What are some quick tips for maintaining an engaged board of directors?

In this video, Jennifer, provides some specific tips on how to keep your board members engaged with your organization throughout their tenure.

Engaging and Evaluating for Board Effectiveness

Nonprofit leaders and board members often ask about ways to maximize and maintain board member engagement. Furthermore, they ask about how to evaluate the board’s ongoing effectiveness. While there are a number of areas that go into developing an engaged and effective board, some of the initial key steps are outlined here.

How Do We Maximize and Maintain Board Engagement?

Build Teamwork to Make the Dream Work

It starts with having the appropriate people in place; without this thoughtfully constructed team of individuals, it becomes impossible to achieve a group that is able to work together cohesively and strategically.

In addition, how many nonprofits have members who have been on the board together for years and have never really gotten to know one another? Imagine how much more effectively a group like this could have guided their organization toward its mission had they been governing as a team rather than as acquaintances coming together for meetings, or to merely fill a seat at the table.

To maintain an effective board, there must be an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect among the members and the agency’s executive leadership team. Board members who enjoy interactions with one another and the organization have a higher level of trust and respect that will likely lead to quality participation and regular meeting attendance.

Ensure Commitment to the Nonprofit’s Direction

One of a nonprofit’s most valuable assets is its board of directors. To create this value, a board must be diverse, dedicated, and eager to assist your agency in fulfilling its mission.

Board members should not only be committed to the agency’s mission, but they should also be willing to support the nonprofit’s needs and understand what is expected of them as an actively involved member.

Clearly Communicate Involvement Expectations

Aligning expectations on both sides ins critical. Leadership needs to clearly understand what each member can and is willing to provide in terms of skills, time, and financial support (this means both direct giving and/or helping to raise funds) and successfully match those to the needs of the nonprofit organization.

The appropriate level of board involvement will depend, in part, on the size of the organization and its stage of development. A newly formed nonprofit or grassroots advocacy group will often require an “all hands on deck” approach, whereas a more advanced organization may focus more on maximizing the board members’ network of contacts and fundraising efforts. In either case, the legal and fiduciary oversight responsibilities of the board of directors must be considered priority.

Hold Effective Meetings

Meetings should be a positive use of the board members’ time. Discussions should allow for open debate and questioning, and time should be spent on strategic goal advancement, while not be mired in minutia or the detailed operations of the organization. For example, if a board is reviewing, debating, and approving agency procedures, they are operating on a micro-management level. The board should remain focused only on policy approval and developing and fulfilling strategic goals. There should also be an agreed-upon decision-making process to keep meetings moving forward, ultimately resulting in more effective meetings.

Plan for and Respond to Challenges

Developing and maintaining an effective and unified board requires consistent effort and a desire from each member to keep the interests of the agency first and foremost. This can become exponentially more challenging when starting out with ineffective or frustrated board members. It is important to be on the lookout for warning signs of disengagement or disenchantment as well as any new power struggles. Plan ahead about how you may prevent and handle some of these challenges.

Nonprofits often struggle with how to appropriately dismiss board members from their responsibilities when this becomes the necessary course of action. However, it can be done with time, thoughtful planning, and action. To plan for these situations, there is an entire process that must be in place to identify and recruit diverse, committed, new members. (contact us for additional information).

How Do We Measure Our Effectiveness?

In today’s competitive philanthropic environment, it is essential to regularly measure the functionality and influence of your nonprofit board and determine practices and strategies that will strengthen its impact. Conducting a thoughtful board assessment is a solid place to begin.

The following questions may help to better inform a board assessment:

  • Does each member of your board feel engaged and involved in the oversight of your organization on a regular basis?
  • Is your board directly involved in setting fundraising goals, and are they actively involved in the fundraising process as required by your nonprofit?
  • What are your board’s three greatest strengths, and how have these contributed to the overall success of your nonprofit?
  • What are your board’s three most significant weaknesses, and how have these held your nonprofit from operating at its optimal level?
  • Does your board culture encourage and welcome open discussion of issues, even when members are not in agreement?
  • Is there a mutual level of respect among all board members?

Developing relationships, establishing expectations, heading off potential challenges, and assessing board effectiveness are just some of the activities that will help foster an engaged, cohesive board of directors who can effectively contribute to fulfilling your nonprofit organization’s mission. For information on any of these questions or other ways to take your board to the next level of engagement and effectiveness, please feel free to contact us.

