengths, first understand how organizations and boards grow and change. (Watch for an upcoming CP Connector article on the stages of board development.) To determine where your organization stands in the lifecycle of boards, ask yourselves if board members:

  • offer their own program ideas?
  • focus on day-to-day operations of the nonprofit?
  • recruit new board members?
  • act as philanthropic leaders?

With an understanding of where your organization is in the board lifecycle, begin to hone the roles and responsibilities of the executive leader and the board.

The executive director/chief executive office is responsible for:

  • overseeing day-to-day operation of the organization
  • developing programming
  • creating a budget with input from the board
  • overseeing marketing and communications

The board chair guides the work of the board to:

  • determine strategic direction
  • hire the ED/CEO and delegate operations
  • provide oversight (legal, financial, and managerial) and set policies
  • partner with ED and staff to raise funds to actualize the strategic plan
  • serve as passionate ambassadors for the nonprofit’s mission and vision

The board chair also takes on the responsibility for evaluating the executive and for leading the board’s self-evaluation. Far from being onerous, these are critical opportunities to reflect on the health and well-being of the organization and the relationships between executive leaders and their boards.

Clarity about the development stage of the board and about roles and responsibilities provides the groundwork for strong communication, trust, and candor. These qualities may emerge naturally if there is already a good fit. But usually they must be developed intentionally through purposeful outreach and communication:

  • Some EDs report talking to board chairs several times a week, or meeting once a month at a favorite café, or local lunch spot, or scheduling regular walking meetings à la Steve Jobs (exercise the brain and body).
  • Whether you are an ED or board chair, consider meeting one-on-one with other board members.
  • Make sure board documents to or from the ED are accurate to avoid misunderstanding or embarrassment.
  • Choose the right timing for conversations—what days or times offer the most relaxed and open interactions?
  • Institute a clear orientation process for a new ED and for board members to give new people a sense of the lay of the land and to clarify expectations.
  • Commit to a culture of “no surprises” to develop open and honest communication.

The ED and board chair create the best balance in their work for the organization when they can communicate openly and honestly and embrace their shared leadership. So, next time you have a chance, take a walk and talk.

If you’d like to talk to Capacity Partners about a board development, please don’t hesitate to email Margo Reid at margo@capacitypartners.com


How Leadership Coaching Can Help You

Are you wondering exactly how leadership coaching can help you be a better leader?

Leadership coaches partner with clients in a structured, challenging, and creative process, often focused on a particular issue or problem.

Some issues clients bring to leadership coaching include:

  • An upcoming opportunity they’d like to leverage
  • Wanting to change how they manage or show up as leaders
  • Feeling stuck in a certain pattern or management style
  • Exploring ways to increase effectiveness
  • Navigating a difficult work challenge

Professional coaching focuses on setting goals, creating outcomes, and managing personal change. It is present and future-goal oriented. Your coach will ask powerful questions, act as a sounding board, provide objective assessment and observations, listen fully and actively, challenge your blind spots, and foster shifts in thinking that reveal fresh perspectives

Coaching starts with a clear agreement about the topics to be explored and the desired outcome. The engagement starts with a 3-to-6-month contract which can be amended as needed. It works best when the client brings a desire to change, a willingness to explore new behaviors, and openness to challenging established patterns.

As the old saying goes, leaders aren’t born, they’re made. And leadership coaching can help you become the leader you want to be.

Capacity Partners offers proven leadership coaching so nonprofit leaders can develop their potential and guide their organizations more effectively. For more information, email Louise Stoner Crawford.


Managing Transitions

The only constant in life is change, and the same proves true at nonprofit organizations. As nonprofit leaders, we’re either preparing to launch the next program, initiating a fundraising campaign, or working with our boards to map out a strategic plan for the next five years.  And those are just the changes we plan for.

There is an implicit responsibility embedded in every nonprofit manager’s job description: change leader.  But what does it mean to be a change leader?  How do we effectively lead transitions? How do we include all of our stakeholders in the process?

While successful change management requires utilizing a host of best practices, one important tactic dictates that you enlist a core group of staff, board, and other stakeholders to drive the change you’re seeking to make.  In order to do this, you need a communications plan that details your vision, give people the chance to discuss concerns, then apply the change throughout your operations. Successful change management includes a plan that first identifies your organization’s stakeholders, and then outline strategic communication plans for each individual stakeholder group. Think about how you would want to be communicated with if someone else was leading your organization.

Laying the groundwork for a successful change takes time.  As Seth Godin once said, “it takes about six years of hard work to become an overnight success.”  However, it’s also important to celebrate small wins and acknowledge the hard work of everyone as they strive to make change.

Capacity Partners is ready to support you your nonprofit during your transition from facilitating meetings to developing comprehensive strategic plans.


How do you know when you’re ready to do a strategic plan?

Perhaps you and your board have decided your organization needs a new strategic plan. But how do you know if you’re ready to embark on the strategic plan process?  Before you hire that consultant to help you develop a bold yet achievable strategic plan, make sure your key stakeholders – board, staff, and volunteers – have answered these questions.

