Foundation For Jewish Studies

Foundation For Jewish Studies

CONSULTING AREA: Board Development

Sara Watkins is knowledgeable, collaborative, and creative. She is both grounded and inspirational, bringing a wealth of knowledge to the process. Sara does not use boilerplate; instead she tailors her work to meet the particular needs of an organization. She gave us a process that’s in progress to improve the effectiveness of our board of directors.

– Elaine Amir, President, Foundation for Jewish Studies

Background

The Foundation for Jewish Studies is the largest independent provider of Jewish adult education in the Greater Washington area, offering each year more than fifty different occasions to meet with, discuss, and learn from top educators. The Foundation seeks to stimulate engagement with Jewish texts, promote discussion about Jewish culture, life, history, literature and philosophy, and is working to ensure the longevity of the Jewish faith and tradition.

The Foundation for Jewish Studies enrolled in a Sustainable Board Workshop taught by Sara Watkins at the Nonprofit Village, seeking advice on how to evaluate and set new direction for its board of directors.

Key Challenges

Thirty years old, the Foundation needed help learning best practices for board development and recruitment to implement what they had learned.

Services Provided

Capacity Partners met with board and staff members to learn more about the strengths and needs of the organization. Capacity Partners then helped the board develop a self-evaluation survey which was completed by all board members. The survey results were used as the basis for a board retreat in March 2015. During the retreat, board members discussed the size of the board, committee structure, orientation for new members, attracting and recruiting strategies, and evaluation of board effectiveness.

Results

At the conclusion of the self-evaluation, board members reassessed their individual contributions to the board and evaluated their effectiveness as board members. As a result of the retreat, board members decided to recruit potential new members to serve on committees according to the areas of expertise needed by the Foundation. Through service on a committee, both the board and the new committee members could determine if moving onto the full board would be mutually advantageous. In addition to specific expertise, the Foundation is looking for committee members who are passionate about the Foundation’s mission and energized to advance and support it.


The First Steps to Getting Your Fundraising Strategy Right

Here is how too many organizations develop their fundraising strategy. Someone declares we need some strategy around here so off you go with your team to a retreat from which you emerge with slick charts, creative revenue streams, optimistic projections and long to-do lists. Everyone smiles and cheers.

By the following Thursday, the fundraising strategy is forgotten. What went wrong?

Sometimes staff and board members need to be re-energized to implement a fundraising strategy. As a first step getting your fundraising strategy right, put the spreadsheets, donor lists, beautiful charts, and blogposts on hold. (They will be there when you return.) Meet with the kids your nonprofit educates. Serve dinner to the families who come to the shelter night after night. Hang out in the cancer wards your major donors have built. Feel the small everyday victories your fundraising makes possible.

Then, for a fundraising strategy to truly becoming a road map to fundraising success, first you must answer this critical question. What are your organization’s strongest fundraising assets?  A beloved, charismatic founder? A large dedicated base of small donors? A wealthy private foundation that has pledged its support for the next twenty-five years? A unique special event that has delivered results for a decade?

While best practices tout the need to have a balanced portfolio of development – foundations, direct mail, major gifts, special events, planned giving, government funding, corporate donations, online, etc. – most organizations actually have only two or three really strong assets.  A pragmatic fundraising strategy ought to concentrate on what your organization does best and perhaps adds one or two additional revenue streams.

For example, if your nonprofit attracts more than its fair share of foundation funding and has hundreds of donors giving annual $25 gifts, make sure your strategy includes maximizing foundation giving and annual giving. Your strategy may want to include building a major gifts component and introducing planned giving to your donors.

Reminding your team of their mission and creating a development strategy that maximizes your organization’s assets is a winning combination for successful fundraising.


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.