For more information or questions about the contents of this article, please write or call Jennifer Flowers @ Jennifer@AccreditationGuru.com / 212.209.0240.   This post contains original content and was written for Accreditation Guru, Inc. Use of this copy is permitted with credit and reference within the same body of copy to Accreditation Guru, Inc.

Educating Your Board of Directors

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela.

Education forms the foundation from which most everything else is created, making it one of the wisest investments a nonprofit can expend its precious resources on. Taking the time to educate your board of directors is one way you can develop that foundation so they are best prepared to serve your organization and its clients.

Keep in mind that many nonprofits do not formally educate their board members. Often, a nonprofit will assume that if someone is professional or a leader in their industry that they also have the knowledge to be an effective member on the board. Ultimately, this assumption can lead to increased risk and liability for your organization.

If you’re not educating your board members, who is?

Some questions to reflect on when considering topics to educate your new board member (or existing members for that matter):

  • Does each of your board members clearly understand the organization’s mission, vision, services, and programs well enough to make meaningful contributions in a leadership capacity?
  • What do orientation materials for new members include, and how are they used for onboarding new people?
  • Does your organization have an inclusive, formal orientation procedure in place for all incoming board members?
  • How do you train your board members for ongoing success?

Here are some ideas to consider implementing as you think about educating your board:

  • Board members should be diverse enough to bring different skills to the table. That said, you may need to consider educating them on mission-specific areas of your nonprofit. For example, teach them about the foster care and adoption process, or about how your homeless shelter changes the lives of its clients for the better.
  • From day one, help board members understand their roles and responsibilities. Knowing what is expected of them will encourage the confidence they need to be the leaders that your agency – and your clients – are counting on.
  • Customize educational opportunities to fit the needs of your board. Applicable areas of concentration can include fundraising, financial literacy, governance, and strategic planning. More often than not, there are board members who do not understand how to read financial data reports and the elements contained within. Arming them with this knowledge will also give them insight on the importance of their fundraising efforts as well as strategic planning.

The more effectively you educate your board members (especially regarding the agency’s mission), the more they are able to share with others throughout the communities you serve. They can use their newfound knowledge to both inform and strengthen relationships on your organization’s behalf, both now and well into the future.

Next week: Now that you have your board and they’re well prepared, it’s time to ensure they are everything your organization needs. How to engage and evaluate for board effectiveness.

For more information or questions about the contents of this article, please write or call Jennifer Flowers @ Jennifer@AccreditationGuru.com / 212.209.0240.   This post contains original content and was written for Accreditation Guru, Inc. Use of this copy is permitted with credit and reference within the same body of copy to Accreditation Guru, Inc.

Exploring Ways to Find Your Next Board Member

An effective board of directors begins with having the appropriate people in place. Without this thoughtfully constructed team of individuals, it becomes difficult to achieve a group that is able to work together cohesively and strategically.

Nonprofit leaders often find that looking for a nonprofit board member can be a time-consuming and frustrating experience. Using online resources, such as LinkedIn, may be a great place to start that search. This blog will discuss how to plan for, and explore, various resources for finding your next board member.

Before You Search, Analyze Your Current State

To save time and resources, do some analysis of the current state of your Board before launching into a search.  Here are some considerations:

  • Does your board currently have an adequate number of well-functioning board committees and/or other workgroups to support your organization’s operations?
  • What is the expertise, skill set and individual make up of your existing Board for current needs? Could the Board you have now potentially serve your future needs?
  • Do you have a mix of demographics, individual skills and interests, dedication to your agency’s mission, appropriate level of diversity and reflection of the population served by your agency?
  • Does your nonprofit regularly recruit new members? If so, by what process? Is a standardized interview conducted and a set of standard questions asked? How can you use those questions to also inform your search?

Recruitment Tips

Ideally you already have a pool of potential board members who are already passionate about your mission. People who may be interested in a board positions include, but are not limited to:

  • Current volunteers
  • Someone in your donor network
  • Connections of current board members
  • Someone who represents of the demographics of the community served

Individuals may need to be educated on what it means to serve on your board. Take the opportunity to train and mentor people about the reward of being a board member of your organization. Remember, it’s possible that a terrific potential board member has not stepped forward because no one ever asked them.

