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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Is the Arts and Culture Community on Your List of Potential Collaborators?

Few would argue the value of arts and culture. The vibrancy of arts and culture within a community has long been a key indicator of its livability. Individuals and companies looking to move into an area frequently evaluate the number and diversity of offerings as part of their decision-making process. Art therapy has proven helpful in treating a wide variety of conditions, from Alzheimer’s to physical and emotional trauma. And, a great deal of attention has recently been paid to the substantial economic impact of arts and culture. According to the 2010 National Arts Index, a report issued by Americans for the Arts, economic activity in the U.S., while losing ground during the recession, is still a $150‐$160 billion a year business that puts more than 2 million people to work and increasingly attracts cultural tourists (the number of foreign visitors who attend cultural events or venues has increased 23% since 2003).

However, today we have another reason to value arts and culture. It’s being used “in increasingly diverse ways to engage and build communities and address the root causes of persistent societal problems, including issues of economic, educational and environmental injustice as well as inequities in civil and human rights.” (“Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy” by Holly Sidford for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, 2011) Artist-activists are pulling us in, forcing us to examine our assumptions and the way we do business.

To-date, most of this work has emerged from and been centered in the art world. Just one example from my community is the Center for Folk and Community Art, which involves the community’s residents in story-telling, using a combination of written work, murals and public presentation. In the past it has focused attention on societal issues such as gang culture and violence, bullying, abuse and violence in teen dating relationships, the environment and homelessness.

But, arts and culture could be so much more. It could be totally integrated into the fabric of social change, where artists sit at the same table as nonprofits, private businesses and governmental agencies committed to creating a healthier place for each of us to live. This is particularly important as the artistic voices of those who have previously often been disenfranchised – i.e., those making art outside of the better supported and recognized Western European, “classical” art forms – break through, since there is much to be learned from these voices.

According to the Animating Democracy’s 2010 report, “Trend or Tipping Point: Arts and Social Change Grantmaking” there are currently more than 150 funders nationwide that have recognized the value of supporting coalitions that are dedicated to social change and are inclusive of artists. I am proud that our own local community foundation is one of them. But what of the many nonprofits currently putting together coalitions to more successfully tackle community issues that are at the heart of their mission?

If your organization is contemplating collaboration, I would like to know if your board is considering the contribution artists, arts and culture could make in your success? How intentional is your board about including artists, especially those outside “mainstream arts and culture”? How are you going about finding the appropriate partners? Please write in and share your experiences and learnings.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Power to the People: One More Reason for Boards to Listen to Their Communities

Smile Train and Operation Smile both provide (literally) face-saving surgeries to indigent children outside the U.S. born with cleft palates. Smile Train is actually an offshoot of Operation Smile, rising out of a difference in philosophy. Whereas Operation Smile sends doctors overseas to perform the operations, Smile Train uses local doctors. The spinoff, which occurred in the late 1990’s, left the two organizations bitter rivals. However, with the changes in the world the two organizations contemplated a merger this past spring that would have brought them back together again. Merger talks were suddenly called off though when donors of Smile Train representing 82 million dollars in contributions expressed opposition to the proposition – some quite publicly.

This is but one example of what those of us who closely follow the many news briefs and RSS feeds from the sector are increasingly seeing (special thanks to Ruth McCambridge, editor of The Nonprofit Quarterly who along with her colleagues put out an excellent daily feed and recently raised this particular example at the Alliance Conference in Oakland, California) – community stakeholders who are mad as hell about some of the decisions being made in their name. And, they aren't just going to take it any more. (For those too young to get the cultural referent, rent the 1976 film Network. It’s probably more relevant now than when it was released.) The public brouhaha that embroiled Smile Train and Operation Smile is just the latest volley in a trend that began with donors wanting a say in how their money is spent. It is a trend that intensified with those donors demanding the return of their money if they feel that the intent behind their gift is not being honored. And, it is a trend that became a runaway train with the decision of an increasing number of stakeholders to pump their financial and human assets into new organizations when they sense the legacy organizations are failing to achieve sufficient or desired impact.

Boards today must recognize that the marketplace will drive which nonprofits shall live and which shall die. If boards aren't paying close attention to what their stakeholders deem important, they may find their organizations on the list of failed entities and their personal reputations sullied for betraying the community’s trust.

