Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Board in the Boat, Part 2

In my last blog (Part 1), I began a series on strategy alignment with “The Board in the Boat.”

I asked, “Imagine—if your board had the elegance, the unity, and the team harmony of a precision rowing crew, the world’s finest!”

This month in a professional publication for CEOs and board members in the credit union profession, Joel Trammel’s addressed this question in his article, “Align Your ‘Rowers’ With Your Strategy.” While he focused on staff members—the same issues relate to board members. He writes:

“Do any of these sound familiar?
• The guy who’s doing really powerful, fast strokes—in the opposite direction of everyone else.
• The gal toward the back of the boat who’s barely pulling on her oars (and thereby demoralizing the people sitting behind her).
• The guy who appears to be rowing along with everyone else, but is covertly pulling the left oar a bit harder to move the boat in the direction he feels is best.
• The gal who’s so utterly concentrated on perfecting the minutiae of her own form that she can’t see she’s out of sync with everyone else.”

What is the cost in ministry impact when your board members are not all pulling in the same direction?  

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you’ve seen this next quotation before. (Maybe you’ve memorized it!)  It’s worth repeating at every board meeting:

Ram Charan preaches:
“There is nothing more important for a CEO than having the right strategy and right choice of goals, and for the board, the right strategy is second only to having the right CEO.”

This assumes one foundational principle: there is a strategy!

In his book, Owning Up: The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask, the fifth question is simply,  “Does Our Board Really Own the Company’s Strategy?” Charan recommends that at every board meeting, every board member has the organization's two-page strategy document on the board table. (Is your strategy summarized in just two pages?)

Discussion should always then flow back to the question: “Does this new idea or change in our programs, products, or services align with our board-approved strategy?”

Charan again: “Boards need to understand basic strategy, but it’s not their job to create it.”

QUESTION: As you pray to discern God’s strategic direction for your ministry, is everyone rowing in the same direction, based on your written strategy?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Board in the Boat, Part 1

With apologies to Daniel James Brown and his amazing bestseller, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Question for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (click here to read my review), over the next few blogs I’ll be addressing strategy alignment with “The Board in the Boat.”

Imagine—if your board had the elegance, the unity, and the team harmony of a precision rowing crew, the world’s finest!

Here’s a keeper from pages 234-235 in The Boys in the Boat. Listen to the wisdom as Master Boatbuilder George Yeoman Pocock coaches Joe, a young rower with promise and dreams—but a nasty childhood:

“He suggested that Joe think of a well-rowed race as a symphony, and himself just one player in the orchestra. If one fellow in an orchestra was playing out of tune, or playing at a different tempo, the whole piece would naturally be ruined.

“That’s the way it was with rowing. What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing. And a man couldn’t harmonize with his crewmates unless he opened his heart to them. He had to care about his crew. It wasn’t just the rowing but his crewmates that he had to give himself up to, even if it meant getting his feelings hurt.

“Pocock paused and looked up at Joe. ‘If you don’t like some fellow in the boat, Joe, you have to learn to like him. It has to matter to you whether he wins the race, not just whether you do.’”

Then this clincher about trust:

“He told Joe to be careful not to miss his chance. He reminded him that he’d already learned to row past pain, past exhaustion, past the voice that told him it couldn’t be done. That meant he had an opportunity to do things most men would never have a chance to do. And he concluded with a remark that Joe would never forget.

“'Joe, when you really start trusting those other boys, you will feel a power at work within you that is far beyond anything you’ve ever imagined. Sometimes, you will feel as if you have rowed right off the planet and are rowing among the stars.’”

Board members—have you ever experienced a board meeting where the board was so highly engaged, all pulling in the same direction, praying in unity, trusting God for Kingdom outcomes, that you felt you could have rowed the board boat right off the planet?

QUESTION: Are your board members in sync with Proverbs 15:22 (Amplified Bible)? “Without consultation and wise advice, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they are established and succeed.” Or, are your board members pulling in different directions?