Board Connection Organizations

If you have exhausted the search for board members among your current pool of connections, it may be appropriate to use a board connection organization and online tools. A focused online search can be a great source for seeking out qualified, appropriate, new nonprofit board of director members for virtually any type of agency.

For one, LinkedIn’s service, LinkedIn Board Member Connect, aims to help streamline this recruitment process. Board Member Connect helps nonprofit leaders leverage their own networks and their board members’ networks to find the right skilled professionals to join their boards.

One of the benefits of Board Member Connect is the advanced search feature that allows you to target specific qualities while searching for your ideal candidate. For example, you can search for someone with legal experience, who works in the housing industry and is located in Greater New York City. There is also a “nonprofit interests” search feature that allows you to filter by professionals who have indicated their interest in board service.

To participate, you must be a registered U.S. nonprofit organization. With regard to cost, nonprofits are able to post board opportunities on LinkedIn for less than $50 per posting. BoardSource members can post an opportunity for free at their Board Recruitment Center. Impact Opportunity and BoardnetUSA are two additional, nationwide sites where you can post open board positions. You may also contact your local United Way or local community foundation for additional recruitment resources.

Once you have a solid list of places for outreach as well as people to connect with – the process may prove to be both less time-consuming and frustrating.

Good luck on your search!

Next week: You’ve found the best board for your organization, now what? How educating both new and existing members can positively affect your organization.

For more information or questions about the contents of this article, please write or call Jennifer Flowers @ Jennifer@AccreditationGuru.com / 212.209.0240.   This post contains original content and was written for Accreditation Guru, Inc. Use of this copy is permitted with credit and reference within the same body of copy to Accreditation Guru, Inc.

Jennifer Flowers recently interviewed by NonProfit Pro on effective annual plans

Our very own Jennifer Flowers, CEO, sat down for an interview with NonProfit PRO. In this interview, she discussed ways to best create an effective annual plan after an organization has developed its strategic plan.

Jennifer provides tips and tactics about various issues to consider, including the kind of information an agency should include in an annual plan, tips on fundraising goals, the amount of time an agency should dedicate to its annual plan and how to best incorporate unexpected grants or restricted gifts that an agency might receive midyear.

For these tips and tactics, plus more, read the article here.

How to Have a Winning Board Retreat

A well-functioning, cohesive and engaged board of directors is a crucial factor for your organization’s ability to fulfill its mission. As a nonprofit organization continues to grow in both size and significance, it is increasingly vital for board members to understand their evolving role and the importance of their contributions to successful mission fulfillment.

One way to help support your board members’ learning and engagement is to hold an annual board retreat.

The first thing to understand is that board retreats are different from regular board meetings beyond the significant impact of holding a retreat off-site in a unique location from where board meetings are normally held.

Make a Retreat Unique

A retreat is not simply a longer board meeting. The agenda for your retreat should be entirely different from your normal meeting agenda. Also, board retreats should be at least a half day – a full day is even better.

There are three key reasons for having an annual board retreat: team building, strategic planning and board development/education (including fundraising). Holding a retreat allows your board time to regroup, reconnect and recharge.

1. Team Building

Although you may know your board members, they may not know one another all that well. Most people come into a board meeting, sit in the same seat where they always sit, go through the meeting and then leave. How are they expected to get to know one another if there is no time for socializing and team building?

Time needs to be spent on encouraging board members to know one another better and begin to develop personal ties. I have known people who served on the same board for more than five years and never realized that their kids played on the same sports team and they knew many of the same people until I facilitated their board retreat and we engaged in an interactive exercise. The experience provided new connections and let them relate on another level.

Successful board retreats should also include a “mission moment,” where you remind people why they serve on the board. It might be a short video or presentation by a staff member or a testimonial by someone served by the organization. You want to re-engage people with personal stories of mission impact and how their work as board members support mission fulfillment.

2. Strategic Planning

An annual board retreat is the ideal time to advise the board of progress made and/or the difficulties faced when trying to achieve strategic goals. Be realistic, however – they are there to help you make difficult decisions.

It might also be a time to review and revise your strategic plan, if necessary.

If you don’t have a strategic plan or if your mission and vision need to be updated, you can set the stage and gain input along with the necessary buy-in to the process. An outside facilitator can be especially useful here if you are inexperienced in developing strategic plans or revising mission statements.