To me, the lesson is obvious. Someway, somehow, boards must listen – really listen – to their stakeholders. This might be done informally as long as there is some intentional way of capturing the data on an ongoing basis, such as including BTW Talk on every agenda. For those who have not heard me explain this before, the BTW Talk involves scheduling 20 minutes or so at each meeting to discover what board members have been hearing in conversations with friends, family and colleagues since the last time the board met. These are conversations that could potentially impact the organization and its mission in some way and often start with, “By the way….”

Or, it can involve instituting a means for gathering information on a more formal basis. For instance, the board might contract to survey the community on a regular basis. These surveys can be done online, through the mail, in person or over the phone. Interviews, insight or focus groups, and large-scale change methodologies such as World CafĂ©, Future Search or Appreciative Inquiry can also be employed to garner the community’s insights.

The focused and purposeful use of advisory councils is another means of tapping into what the community needs. So is bringing greater diversity into our boardrooms. One way to do this is to choose a model such as Community Engagement Governance (see Freiwirth, Judy. “Engagement Governance for System-Wide Decision Making.” Nonprofit Quarterly. Summer 2007. pgs. 38 – 39), which actually shares the power of decision-making with different individuals in the community based on their interests and areas of expertise. The key in all of these cases is to truly give weight to what the community is saying and not just employ the techniques as window dressing.

Since this list is by no means inclusive, I am anxious to hear what others have used to stay in touch with what their stakeholders are thinking, feeling and desiring. Please share your success stories and your “learning experiences.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Living with Hope, Part 4

In Parts 1-3 (please read those first if you haven't already), I talked about how my colleague Jim Mueller's blog about keeping a sense of hope during these challenging times inspired me to write about my amazing 3-legged Husky who happens to be named Hope. Her story may remind you of what we (and our organizations) are capable of if we approach each day with a focus on the gift of the now, while not losing sight of the possible (our vision).

Becoming part of the "pack" (human and dog) at the dog park has been an amazing journey. Hope and I tried out several dog parks (we are really lucky to live in an area where dog parks are plentiful) and settled on one that is close to our home. We began going almost every day at about the same time, early evening. Soon, Hope formed friendships with a few of the regulars and then so did I.

For about a year, none of us knew anything more about each other than our first names. Our conversations were very dog-oriented. Then, over time, we all began to bond in other ways, talking about work, personal life, challenges, joys. During the past four years, one of the pack got breast cancer, and we all got together to help with daily needs including care of her dog while she went through chemo and radiation. We celebrated births. We have been through deaths of loved ones and of beloved pets, and welcomed puppies. We helped out when someone had a car accident and couldn't drive for a while. We began to give and refer business to one another. We began to have parties! One of us who by day is an accountant is a drummer in a local band, so we go and dance when he plays.

We have become a really committed group of friends with the love of dogs as our core value. It just feels good, natural and comforting. We watch out for our dogs and for each other. Our daily time together in the park is when we get to leave the day behind and truly live in the now. We watch the dogs play and catch up with each other. And I know that Hope has a special place in the hearts of this group. I hear the pride in their voices when they describe her, how amazing she is, when new people come to the park and ask about her missing leg.

If you are reading this blog, you are probably involved in the nonprofit world and have no trouble understanding what I am saying. It doesn't hurt to remind ourselves that one of the reasons we do this is because we like to be around other people whose values match ours, people who care about others (human and animal) and want to make the world a better place. Through our work and our lives outside of work, we keep going forward with our commitment to change and better our communities. It's what we are about.

On that note, I would like to end this blog series with the last of my Hope-isms to add to the 13 on the previous posts.

  • Climb a tree while you still can

  • Live in the moment, especially if it includes a roll in the grass

  • A good massage does wonders for aching legs

  • Knowing when to back off is as important as knowing when to stand your ground

  • Protect your friends, especially from bullies

  • Jump up and run to the door when your loved one comes home, even if it takes you a few minutes to get your balance

Monday, September 26, 2011

Living with Hope, Part 3

In Parts 1 and 2 (please read those first if you haven't already), I talked about how my colleague Jim Mueller's blog about keeping a sense of hope during these challenging times inspired me to write about my amazing 3-legged Husky who happens to be named Hope. Her story may remind you of what we (and our organizations) are capable of if we approach each day with a focus on the gift of the now, while not losing sight of the possible (our vision).