Monday, January 11, 2016

New Board Members: Acronyms and Anxiety!

Today I hope to inspire you to walk a mile in the work boots of a new board member.

Although new board members may play it cool—and pretend to know what’s going on—few really grasp the culture or protocol of a board in their first few meetings. Every board is unique. Every board’s lingo is unique. Ask any board member about their first impressions and they’ll share several anxiety-producing board practices. Here are two:

#1. The Excessive Use of Acronyms and Inside Baseball Jargon. “As you all know, funding for the M2 Program is now at 65 percent.  Once the 2020 Vision announcement is blasted out in the X-Ray to our Century Club segment, the B&G Committee will address the gap budget ASAP.”


Savvy board chairs (and CEOs) must be in-the-room translators for report-givers who are not sensitive to rookies in the room.  And…new board members must be given permission to interrupt at the first (and twenty-first) mention of an acronym that doesn’t compute.

The best boards provide a one-page “Commonly Used Acronyms” summary as part of the new board member orientation process. 

#2. The Assumption That There Is a Common Glossary of Terms.  When you use the term “governance,” is everyone on the same page? And is there agreement on what governance model you’re using? Probably not.

BoardSource defines the term, "governance," in their “Glossary of Nonprofit Governance,” a helpful five-page list of 99 common board terms, including: board member matrix, confidentiality clause, D&O (Directors and Officers) insurance, duty of care, duty of loyalty, Form 990, intermediate sanctions, micromanagement (they’re opposed to it!) and private inurement.
“Governance: the legal authority of a board
to establish policies that will affect the life and work of the organization
and accountability for the outcome of such decisions.”

Would everyone on your board (including new members) agree with this definition of governance?

My favorite definition of governance for faith-based organizations is this one from David Tiede, president emeritus of Luther Seminary:
“Within Christ-centered organizations,
governance is the stewardship of powers to accomplish the mission
in service of the Church’s calling.”

The big idea here: remember what it was like in your first year on the board. Then, what must you do to create greater clarity and engagement for new members? When you eliminate acronyms, you’ll eliminate considerable anxiety.

QUESTION: Ask your newer board members: “What created unnecessary anxiety in your first year on the board?”

Monday, December 28, 2015

Board Giving and the Generosity Circle

My last two blogs this month have addressed “10 Fundraising Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix.” In addition to a little venting, I’ve challenged board members to address the board policy issues that impact a ministry’s fundraising program. (Example: Who evaluates fundraising effectiveness?)

Let me now turn the discussion in your direction. Hopefully, you’re not just a “donor of record” (as some lame board policies require), but you’re a generous giver to the ministry where you serve as a board member.

In the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members, the “Board Member Read-and-Engage Viewing Guide” lists six criteria for board nominees:
   The 6 Ds:
   1. Discerning Decision-Maker
   2. Demonstrated Passion
   3. Documented Team Player
   4. Diligent and Faithful Participant
   5. Doer (“Walks the talk!)
   6. Donor

Here’s the commentary on the 6th D: “Because Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,’ this nominee is already a generous giver to our ministry. (Note: Many organizations define ‘generous’ as prioritizing your organization in the Top-3 of a person’s annual giving. Board members at all income levels can be generous.)”

So, while your ministry can easily fix the 10 fundraising mistakes, only you can discern if your giving is in the “Generous Giving” circle or just the “Donor of Record” circle. While a generosity expectation may not have been communicated to you when you were recruited to the board, this week would be a good time to self-assess your passion and commitment (and generosity level) for the board(s) you serve on.

Fred Smith, Jr., president of The Gathering, has noted that there are at least seven models of giving in the Bible—and his insights will help you think biblically about your giving.

He writes, “A few years ago I heard an earnest, well-intentioned speaker present a message on the topic of the Biblical model of giving. It was the story of the widow’s mite and, as you might guess, the conclusion was we should be willing to give everything we have.