3. Board Development and Education (Including Fundraising)

If your board is an EXCEPTIONAL board, consider yourself lucky! Many nonprofits I speak with, however, have room for improvement (sometimes a lot of room!) before their board of directors is fully engaged.

A retreat is the perfect time to provide education and discuss board development topics with your board members.

Start by reviewing the roles and responsibilities of your board members. Everyone should be clear about the expectations of board members by the organization and they, in turn, need to be honest about their ability and willingness to meet these expectations. You may ask your board members to sign a form acknowledging their roles and responsibilities as a way of recommitting to the organization for the coming year.

Do you have a board that tends to overstep its boundaries? Perhaps you can participate in an exercise that focuses on responsibilities of board members as they relate to nonprofit leadership and staff.

Many nonprofits expect their board members to be actively involved in fundraising. However, few administrators take the time to actually train their board in how to be effective fundraisers. And if you aren’t training them, who is?

Use your retreat to re-engage your board members in fundraising. Provide exercises and scenarios to help them get over their fear of fundraising and help them learn from one another. Also, explore with them ways that the board can be involved in fundraising beyond making “the big ask” (more on this next month).

Benefits of Holding a Retreat Off-Site

A board retreat should take place away from the site of daily business, if possible. This provides a different perspective and going to a new location helps to generate creative and strategic thinking among the group.

Whenever I facilitate a retreat, I push hard to have it held off-site. When there has been resistance, it is inevitably because of cost. However, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a fancy retreat location. Perhaps one of your board members has an office with a spacious meeting room you could use. Or you could approach the bankers and attorneys who service your organization (whom you are already paying via their fees) and ask them to use that lovely board room that is going unused. They might even offer to donate lunch for the retreat. Remember, it never hurts to ask.

Pros and Cons of Hiring a Board Retreat Facilitator

The only downside of hiring an outside facilitator is the cost. That’s it. However, if you approach this as an investment in your board and, ultimately in mission fulfillment, then it is well worth the expense.

The benefits of hiring a consultant as a facilitator include providing expertise and professionalism to your retreat. An experienced facilitator can be an invaluable resource in retreat planning and execution.

They ensure that retreats are efficient and effective, hold workshops and exercises that help you reach your goals and elevate the event’s importance.

Facilitators who are unencumbered by existing politics can provide a unique perspective, guide discussions and decision making. They also help to develop a relevant agenda, facilitate group activities and keep the retreat on schedule.

Conclusion

There are many ways to design a board retreat, but be sure that it is well planned and has realistic and meaningful objectives. Getting full commitment from the board and executive leadership is key.

Don’t forget to allow time for informal interactions among board members. They don’t often have time to connect and foster relationships; a retreat is a prime opportunity to do so.

Wishing you all the best for your board retreat and to having an exceptional, engaged board of directors!

For more information on board retreats, contact us at Info@AccreditationGuru.com or 212.209.0240.

Team Member Highlight – Bobbie Lison

Bobbie has been a peer surveyor and team leader at the Council on Accreditation for more than ten years. She has reviewed a variety of agencies, including nonprofit, religious and military organizations.

Her areas of concentration include, but are not limited to, Performance and Quality Improvement (PQI) programs and Financial Education and Counseling Services (FEC).

Since 2000, she has served as operations manager, program manager and PQI chair for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she led the agency through two successful re-accreditations. She also sits on several local boards and committees.

Bobbie believes that earning and maintaining accreditation allows agencies to affirm what they are doing well and offers organizations the opportunity to strengthen their services through nationally accepted best practices.

Outside of her work, Bobbie enjoys being with family, running marathons and embarking on new adventures. Her family consists of her daughter, Tina, two sons, Colin and McKenzie. She has an amazing son-in-law, Kevin, and a granddaughter, Annika, who has stolen her heart.

Bobbie is fortunate to enjoy travel through work and when doing so, she makes it a point to challenge herself by trying things outside of her comfort zone. She has surfed, paddle boarded, climbed mountains, zip-lined, flown in an gyro-copter and participated in disaster responses.

Bobbie shares this quote: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” – Oscar Wilde

We are fortunate to have Bobbie as an AG team member.

Ideas to motivate staff beyond money.

