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

Monday, March 29, 2010

Should your organization use crowdsourcing and other forms of social media?

Crowdsourcing is just one of the many forms of Web 2.0 or what is being referred to as the new social media. It is a combination of the two words crowd and outsourcing. According to Jeff Howe, “Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.” Howe includes a second definition he calls the Soundbyte Version, “the application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software” (

An example of crowdsourcing about which most of you have probably heard is Anyone with an internet connection can add or subtract information onto the website. Another example is the fundraising practice employed by the Red Cross in its effort to amass donations for earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti. Through its texting campaign the organization has raised over $5 million. Yet, this is just the tip of the open source iceberg and nonprofit organizations must take the time to educate themselves on these new trends (this process can be accomplished and propelled forward by the recruitment of members of the newer generations for board and staff positions).

When I started my nonprofit management master’s program in 2008, one of the first things taught was the need to control and manage a nonprofit’s outgoing public messages and to have a designated spokesperson. However, I do not believe that is going to be an effective posture to take if nonprofits want to survive over the next 10 years. In a research article written by Heather Gowdy, et. al., of La Piana Consulting and entitled, Convergence: How Five Trends will Reshape the Social Sector (, the authors found that today people want sincere and authentic information, not prewritten and well-edited messages, and they want it from multiple sources. The authors write, “To have a credible voice in this environment, nonprofits need to empower everyone in their organization to be a spokesperson” (ibid, p. 10).

Crowdsourcing is only one way to use social media. More and more sites are being developed to garner merely minutes of social engagement in hundreds of people’s days through various forms of Web 2.0 and the network connections that accompany all those who participate. Tasks may include last minute event notifications, rallies, and many other forms of volunteerism. For more information, take a look at the following sites and see for yourself what is happening in the virtual nonprofit world. Maybe it is time to get onboard and stretch your communication reach. The new social media is not going away and it will never be static.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Use Your Vision to Find Untapped Resources

The March 22 edition of Philanthropy Journal featured an article with the headline, Business partnerships seen boosting nonprofit causes. But, how do nonprofits identify the most appropriate partnerships? They can start by turning to their vision statements.

A well-written vision statement will have a community focus, that is, instead of speaking to how the organization will be seen – e.g., as the best, most successful, well recognized, etc. – it points to the impact it promises to make in the community. Most organizations have vision statements that actually reflect several such strategic impacts. For instance, a senior care facility might have a vision that commits to providing a warm, caring and safe environment where seniors requiring some level of outside support are able to spend their days living with dignity and respect at their full potential. In this case, the strategic impacts are 1) providing a warm, caring and safe environment for seniors; 2) helping seniors that require some level of outside support; and, 3) ensuring that these seniors have the opportunity to live to their fullest potential with dignity and respect.

Begin by identifying the strategic impacts in your vision statement. Then, for each, brainstorm those businesses or institutions that might also be interested in, or would benefit from, having a similar impact. In our example, those that might be interested in warm, caring and safe environments could include the police, security companies, other senior care facilities, real estate developers, families facing the need to find somewhere to place a loved one, families that had a bad experience when placing a loved one and who don’t want anyone else to go through something similar, doctors that know that their older patients do better – live longer and healthier – in such environments, nurses, home health companies, those that run training programs for nurses aides, and so on. Stretch. Get creative when listing possibilities.

After you have identified as many broad categories as possible for each strategic impact, determine which have the greatest capability to serve as a good strategic partner and/or to provide resources to your organization. Plug each of these types of businesses into a search engine such as Google, along with “vision” or “vision statement” and the words that make up your strategic intent. What will return are the specific businesses that share your beliefs, concerns and commitment. You now have several entities to approach and a common bond from which to start a conversation.

Avoid going in with hand outstretched. Research what their needs are and ask for an appointment to discuss how you might help each other accomplish your shared vision. Focus on advice – not money – at least at the beginning. People are almost always willing to offer intellectual capital. That often leads to money or gifts in kind however once they get to know your organization and become invested in it. In any case, your organization has successfully begun the important process of community engagement. That will bring its own rewards (the subject of another blog!).