“I started thinking about that because I had heard almost my whole life that this story was the Biblical model for giving and, ideally, the gold standard. However, as I started looking at the different stories about giving in Scripture I realized there is a wide diversity of giving styles in Scripture—not just one.”

Smith lists seven examples: David (a leadership gift), Solomon (the extravagant giver), Elisha (gift of an opportunity), The Wise Men (team givers), Zacchaeus (exuberance and precision), The Widow (giving even to a flawed institution!), and Barnabas (powerful return on investment).

So how would you respond to Fred Smith’s Question? “I hope you ask yourself which of these individuals would be most like your own style of giving, and in doing so, you begin to recognize how your giving is a part of God’s workmanship in your life.”

My Question: Why should I give to your ministry if your board members are giving more generously to other ministries?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

10 Fundraising Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix (Part 2)

In my last blog I listed five of the 10 fundraising mistakes that are easy to fix.
Again, I’m not suggesting you put these on the board agenda (it’s staff work, not board work)—but from a board policy perspective, who owns the annual evaluation of your fundraising program?

Here are the other five mistakes:

MISTAKE #6: Asking major givers for minor gifts.  One size doesn’t fit all. In fact, Mark Dillion believes most ministries have four distinct segments of donors. If so, each segment should be challenged to give at an appropriate, but differing level:
   • The Gifted Giver (2-5% of givers) 
   • The Thoughtful Giver (15-25% of givers) 
   • The Casual Giver (35-50% of givers) 
   • The Reluctant Giver (perhaps 33% of givers)

MISTAKE #7: One-way communication.  Think telephone, not megaphone. Ask your givers (here’s a thought!) why they give. It’s the third question in Peter Drucker’s classic five questions that every organization must ask: “What does our [donor] value?”  Ask: What do you appreciate about our ministry? What would you change? What do you value about our donor appeals, newsletters, website, special events, etc.?

MISTAKE #8: “This is a return envelope!” Vince Lombardi, the celebrated coach of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, would start each season’s first practice session with this line “Gentlemen, this is a football!” Trust me, if Coach Lombardi was a fundraising consultant, he would begin each session with the four fundamentals that are often missing in direct mail pieces. Don’t let inexperienced staff (or board members) move you off the fundamentals:
   1. The outer envelope (Interest me! My opinion: mailing labels cheapen the message.)
   2. The letter (Inform and inspire me!)
   3. The response device (Direct me! What do you want me to do?)
   4. The return envelope (Make it easy for me. Even if I give online, maybe this time I won’t. Please give me a return envelope.)

MISTAKE #9: Short letter? Long letter? Wrong question! Roger Ebert, the movie critic, famously said, “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.” Ditto board meetings and donor letters. My wife reads every donor letter from one of her favorite organizations—because the letter is well-written, inspiring, interesting and packed with Kingdom impact. While focused on human crises, the letter never manipulates. She will frequently insist I read the letter.  Most other letters (short or long) are tragically boring. Those have a short path: mailbox to waste basket.

MISTAKE #10: Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask. Ask.  Hey! Take a breath and report back on how my gift helped introduce a person to eternity, or changed a marriage, or gave hope and healing in Jesus’ name. I understand you need more money—but I need more information. As I pray, discern and sort through competing requests, I always tilt toward the ministry that sees me as a partner, not a feedbag. Try this: Ask. Thank. Report. Inquire. Ask again.

QUESTION: When is the last time your board asked for an evaluation of your fundraising program and practices?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

10 Fundraising Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix

There is a wide continuum of beliefs concerning the board member’s role in fundraising. Policy Governance® zealots warn against board committees that replicate staff work. According to John Carver, “Board committees are to help get the board’s job done, not to help with the staff’s job.” You may disagree—and that’s OK. 

