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.

Corporate Social Responsibility—Good for Society, Good for Business

New or small businesses may think of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs as something belonging in the domain of larger companies, but that is not necessarily true. There are many ways that small or mid-sized companies can develop social partnerships that also make good business sense.

Recently, the Business Council of Westchester held its first Thompkins Mahopac Bank Power Breakfast, a panel titled “Corporate Social Responsibility – Social Partnerships that Make Good Business Sense: Part II,” moderated by Jennifer Flowers Founder & CEO, Accreditation Guru, Inc. (AG). The CSR topic was brought back by popular demand, as in 2017 Jennifer moderated part 1, “Corporate Social Responsibility Done Right,” which broke attendance records for a Power Breakfast. Both programs featured a distinguished panel of local business leaders and drew well over 100 attendees. Key themes discussed included factors in determining a social responsibility program that makes sense for one’s business (with a focus on small and mid-sized); a lively discussion about promotion of efforts; and the effects that socially responsibility programs have on company culture, identity, and employee retention.

One issue that was discussed during the above-mentioned CSR panels was how smart partnering between for-profits and nonprofits is one way to create value for both the business and society simultaneously. Management time and resources are limited, so the greatest opportunities will come from areas where the business significantly interacts with—and thus can have the greatest impact on—society. Finding the right nonprofits to collaborate with will be those that benefit from your core business activities and capabilities—and that the company can benefit from in turn. Many mid- to smaller- sized businesses choose to collaborate with agencies in their hometown or county, thus focusing on impacting the community closest to them.

Some companies approach CSR as a way to demonstrate commitment to various causes, which can improve the public image of an organization of any size. The increased media coverage that can come from corporate involvement in the community may enhance relationships with existing clients and go a long way to attracting new ones. Of course, there are also the intangibles—the positive changes in corporate culture that come from a workforce that feels good about what they do in and out of the office. With the visibility of actual involvement, companies large and small have the ability to improve their name recognition, their brand recognition, as well as improving the public perception of the company as a whole.

Businesses often find that by having a CSR program, it will, in turn, lead to higher employee engagement. As Forbes reported in September of 2017, when Millennials are considering applying for a job, their top priority is what the company sells and/or produces.  But beyond compensation and benefits, what matters most to them is the company’s work culture, involvement with causes, office environment and attention to diversity. Millennials are increasingly engaging with causes and tend to believe that a company that is committed to socially responsible causes will care about treating them well too, thus increasing their loyalty to the company.

Here at Accreditation Guru, corporate social responsibility lies at the heart of who we are as a professional, service-oriented organization. AG is committed to volunteering its professional services (including nonprofit governance expertise and guidance), offering financial support, and volunteering for fundraising and other sustaining events, to a variety of local nonprofit associations as a way of giving back to the community and, most especially, lending a hand to those in need. AG also encourages all team members to give back and volunteer within their own communities.

In keeping with our core focus of working with human service agencies across North America, in 2017 AG proudly joined Westchester Companies for Kids (WC4K) in supporting Westchester Children’s Association, whose vision helps every Westchester child be healthy, safe and prepared for life’s challenges.

Accreditation Guru also supports the Northeast STEM Starter Academy at Mount Vernon (NSSA).  NSSA’s mission is to expose at-risk students to state-of-the-art science and technology resources and provide them with inspiration and pathways for eventual careers in the STEM sectors.

Never think that your organization is too new or too small to give back in a meaningful way. There are numerous opportunities and benefits to doing good for society while also being good for business. You just need to find the right fit and then get started!

 

Give thanks and appreciation to your valued donors and volunteers during this ‘Season of Giving’!

During this season of giving nonprofit organizations have a unique opportunity – and responsibility – to applaud the generosity we have been given throughout the past year and to celebrate the humanity that seems especially prominent during this holiday season.

We know that our donors and volunteers are an invaluable part of our work – but are they truly aware of the impact they make and of our gratitude for their generosity? This season, move beyond the standard form letters and cards that so often go unnoticed and thank them…for being them! The kind of folks who recognize a need and give to important causes.

Be innovative! Be passionate! Your goal is to make your supporters feel something wonderful!

Before you begin:

  1. Get excited! Turn on that holiday music and order up an espresso – your passion and enthusiasm will come through no matter the method of communication you choose.
  2. Remember – give your donors and volunteers credit – not you! Your supporters are the heroes; your goal is to tell them everything that they have made possible. Make them shine!

Here are a few of our favorite ideas to get you started:

Include your supporters in a custom-made video.

There are plenty of cost-effective video tools at your disposal: vSnap, GoPro or even your smartphone will do a great job. The idea is to include your donors and volunteers (and the clients you serve, if allowable) in this creative process – and will assuredly be something they remember (and share with other potential supporters!) for a long time to come.

Take a look at the following example from One Justice. Their message was delivered via handwritten posters held and read by actual supporters of the organization who were each asked to record the few moments of video and send it back to One Justice. Then, iMovie was used to put it all together and the completed project was shared with every supporter as a personal ‘thank you’! Oh, and the participants were not told the premise of the project, so they were also surprised to receive this personalized thank you ‘gift’!

View One Justice ‘You Did It! Thank You!’ video here.

Have agency employees donate their time doing something special during the season in honor of a specific donor, volunteer, or group.

  1. Do you have a supporter who has a loved one in a nursing home or a children’s hospital? Gather a group of employees and visit those individuals, performing some holiday carols and delivering some holiday cheer just for them!
  2. Does someone have a loved one serving in the military? If your agency serves children, have the children create handmade cards that can be sent to that service man or woman as well as others who are serving and unable to be with their families for the holidays.
  3. Ask employees to bake a dozen or two homemade treats and deliver them (along with a thank you note) to the local police, fire, or first responder’s station in the area in the name of your donor or volunteer.

What are some of your favorite ways to thank your donors and volunteers? Please share your ideas!

National Conference on Volunteering and Service #NCVS

This year marked my fourth attendance at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS), hosted by Points of Light. Held in Washington, DC NCVS once again brought together nearly 5,000 volunteer managers and service activists. For anyone interested in volunteering and promoting social good, I highly recommend NCVS as an educational (and fun!) conference.

NCVS always ties in the political side of volunteering and service. This year we heard from conservative political strategist Karl Rove and liberal strategist Donna Brazile, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett and various members of the US Congress. My personal favorite (besides Ms. Brazile, who is hilarious!) was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie discussing the critical importance of volunteers who came from all corners to help New Jersey recover from Hurricane Sandy. As Gov. Christie said, “Service does not know partisanship.”

John Legend2

Education activist and Grammy Award-winner John Legend was on hand to speak about civic duty and to sing for those sitting around the tables at Target’s Sunday Supper. What a great performance!

One America is an exciting, yearlong campaign led by Points of Light (with founding support from Chase). The campaign will bring together rivals in politics, entertainment and sports in order to inspire millions of Americans to unite in service to their communities. The theory is to illustrate that rivals can successfully put aside their differences and together make a positive difference. Think Leno vs. Letterman or Yankees vs. Red Sox or Coke vs. Pepsi. Check out the video to learn more and vote for the rivals you would like to see become partners for change.

Find a full conference wrap-up here.

I’m looking forward to seeing my many NCVS friends and to making new friends next year when the conference is held in Atlanta, Georgia. Here’s to #NCVS2014!