Should a CEO sit on the board of his/her own directors' companies?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Your Annual Report Should Rock!

If you are not yet creating an annual report that shares with donors and other supporters what you have achieved in the past year through their generosity and commitment to your important work....WHY NOT? If you are already producing an annual report but are not using it to help raise awareness and funds, WHY NOT? Your annual report gives you a unique opportunity to do so much more than disclose your financials for the year. It can also be a compelling marketing piece to be used all year long. Here are 10 things to think about to take your annual report to the next level.

1. Select a theme for the report, something that runs through your organization's past 12 months. Have you had unprecedented growth in challenging times? Have your exhibits drawn huge crowds? Have you begun to attract a whole new demographic/age group/type of student? You may even want to have the whole report written from the point of view of one of your clients, students, visitors.

2. Tell stories that illustrate how you have changed someone's life or made a dramatic difference in your community. Focus on people. Even if your organization is an animal or environmental protection group, talk about how people are affected by what you do.

3. Use dramatic photos. Make them big, perhaps even an entire page. Avoid small, group photos that are ordinary and boring. If you have some in your file that are appropriate, all the better, but if you have to take new ones, don't pinch pennies in this regard. Have them professionally done. You may also want to think about what "cut lines" you want to have BEFORE you decide what photos to use. Then you can take the photo you need.

4. Write for the reader. Use a conversational tone. Picture your typical reader as you are writing. Avoid jargon, long sentences and paragraphs, boring statistics. This isn't about YOU, this is about your donors and supporters. Think about what they want to hear, not just about what you want to say.

5. Use simplified financials, a pie chart, a brief financial statement. While this is vital to the report, it is only a part of your story and should not dominate the piece.

6. List your donors and meticulously check for accuracy and typos. Celebrate them and acknolwedge their critical role in what you were able to accomplish in the last year.

7. Have the report professionally designed and printed. Don't prepare it in-house and run it off on your copy machine. Because you are going to use it all year long (see number 8), spend the money to make it look crisp, clean and graphically beautiful.

8. Print enough copies to be able to do the following:
  • mail to all your donors, supporters, key stakeholders
  • provide copies to your vendors and board members to put in their waiting rooms as appropriate
  • include in your media kit
  • send to new donors
  • send/give to prospects and those who visit your facilities
  • provide at your events
  • send to your collaborative partners

9. Have it translated into another language if that is appropriate for your organization. You may not need to print hard copies in a second or even a third language; it may be sufficient to have them available for download from your website. And of course you will have the English version available on the website also.

10. Begin now and continue all year long to make notes about what to consider including in next year's annual report to make it even better.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Make the Founder a Permanent Board Member at Your Peril

Q: Our current executive director is the founder of our organization. While she has accomplished much over the years, the board feels it is time to find someone with a different skill set to move the organization to the next level. We expect this will be a difficult transition. The board chair suggested we make the founder a permanent board member in recognition of her vision and commitment. While I think the chair envisioned this as an honorary or advisory position, some of us know the founder well and suspect that she will expect that not only she but her family members serve as voting members on the board for generations to come. Our guts tell us this wouldn’t be wise. What are our options and how do you suggest approaching this?

A: Listen to your gut! While I appreciate what you perceive to be the founder’s desire to remain intimately connected, the organization belongs to the community, not to her. And, your responsibility as board members is to the community, not to her. Allowing her and her family to serve as permanent voting members of the board would not be wise on several levels.

As long as the founder remains on the board, the rest of the board will tend to defer to her. This will make the position of the new executive director untenable, and the entire reason you went with this change in the first place will become moot because she will remain the de facto executive director.

A clean cut would be better. To make such a cut easier, before the founder is asked to step down I would make sure that the board takes the time to review with her the mission, vision and organizational values. If she feels confident that everyone understands her vision and is committed to taking it, and the values on which the organization was founded, forward, she may be more amenable to letting her “baby” operate independent of her, knowing it won’t stray too far from “home.”

There may be arguments for allowing her family members to serve on the board, but having multiple members serve at one time is wrought with potential problems. It’s not that there aren’t some definite pros, as I enumerated in a 2000 column entitled, “Should Husbands and Wives Serve Together,” but the cons are powerful. Among them: her presence will always loom large, dictating the direction of the organization. In addition, you will be limiting your reach into the community. Families tend to share many of the same contacts. Today, when board size is shrinking, it becomes particularly important to insist on greater diversity to increase the probability of widening your organization’s circles of influence as much as possible. Of course, then there are the flip sides of the same coin where group dynamics can become dysfunctional if the family either votes as a block or is constantly fighting. In the first instance the family forgoes the critical thinking so essential to the best decision-making. In the second, others may disengage to avoid being thrust in the middle of a public argument. Of course, the founder’s desire to have family members serve in perpetuity amplifies the potential problems. What happens down the road when a grandchild or great-grandchild lacks an affinity for the organization, yet is expected to serve?

One way you might handle this challenge is to be totally honest. Play on the woman’s love for the organization and her desire to see it flourish over the long term. Suggest that you would like to add “emeritus” to her title and invite her to serve as the face of the organization as well as an honorary board member throughout her lifetime. You may further recognize her by assuring her that her name and emeritus title will remain on the organization’s collaterals in perpetuity by codifying such instructions in organizational policy documents. However, I’d think long and hard about having her come to board meetings even without a vote. If she has a voice, she may still hold sway – at least until all board members who served with her when she was executive director are gone. Understand that she may not find these terms acceptable and you will have to make some very difficult decisions.

Of course, I’d start with going back to your bylaws and articles of incorporation. There are founders that insist on some sort of perpetuity clause when drafting these documents (something with which I am very uncomfortable). If she did, unless you change the bylaws and/or articles and re-file them with the Internal Revenue Service, you are pretty much stuck by the language contained in those documents.