Whether you’re discussing fundraising in your board meeting, or wearing your volunteer hat to suggest improvements, it’s 100 percent certain you’ll be talking about fundraising when your year-end results are in. (Was it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down year?)

So…for what it’s worth, here’s my list of 10 fundraising mistakes I notice frequently. The good news—all 10 are fairly easy to fix. I’m not suggesting you put these on the board agenda (it’s staff work, not board work)—but from a board policy perspective, who owns the annual evaluation of your fundraising program?

Here are the first five mistakes:

MISTAKE #1: Donor letters that thank every person for their faithful giving—when, in fact, the letter is also sent to non-donors! (Easy Fix: segment your list into donors and non-donors.)

MISTAKE #2: A donor gives a gift to the ABC program, but the president’s generic thank you letter highlights the XYZ program. (Easy Fix: segment your thank you letters to appropriately report on progress for the specific gift given.)

MISTAKE #3: When a donor gives online, the emailed receipt is inappropriately designed for product purchases with a “shipping and handling” line, etc. (Easy Fix: use online giving software. Using a "one-size fits all" software program only communicates to donors that you don’t have your act together. Board members: give an online gift today--and assess the quality of the giving experience, and the receipting process.)

MISTAKE #4: When Mary Smith receives an appeal letter, or a thank you letter, addressed to “Dear Mrs. Smith,” but the CEO calls her by her first name, “Mary,” it’s one more indication that there is a sloppy, undisciplined development approach. (Easy Fix: customize every donor record. Good software will help you do this.)

MISTAKE #5: Focusing on the year-end tax benefits of giving versus the importance of the ministry’s work and results. When we appeal to tax-saving versus soul-saving, we miss the opportunity to disciple donors in what Wes Willmer calls the “Revolution in Generosity.”

Watch for the other five mistakes in the next blog.

QUESTION: When is the last time your board asked for an evaluation of your fundraising program and practices?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Board Chair Best Practices #4: The Meeting Before the Meeting

Last month I began a blog series on board chair best practices. Here’s Board Chair Best Practice #4: 

#4. The Meeting Before the Meeting

You’ve heard this one: “As the board goes, so goes the organization. And as the board chair goes, so goes the board.”

The board chair’s role in thoughtfully and prayerfully leading the board—especially during board meetings—is critical to a healthy board. And a common best practice is for the board chair and the CEO to have a meeting before the meeting. 

John Maxwell’s helpful book, Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading, includes an insightful chapter, “The Secret to a Good Meeting Is the Meeting Before the Meeting.” Maxwell credits his meeting management wisdom to Olan Hendrix, one of his mentors (and the first president of ECFA).  

In 10 quick-reading pages, Maxwell builds the case for turning routine meetings into productive action-oriented gatherings. It’s excellent advice for board chairs and CEOs to meet (at least by phone) prior to every board and committee meeting. Following the counsel of Hendrix, Maxwell writes that the meeting before the meeting: 
   1) helps you receive buy-in
   2) helps followers to gain perspective
   3) increases your influence
   4) helps you develop trust
   5) avoids your being blindsided.

The “no surprises” rule is critical for the key people in each meeting—and typically, that means you must meet with them in advance.   

Maxwell preaches: “If you can’t have the meeting before the meeting, don’t have the meeting. If you do have the meeting before the meeting, but it doesn’t go well, don’t have the meeting. If you have the meeting before the meeting and it goes as well as you hoped, then have the meeting!”

You’re probably not going to cancel a pre-scheduled quarterly board meeting—so that puts even more importance on ensuring that “the meeting before the meeting” is effectively conducted.

Proverbs is filled with leadership wisdom on seeking counsel; and challenges to inspire--not manipulate--people (and board members).  Proverbs 24:5-6 (The Message):
“It’s better to be wise than strong;
intelligence outranks muscle any day.
Strategic planning is the key to warfare;
to win, you need a lot of good counsel.”

QUESTION: Think back to a meeting that went south. Would a meeting before the meeting have helped?