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.


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.


Making the Ask: Keeping the Door Open - Part Three

In my two previous blog posts about Making the Ask, I’ve discussed the importance of asking the right person at the right time and finding the sweet spot. In this final post based on a presentation made by Michelle Keegan, Chief Development Officer, CSIS, and I at the Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference, I want to give you some tips on how to keep the door open.

1) Plant a seed and give it time to grow in your prospect’s thinking. Your pitch should include some unforgettable nuggets that your prospect can ponder after your conversation ends.

2) Remember that if your potential donor cares enough to talk to you, he or she will want to find a way to help you. It just may be that your prospect will choose to help you later rather than now.

3) Turn a “no” or less than optimal gift into a promise of a future conversation. There will be opportunities to talk to your prospect another time, and this current ask is the right time to encourage your potential donor to commit to that future conversation.

4) Thank your prospect in a way that is meaningful to him or her. For some, a heartfelt email is perfect. For others, you ought to handwrite a lovely thank you note. Still others would prefer a small token of appreciation, perhaps some swag with your logo. If you don’t know how your prospect would like to be thanked, you may not know your prospect well enough to make the ask.

I hope this short series of tips for making your next ask a success will make your next ask a home run. If you or your organization wants more assistance with strategic development, please don’t hesitate to contact Capacity Partners at mary@capacitypartners.com.


Find the Sweet Spot - Part Two

Every fundraiser – volunteer or staff – must eventually ask for the gift. This short series of posts based on a presentation given by Michelle Keegan and me at the 9th Annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference will help you find the sweet spot for your ask.

Last week we discussed the importance of asking the right person at the right time in the right place for the right amount. Today’s blog focuses on some of the essential intangibles of making the ask.

1) Remember to listen! Listening is the central tool in your tool box, even more important that the stellar pitch you’ve practiced a dozen times. Figure out what your prospect is really saying and shift your approach based on what you learn. Ask questions that will lead your prospect to articulate their commitment to your organization.

2) Explore both the feelings and thoughts behind their giving. Why do they make charitable donations? What compels them to consider contributing to your organization? Bear in mind that emotions are often more influential than logic.

3) Learn what giving will do for them – not just what it will do for your organization. As much as your potential donor may care about your nonprofit’s mission, your prospect, like most every human, in just as interested in what contributing will do for him or her. Will giving make your prospect feel like a hero or impress his peers? What tax benefits will accrue to the donor when she contributes?

4) Link your prospect’s passion to your vision and impact. For example, if your donor wants to help children break the cycle of poverty, be sure to talk about how your organization does exactly that.

Keep an eye out for Part Three in which I’ll discuss how to keep the door open.