  1. Is your organization in a state of crisis?  If so, you must deal with the crisis before developing your strategic plan so you have the required mental space and staff time to allow all of you to consider the deeper issues of where it is heading.
  2. Are key board leaders relatively stable?  If your board officers are in transition, it might be wise to wait until they are comfortable in their new roles.
  3. Is the executive director planning to stay?  Are there minimal issues with your CEO? While an organization can do strategic planning without an executive director – and sometimes does, to assess direction and determine the right CEO to hire–for a complete strategic planning process, it is best to have on board the person who will lead the execution of the plan, which is nearly always the executive director.
  4. Do board and staff have time to plan?  While no one has enough time these days, meaningful strategic planning requires a time commitment of at least a half to full day a month for three to six months. The chair of the strategic planning committee and the executive director must dedicate even more time.  Many small nonprofits hope do the impossible – complete a strategic plan in a single half-day planning session, something that’s generally neither wise nor useful.
  5. Do you have someone willing to make the time and energy commitment to chair the strategic planning committee?  It is too much to expect board chair to lead this process while handling their other responsibilities.
  6. Do you want a board or staff-drive process, or some combination of the two? Very small nonprofits tend to choose a board-driven strategic planning process while large organizations with staff members who bring special expertise are often staff-driven. Either way, the board still owns the responsibility for setting the strategic direction, so the board must take the lead on the foundational elements of developing your mission/vision and values as well as setting the strategic direction and goals. Staff can help tremendously with the current situation analysis and creating strategy and implementation plans.
  7. What kind of consultant do you want – a partner to guide you through the entire process, or a facilitator with your team doing most of the work? It is important to interview different consultants and so that your needs match with the consultant’s style.

If you’d like to learn if your organization is ready for a strategic plan, or if you’re ready to start the planning process, call Capacity Partners at 240-462-5151 to learn if our team of experts can help you decide if you are ready to proceed and then discuss next steps with you.


A quick summary of Organizational Vitality

Click the image below to download a copy of our article on Organizational Vitality!


The First Pillar of Organizational Vitality

As we discussed recently, Capacity Partners has developed a revolutionary program called Organizational Vitality© that can transform your organization.

Organizational Vitality© is the heart of what makes a nonprofit resilient, successful, and beloved. Organizational Vitality is why some nonprofits are superlative in nearly every facet – program, mission, leadership, recognition, and planning. A lack of Organizational Vitality is the reason so many nonprofits struggle with issues they can’t identify, difficulties which prevent them from fulfilling their grand potential.

There are four pillars of Organizational Vitality: vision, goals, leadership, and engagement. Today we’ll focus on vision.

Vision, quite simply, is what inspires people. It is movement and change wrapped up in a single essential sentence. A well-articulated vision is a proven way to engage your stakeholders and steer your mission.

While your mission is pragmatic, an aspirational vision ought to be ambitious and rousing. Let’s say you are part of a nonprofit that feeds low-income people. Your mission might be “to provide nutritious food to people in need in the DC metro area.” Your vision, however, could be “to eliminate hunger in the DC metro area.”

A nonprofit with Organizational Vitality possess both an aspirational vision and a strategic vision that describes where they want to be in three to five years. For example, “to enable 50% of the people we currently serve to become economically stable and no longer need food assistance” might be the organization’s strategic vision. Easily-understood aspirational and strategic visions are one of the keys to being an effective, successful nonprofit organization.

Weaving through every action, every staffer, and every volunteer, vision is both the foundation for a nonprofit and the great change the organization wants to create in the world. An organization with vitality has a vision that is both the beginning and the end and acts as a guiding principle for the nonprofit.

Would you like to learn more about crafting an inspiring vision and becoming a nonprofit with Organizational Vitality©? Contact Mary Robinson, President and Founder of Capacity Partners, at mary@capacitypartners.com today.


Organizational Vitality – The Heart of Nonprofit Success

For thirty years, the talented team at Capacity Partners has consulted with a variety of nonprofit organizations – large and tiny, emerging and established, effective and struggling. We’ve worked with organizations in every sector, including human services, education, advocacy, arts, environmental, health, and international causes.

We recently asked ourselves, what makes one organization successful and another less so? On paper, most organizations have the elements that should cause them to be effective. People, programs, systems, marketing and communication, fundraising, finances, and culture are the foundations of every nonprofit. Yet we all know only a few nonprofits that possess that undefinable “it” factor that makes them not just good, but great. We admire those rare, astonishingly effective nonprofits which seem to easily and consistently fulfill their missions. They have happy staff and dynamic leadership and are revered as top-tier, leadership organizations.

After hours of conversations and even more hours spent pondering the nonprofit “it” factor, we realized we could actually define the undefinable. We discovered that the difference between nonprofits that survive and those that thrive is what we call Organizational Vitality.

Organizational Vitality is the heart of what makes a nonprofit organization resilient, successful, and beloved. Organizational Vitality is why some nonprofit organizations are superlative in nearly every facet – program, mission, leadership, recognition, and planning. A lack of Organizational Vitality is the reason so many nonprofit organizations struggle with issues they can’t identify, difficulties which prevent nonprofits from fulfilling their grand potential.

Drilling deeper into the concept of Organizational Vitality, we have created an entirely unique way to view and assist nonprofit organizations. During a recent seminar, we taught Organizational Vitality to a variety of nonprofits, and both the organizations and Capacity Partners were struck by how quickly the theory of Organizational Vitality resonated with the seminar participants.