Board Committees Lighten the Load

Nonprofit boards can easily be overwhelmed from their responsibilities. As fiduciaries for the organization they are responsible for the strategic mission and financial health of the nonprofit. Oversight and challenges associated with any growing enterprise only adds to the load. Often, for small organizations with little or no staff, the board also functions as day-to-day managers. One way that boards can effectively and efficiently address their long list of tasks is through a well-defined committee structure.

Committees allow a subset of the board to focus their skill and time on specific issues. Well-structured committees, which spend time working through specific issues and developing recommendations to the whole board help the entire board make more robust decisions in a timelier manner. Committees can include non-board members recruited for their expertise, acting as a pipeline for future board members. In addition, a strong Executive Committee that shares the leadership responsibilities encourages people to take on the role of Chair.

Committees work best when they:

  • Have concise charters laying out responsibilities
  • Have a strong committee chair, who encourages all members to participate fully
  • Have members who are willing to commit the time needed to complete the necessary work
  • Frequently report in to the board as a whole, so they do not feel they are working in isolation
  • Understand their role is to advise and recommend, not make the final decisions
  • Build into the structure a process by which to measure their success

 

There are three types of committees that boards can consider when looking to build a stronger governance model.

1) Standing Committees (also called Operating Committees.) These are committees that an organization uses on a continual basis. They can be set forth in the organization’s bylaws or in its board operations and policy manual, or they may be established by custom. According to Board Source’s Leading with Intent 2017, the most common standing board committees are finance, executive, fundraising/development, and governance, nominating, or governance and nominating.

2) Ad Hoc Committees. These are formed for a limited period of time to address a specific need. When the work of the ad hoc committee is completed, the committee is dissolved. This type of committee can be used to support capital improvement projects, leadership transition, and strategic planning.

3) Task Force. If there is an objective that can be achieved in a relatively short period of time, such as special events planning or analyzing a proposed merger, task forces can help achieve that goal.

Capacity Partners, Inc. has experienced consultants who can help guide your board in developing its structure and ensuring its governance approach reflects time-tested best practices. Contact us at 240-462-5151 to ask how we can help your board be its best.


Are You and Your Nonprofit Ready for a Change?

Upon engaging our services — whether it’s for strategic planning, board development or fundraising — most nonprofit staff and board leaders eagerly tell us what they hope we will accomplish for them and how anxious they are to receive our recommendations.

Sometimes they share confidential information about another person or group who needs to improve in some way — by thinking more strategically, working more efficiently, and so forth. Working collaboratively, we do our very best to create the plan or process that will lead nonprofit leaders to their goal.

Inevitably, our strategic planning process or development plan calls for every person involved in the organizational initiative to change in some way, large or small. Some people jump on the opportunity to grow, but for most, change is tough. “Not me,” says the board member with an iPhone full of contacts, “I cannot ask people for money. I volunteer my time.” “Not me,” says the executive director, “I was hired because I have X skills – don’t ask me to do Y.” And so on.

Whether an organization is forging a new strategic direction or raising sights for fundraising, the hardest and most important thing to learn and put into action is the simple truth we all know: change begins with me.

I experienced the challenge of change when it came to creating the new website for Capacity Partners. I solicited professional advice about my decision to launch a simple e-newsletter — and was told by many experts that I needed a new website. Yikes! It took me months to agree. Next I was told I needed new colors. Ouch! Then I was told we really needed a new logo. That was the hardest to stomach.

But more was coming: our messaging needed to improve, our photos needed to be changed, our font was wrong — etc. etc. After resisting every step of the way, I finally decided – THEY ARE RIGHT! And in that moment I opened myself to change and to the creation of our beautiful new logo and website. Many thanks to all those who pushed me to be my better self!

The point of resistance is where one most needs to grow. For me, that point was recognizing that Capacity Partners had outgrown my valiant attempts to do it all myself, and was calling for a more professional approach — and that it is time for me to focus on that which I do best.

Thanks for visiting our new blog! In future posts, the Capacity Partners team and I will be sharing stories of what we do best in nonprofit strategy and development, and what we’ve learned in working with fantastic clients over the past 15 years.