After Hope and I had been living together for about a year, I began to research what types of assisting devices might be available to help her. As it turns out, there is really nothing much out there for dogs missing an entire front leg. I did find something I thought might be helpful to her. It was a two-wheeled cart with supportive fabric that fit around her chest. Her one front leg rested off the ground while the wheels supported her.

I was very excited on the day we went to try out this device -- Hope, however, not so much. She gave me withering looks during the fitting. I kept thinking "But wait until you see how much fun you will have with this!" Oh, was I wrong. Cart in place, Hope tried to walk toward me. But instead she began to circle. The harder she tried, the faster she went in a full circle. As it turned out, because of the imbalance the device caused, it was impossible for her to propel herself forward. I actually think the whole episode embarrassed her. That was the last time I went in search of a "fix." Hope doesn't see herself as needing fixing -- I was the one who did.

So we have now been together almost five years. Hope is thriving. In my next and last post, I'll give you a sense of our daily routines. I do believe one way or another Hope had a vision of this good life when she was struggling to survive on the streets of Miami. If she thought her entire life would be days full of pain and suffering I doubt she would have lasted. Along with the seven Hope-inspired life and work lessons I listed in Part 2, here are seven more. We'll conclude the list in Part 4.

  • Rest when you need to

  • A good howl every now and then is very cathartic

  • A little dance before heading out the door for a nice walk puts you in a great mood

  • A good head to toe stretch before your walk is also helpful

  • A great attitude goes a long way in assuring a fun day

  • Keep your ears clean and listen more than you talk

  • Always be making friends

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Living with Hope, Part 2

In Part 1, I introduced Hope, my three-legged rescued Husky. Here in Part 2, you'll begin to see, as I did, that this is no ordinary dog.

For the first few weeks that Hope and I lived together, she was in heat and then, when that ended, was spayed and recovering from the surgery. So we kept pretty close to home. Then finally I got to take her for a walk in the beautiful park across the street. I tried not to think about her former life and feel sorry for her -- the advice I had been given was to treat her with the same affection and disclipline one would have for any dog. And yet it was clearly so difficult for her to walk, which at first was just heartbreaking to see. To keep her balance, she has to tilt her front leg toward the center of her body. This results in a distinct bobbing motion and a lot of huffing and puffing. I couldn't help but tear up. And then it happened.

We were walking by a large oak tree, and a squirrel ran up the trunk. Before I knew what was happening, Hope took a verticle six foot leap off the ground right into the crook of the tree after that squirrel. I was dumbfounded.

Once up there, she did need help getting down, but that leap took my breath away. I wondered what else she could do that she hadn't showed me yet? Plenty, it turned out.

I began taking her to area dog parks. She had apparently not been around many dogs, because her socialization skills needed a lot of work. But she learned quickly and began to establish friendships. That was great and really heartwarming but not unexpected. What was truly amazing was how she could run.

Gone is the awkard bobbing and labored breathing. When she runs, Hope's back legs propel her forward so fast, and she keeps her body so close to the ground, that you can't even see she is missing a leg. People whose first glance of her is while she is running are shocked when she stops and they then see that her left front leg is missing.

And oh, the joy she feels when she runs. It's unmistakeable.

In my next post I'll share what the dog park has ended up meaning for both of us. Meanwhile, here is the beginning of a lengthy list of life and work lessons we humans in Hope's world have learned from her. More in Part 3.

  • Always believe things will get better.

  • Take help when it is offered, especially if it moves you toward achieving your vision.

  • A skip in your step isn't necessarily a bad thing.

  • Not everyone will "get" you -- focus on those who do.

  • Everyone is awkward at something.

  • Everyone is great at something.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Living with Hope, Part 1

Our esteemed colleague Jim Mueller recently blogged about "hope-whispering," approaching life and work with optimism especially in these challenging times. I particularly loved that phrase because I have a really inspiring three-legged Husky named Hope. With your indulgence, I'm going to post a few thoughts about her over the next few days. There are so many ways her courage and how she embraces life can be an important touchstone for us as we continue our hard and sometimes discouraging work to make the world a better place.