Thanks to my colleague Steve Bowman of Conscious Governance in Australia for generously sharing this concept.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Do your bylaws include board member term limits?

I would like to continue sharing some of the things I learned at the Boards in Action (BIA) Leadership Academy workshop I mentioned in my previous blog. As a newbie to the workings of nonprofit boards and organizations I am finding that many longtime board members are unaware of vital and helpful information available or where to find it. Indeed, as Eric Schmall Director of Consultation for the Center for Nonprofit Excellence writes, “Without having any exposure to ideal board practices, what chance does any well-intentioned board member have of knowing and advocating a better way?” (

One ideal board practice is to implement term limits to your bylaws. CoreStrategies has advocated extensively on the subject, however at the risk of redundancy, let me try to illustrate it as Chuck Loring did to the crowd at the BIA Leadership Academy.

Loring said, “Fundraising is the best case example for term limits.” Let’s look at why. But first, let’s assume that all board members are responsible for fundraising—another best practice and more accurately described as an imperative!

Take a moment and think about where you meet and know people and we will call that your sphere of influence. For instance, friends and acquaintances are made at church, one’s children’s school, neighbors, work, etc. So board member A has a sphere of influence, as does B and C. Over time, those spheres will begin to overlap, however with founder led organizations the spheres probably overlapped considerably from the organization’s inception. Over time, board member A, B, & C end up occupying the same spheres of influence and the people in those spheres are repeatedly solicited for donations, year after year. The donor base becomes stagnant and do the donations.

Now consider a board with term limits. Each board member (not the ED/CEO) year around must actively look for potential new members. With term limits, the board is required to actively recruit new members. What happens is every 3 to 5 years more and more spheres of influence (X, Y and Z) begin to develop and the organization’s donor base widens (see my very crude and technology challenged drawing below, taken from Mr. Loring’s flip chart).

I am not saying that former board members should be put to pasture. Good board members conduct exit interviews of outgoing members and ask questions such as, “What would you like to do now?” Your board must have a plan that keeps former board members engaged. Creating an honorary council (not board) is one idea, however do not make it in name only, include with that designation some duties!

If your bylaws do not include term limits, please implement them soon. Do not take my word for it however. Engage your board in some research and as always, please respond with your thoughts.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is Your Organization Ready for the Next Five Years?

In March of this year I had the privilege to attend the Community Foundation of Broward County’s Boards in Action Leadership Academy. The two-day workshop I attended was only part of an extensive 18-month program designed to assist area nonprofits in reaching their highest potential. Chuck Loring of Loring, Sternberg & Associates, an Indianapolis & Fort Lauderdale based nonprofit fund raising and management consulting firm, lead the informative and thought provoking program.

In a room full of board members and ED/CEOs representing 16 different organizations, Mr. Loring opened the first morning’s session with a statement and an example of how important it is for board members and staff to be connected and connected on the same page. In the aftermath of 9/11, local nonprofit organizations went into survival mode. Emphatically, Loring described the difference between organizations that survived the crisis and organizations that did not—simply, if the board and staff were connected and working towards the same goals via the vision and values of the organization, the organization survived.

Statistics taken from the Nonprofit Times report that fundraising is down for the first time in 20 years. Using this evidence, Loring emphasized why boards and staff must connect by describing the salient needs of nonprofits in the next five years—more money, more volunteers, more staff, more board members, and branding and marketing awareness. With the exponential increase of nonprofits in the past 20 years, each one must articulate what sets it apart from all the others. Furthermore, Bridgespan estimates that 75% of the current ED/CEOs will be gone in the next five years. Unquestionably, consideration and action on all of these needs are vital to the survival of an organization.

The following are questions your board should ask of itself: Does your board participate in fundraising? Do your board and staff have a recruitment and training program for volunteers? Do your board and staff keep a pulse on the new social media and recruit and employ members of the younger generation to keep up with such trends? Does your board recruit potential board members year around? Does your organization occupy a unique place in the community? Finally, does your organization incorporate leadership planning into its overall board governance?

The podcasts on the CoreStratagies website offer insight into many of these issues. Please peruse them and comment with your thoughts and questions.