 

In this video we discuss the importance of finding out what personally motivates your employees as part of the mix of how you might encourage them beyond solely monetary benefits.

Is Your Organization Staying Competitive in Today’s Environment?

In today’s increasingly competitive environment, health and human service organizations often struggle to distinguish themselves. Providing high quality services is a given, but to establish your brand, you must demonstrate that you make a difference in the lives of those you serve.

Some critical factors that can help maintain your organization’s competitive edge include earning national accreditation, reporting on service outcomes (not just outputs) and recruiting and maintaining a qualified, well-trained workforce.

Accreditation

Achieving accreditation affirms that child welfare, behavioral health, employment and community service organizations meet or exceed professional-grade quality standards in service delivery. It also gives clients and other key stakeholders an appropriate tool for effectively evaluating service providers.

Organizations that earn accreditation reach beyond minimum licensing standards and make a long-term commitment to strong governance, program consistency, outcome measurements and continuous improvement throughout their agencies.

Accreditation requires organizations to undergo an objective review by an independent accrediting body. The designation signifies that agencies effectively manage their resources and enhance the quality of life of the population served.

Individuals and families increasingly regard the accredited status of an agency as an important factor when considering where to seek services.*

Performance Improvement and Reporting on Outcomes

With detailed digital data available just a few clicks away, health and human service organizations are being held accountable for measuring service outcomes – not just outputs. This new development requires the collection and analysis of relevant data to discover trends and patterns. The key is to make improvements (or expand upon achievements) where necessary.

Outputs are quantifiable data points related to the numbers of people served, frequency of home visits made, time in care and other common variables. However, outputs measure the impact that services have on the lives of those in care or treatment, including knowledge transferred, behaviors changed, improved homelife stability and other revealing and quantifiable data points.

In fact, all organizations seeking to gain and maintain accreditation are required to record and report outcome statistics as part of their performance improvement programs. Compiling performance indicators in a transparent, easy to understand manner will help service providers connect with clients, families and donors in a meaningful way and, in turn, allow them to be more competitive.

In the nonprofit arena, the relationship with donors has been forever transformed by technology and the unyielding desire for increased information that supports educated giving decisions. Providing reports on outcomes can also help non-profits tell their story and compete for hard-won donor dollars.

Qualified Workforce

Recruiting and retaining a well-trained, qualified workforce is the key to providing high quality services, reducing operational and programmatic risk, maintaining an organization’s reputation and contributing to institutional stability.

To attract talented employees, agencies should institute standardized recruiting procedures, conduct primary-source verification of education and licensure, perform background checks and review criminal history records for those individuals who work directly with vulnerable or at-risk people and develop effective onboarding processes.

In the health and human service field, top-quality employees aim to work for nationally accredited entities, an achievement that demonstrates your organization’s commitment to quality and to investing in its workforce.

It is easier to retain a qualified workforce by focusing on training, staff satisfaction, professional development and transparency. Investing in your people will foster a more stable workforce and enhance the quality of provided services – all of which helps make your organization more competitive.

Summary

Implementing steps to retain your organization’s competitive edge takes time and effort, but think about the alternatives: If you neglect the opportunity to continually improve, your reputation will ultimately suffer.

Earning national accreditation provides a framework for improving operations, measuring and reporting on outcomes, recruiting and supporting employees and providing quality services – which help maintain your organization’s competitiveness in an ever-changing environment.

For assistance preparing for national accreditation, or with any of the items mentioned in this article, please contact us at Info@AccreditationGuru.com.

* See our article on using accreditation as a marketing tool for more information.

Nonprofit Audit Committee Benefits: Why your nonprofit should have one

Nonprofit Audit Committee Benefits Summary

  • Best practice to have a nonprofit audit committee to provide accountability for organization’s independent audit
    • finance committee is responsible for monitoring the organization’s financial status
    • audit committee is given authority for overseeing the organization’s external audit process.
  • To ensure that the audit process is objective, an audit committee should be an “independent” body, meaning that no one on this committee is also employed by the nonprofit
    • Directly responsible for the selection, retention and oversight of the independent auditor
    • Having an audit committee lends to the transparency of the organization to the outside world via reporting on the IRS Form 990; all 990 tax returns for charitable orgs are publicly posted online.

Want to learn more? Read our article “Why Your Nonprofit Needs an Audit Committee.”