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

Friday, October 30, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Tucson

We completed our fifth day of the Community Driven Institute immersion class. We have worked through the three phases of community impact planning, starting with the vision, followed by the conditions that need to be present to achieve the vision, the values that will guide actions, and finally how to create organizational wellness for “thrivability.” We have discussed in depth how we can do a better job as consultants to facilitate our clients’ reaching their greatest potential.

As a reward for all our hard work, over lunch on this final day of class we celebrated all we have learned from our extraordinary teachers Hildy and Dimitri and then we celebrated what we learned from and about each other. We ended our day, and this week that has enriched our lives so very much, at the Sonora Desert together watching the sun set behind the mountains. As we drove away from the beautiful red/orange sky, we knew this was not an end but the beginning of our work “off campus,” with our own clients, our partners in making the world a better place.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday’s Musings from Tucson

It was another stimulating day at the Community Driven Institute. One lesson that stuck in my head – maybe because I was a communication major in college – is that our choice of language can keep us from achieving our vision. “Barriers,” “blocks,” “obstacles,” “threats,” “weaknesses,” “challenges” and “if only” are just of few of the terms that we commonly use, even intentionally invoke, when planning for our futures. The rationale is that by identifying such factors we will know how best to proceed. However, these terms are insidious in that they strip us of power. They plant the seed that our vision is unrealistic if not impossible to achieve.

In truth, what we typically identify as items standing in the way of our success are merely conditions that exist. Conditions we can expect to come across on our journey toward creating an amazing community. Conditions devoid of connotation – negative or positive. Conditions we are fully capable of successfully confronting head-on or avoiding altogether.

When we slip and start talking about impediments to our moving forward we need to stop ourselves and ask, “So, we would want to see what?” This will keep us from becoming mired in the mud and refocus us on the firm path before us.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More news from Tucson

As Terrie wrote in her blog yesterday, we are taking part in an incredible five-day immersion class taught by the brilliant Hildy Gottlieb and Dimitri Petropolis of the Community Driven Institute. Today was day three. Each day is building so naturally upon the one before, it is easy to lose track of the huge amount of information we are packing into our little brains. Until, that is, we take a few minutes to reflect at the end of the day about what has stood out for us. Then, we begin to understand the depth of the concepts we are processing and the changes we are seeing in ourselves.

Today, we took the vision and values exercises we did yesterday and applied them. We learned how to better help organizations use these vision/value discussions to anchor them as they move toward creating their best potential, their dream community. Among the many things I learned today is the "means" to better guide these discussions to the highest "ends," and in so doing to always Trust the Process, and Trust the [people in the] Room.

It continues to astound all of us how Hildy has distilled a lifetime of work into this amazing Community Driven Institute. This immersion course is taking us as consultants to the next level so we can better do our part to create the healthy, compassionate, vibrant world we seek. I for one am thrilled to be on the journey and can't wait to see what I will be packing into my head tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Random Thoughts from Tucson – Tuesday

Gail Meltzer and I are In Tucson this week, taking part in the Community Driven Institute. The brainchild of Hildy Gottlieb and Dimitri Petropolis, the Institute evolved out of Hildy’s book, The Pollyanna Principles, and focuses on governing for what matters, instilling a “culture of can” and engaging the community in creating amazing futures where organizations actually achieve their visions.

The class is small – there are only five participants – so we are able to explore issues in depth. It is also incredibly intense. We are meeting from 8:30am to 5:15pm everyday for a full week. We walk out of the Institute each evening with our brains overflowing with new ideas for helping our clients dramatically move their organizations forward. While you will be hearing more from us about the concepts we are exploring as time goes by, Gail and I want to share some of our excitement with you now. Therefore, we’ll be blogging the rest of the week.