Nonprofit Success Starts with a Clear, Compelling Vision

Recently, a development director for a community-based nonprofit approached me for help. Her boss was pressuring her to come up with a clever, cutting-edge way to raise money – some trick they hadn’t tried. She asked me for a “new” idea.

My first question was this: “Does your nonprofit have a clear vision of what your community will look like when you achieve your goals?”

Her answer was no. They know their mission. They have great activities. They offer innovative programs. They have a dynamic team that can talk eloquently about what their organization does.

However, they cannot describe to others – at least not those beyond their passionate inner circle – how their nonprofit is making a difference for everyone in the community. They aren’t effectively communicating to potential donors why the organization’s work really matters and thus merits support.

I suggested that they start by creating a clear and compelling vision of a better future for the community that their nonprofit supports – a vision that is easy to explain and that immediately resonates with those outside the organization.

At Capacity Partners, we specialize in helping nonprofit leaders move their organizations from vision to action. For us, vision is at the very heart of effective strategic planning and fundraising. In our experience, it’s nearly impossible for nonprofits to achieve sustained success without a vision for the future that motivates and inspires.

Yes, I also ran through some basic development strategies with the development director. For instance, her nonprofit might benefit from a leadership club or a membership program.

However, fundraising tactics like these will fall flat unless they are linked to vision that makes people say, “Yes! – this is the kind of world I want, I believe in your capacity to make it happen, and I want to invest in you.”

People invest in people – and in their vision.


Capital Campaign Insights: Mary Robinson Facilitates a Nonprofit Roundtable for Ten

Mary Robinson is excited to be partnering with Nonprofit Montgomery, an affiliate of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, to facilitate a Table for Ten for development directors on capital campaigns.

Tables for Ten are only open to Roundtable members, and they are one of the terrific benefits of Roundtable membership. They allow groups of nonprofit leaders – especially executive directors and development directors – to join their peers for candid, confidential discussions.

This two-part Table for Ten will give development directors the opportunity to discuss every aspect of running a capital campaign, from feasibility studies to major gifts. She’ll be sharing best practices and proven strategies based on our firm’s extensive experience helping nonprofits design and execute successful campaigns.

Whether they are preparing for their first capital campaign or their tenth, Mary hopes to help the nonprofit leaders around the table feel better equipped to run a great campaign and achieve their fundraising goals. She is looking forward to sharing what she knows and to learning from the conversation.


5 Ways to Improve Your Board Meetings

The most important contributions your board members make to your nonprofit will be at the board meetings.

The best board meetings engage the board members and allow for robust discussion and decisions on strategic issues. To improve your meetings, consider implementing these five best practices:

1. Use name tent cards for everyone at every meeting.

You may think everyone knows everyone’s name, but they don’t, or they forget..….so make it easy! The tent cards can also be used to “assign” seating, so board members have the opportunity to sit next to different people at each meeting.

2. Develop an acronym chart.

Make a chart of frequently used acronyms and include it in the board package for each meeting and/or make a poster of the most frequently used acronyms and have it displayed at all board meetings.

3. Use a consent agenda.

Place committee reports/minutes that usually don’t require further discussion on the agenda for consent approval. These minutes/reports will be in the board packet for review by the board members. The board members will still have the opportunity to ask questions, if any, and the board will have more time for items that need discussion.

4. Reduce one-way communication from staff.

Be sure that all staff reports to the board need a response from the board at the meeting. If not, the written report should be in the board package for review and board members can ask questions, if they have any.

5. Conduct board meeting evaluations.

At least once a year, ask your board members to provide feedback on your board meetings. This can be in electronic format or a simple one page grid with 10 or fewer questions. You might want to obtain feedback on topics such as: quality of board packages, effective use of meeting time, clear agenda, board participation in discussion, and focusing on most important topics.

This post originally appeared in the Nonprofit Village newsletter.


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