The focus today was on vision and values. If you have ever worked with me, you know that I am a firm believer in the power of vision and values and that they should guide every decision you make. However, in the future, be assured that these two elements will take an even more hallowed position in the work that we do. There is a saying that when you reach for the stars you may not quite get one but you won't come up with a handful of mud either. By embracing vision and values you can change the community in ways you never thought possible. In today’s environment, where violence, pollution, hunger, poverty, drugs, illness and other issues cloud our future, it is incumbent upon us to fulfill our promises to the community. And, it is doable merely by keeping our eyes on what is important and working backwards from there!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Q: We are looking for a grant writer. A few people on the board suggested different individuals they knew from other organizations, but they seem expensive and only one said she’d be willing to work on a contingency basis. While most of us wanted to go with her, someone on the board said we can’t. The rest of us don’t really understand why not. And, if that’s true, we definitely don’t have the money to make a mistake. How do we know who to choose? We agreed to write you and go along with what you said.

A: While I can’t promise to help you make the “right” choice, I can help ensure that you make a better choice.

Let’s start with the easy part of your question – the contingency fee. Whoever on your board said you should steer clear of this person was offering good advice. On the surface, such a “guarantee” of success seems like the most prudent approach to take. The grant writer appears confident enough of her ability to obtain the grant on your behalf that she is willing to risk her time and energy on the chance of a return. That seems to imply that this person is more competent than the others. On top of that, you don’t have to put any money out until you have money in your pocket. However, there are several reasons why the seemingly smart move is the wrong move in this case. Let me share just two here.

First, every professional organization to which a fund raiser in general and a grant writer in specific might belong forbids contingency fees in their codes of ethics. While we could debate the validity of the reasons for this, that is not at the heart of your question. I think it is enough to say that if this person is going against what is deemed standard ethical behavior in the field, either she is not as familiar with the field as she thinks, she’s new and feels that this is a good way to break in, or she is knowingly ignoring the standard and then you have to question what other ethical standards she might ignore while representing your organization.

Second, most grant guidelines clearly state that any costs associated with writing the grant proposal cannot come out of the grant. This means that she is going to have to hide her payment in the proposal. It also means that you will have to play with the books in order to maintain the charade when, if you get the grant, you report back to the funder – as required – on the use of the funds. I trust you don’t want to take that road. If you do and your antics are discovered, you may not only have to pay back the money, but you stand a chance of never getting another grant.

So, if you’re going to bite the bullet and pay for your grant writing services upfront, how do you make the best choice? You took a good first step by asking board members who they have successfully worked with in the past. A strong track record is an excellent indicator. Ask for the percentage of grants each person has gotten funded. You might also want to find out the average size of each grant. Someone might have a great success rate, but only have experience, for instance, with grants under $35,000 when you are looking to go after a several million dollar grant.

I would ask each of these individuals about the mission areas in which they specialize. Most grant writers tend to focus on one or two. Someone who already works in your mission area will know who the funders are, what they are looking for and how they like their proposals written. In addition, they will know where to find many of the relevant demographics and other statistics to be included.

I would see what each requires of your organization. Grant writing is a partnership. The grant writer cannot do the job on his/her own. An experienced grant writer will be able to tell you exactly what the organization’s role in the process will be and what materials the organization will have to produce.

Assess the chemistry. Again, this is a partnership. You will be working closely together and often on short deadlines that can test the best relationships. You need to feel comfortable with this person.

Ask to see writing samples. While the person should not be giving you another organization’s grant proposal without having previously obtained permission, or at least redacting all identifying information, you can look at almost any writing sample to determine if the person writes coherently and is attentive to spelling, grammar and basic layout.

Finally, there is now national certification for professional grant writers. The lack of such certification does not mean that someone is a bad grant writer. This certification has only been available for a relatively short while, so few have had the opportunity to work through the process. And, some grant writers who have been working successfully for a long time and have a loyal clientele may never feel the need to go through the process. Besides, the possession of certification does not guarantee someone is a star. However, the rigorous process does rightly grant you some assurance that the person has had several years of experience in the field and has demonstrated a high level of knowledge about it. You can find the names of those who have obtained certification by going to

Just remember, you can find the best grant writer in the world but you should still not expect grants to be the primary source of your funding. You need a diversified funding stream – especially today when grants funding is down significantly.