Today I'll share her history. Hope was found on the streets of Miami where she had somehow survived over what appears to have been a significant period of time. She was about a year old, alone, dirty, skinny, in heat, petrified and missing a left front leg. She was rescued and named by the all-volunteer nonprofit group South Florida Siberian Husky Rescue (SFSHR) .

I had just applied to the group and been accepted as an approved adopter, and Hope ended up coming to me. I don't know who was more nervous about this turn of events. I hadn't had a pet for many years and certainly had no experience with abused and physically challenged un-housebroken dogs in heat! My most pressing concerns were how to walk her on a leash in a way that she could find a comfortable gate and how to get her diaper on and off (necessary until her heat ended and she could be spayed). It also quickly became clear that she was petrified of men, was insecure about being touched and had huge trust issues in general.

While the people at SFSHR were really helpful and supportive, of course ultimately it was up to Hope and me to create our life together. As we both began to put one foot in front of the other to fashion that life, I had no way of knowing how profoundly Hope would affect me (and everyone who met her) and change my life. Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Boards - Your Chief Administrator Wants You to Learn and Practice CEO Evaluation

Ask board members to list their responsibilities and most will include the supervision of the CEO. However, according to the findings of CompassPoint and Meyer Foundation researchers as reported in Daring to Lead 2011: A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leadership, there is apparently a disconnect between what board members acknowledge as their responsibilities and what they take on, because close to half of the CEOs surveyed reported that they had not had a performance review within the past year. Adding concern, of those boards that do ensure their CEOs are reviewed, more than two-thirds may not be particularly skilled at the process, judging by the report that fewer than one-third of CEOs found their review either somewhat useful or very useful.

With CEOs clamoring for effective feedback there are evaluation basics that every board can incorporate. Assign a month within which the CEO review will be done, add it to your compliance calendar and make a commitment to follow through. Ask the CEO to consider process and goals and to explain what he or she feels will make the review valuable on both a personal and organizational level. Gather input from the entire board. Then select a few board members to sit down with the CEO to negotiate what the review will consist of. Be sure success measures and deadlines are clearly defined so that everyone has a clear picture of what it will look like when the CEO has successfully met all expectations. Provide interim assessments that ensure everyone is still on the same page and that movement toward goal achievement is on track. (See “Evaluating the Top Administrator: A New Approach” for more.)

But what takes evaluation beyond the basics and ensures an effective result? I would like to learn what those boards that are providing “very useful” feedback are doing. I’d also like to hear from CEOs about what would make their reviews satisfying and helpful. Are there tips that you can share with your colleagues and partners? Perhaps you’ve asked a former board chair to lead the process or brought in a consultant to guide it. Maybe you’ve found a book or article that provided helpful insights into the process or content. All input is encouraged.

Friday, August 19, 2011

An Open Question to Board Chairs: Do You Dare to Lead?

Executive directors have thrown down the gauntlet. In “Daring to Lead 2011: A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leadership” conducted by CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation, only 20 percent of those surveyed reported being satisfied with their board’s performance. While a few of these executive directors might have a personality conflict with their current chair or have felt particularly frustrated with their board the day they responded, there must be something more significant going on to account for 80 percent of chief administrators indicating dissatisfaction with their boards.

Determining the underlying factor(s) is particularly important in today’s rapidly changing environment where boards must be strong, strategic and steadfast so that their organizations can be responsive and achieve relevant results. Research by the likes of Herman, Renz and Heimovics, Nobbie and Brudney and others have made very clear that there is a relationship between the effectiveness of a board and the effectiveness of the organization for which the board works. While none could prove causality, each found that highly effective organizations have highly effective boards.

I don’t believe that an organization’s effectiveness can be laid at the feet of just one person. Yet, I do believe that you, as board chair, have opportunity and influence that can be brought to bear in ways that you perhaps have not tested. Be honest with yourself. What more could you do to ensure a stronger board, and ultimately a stronger organization?

For instance, research again tells us that highly effective boards use more proven practices than less effective boards. There are a lot of accepted practices out there that are actually based on myth. Are you just propagating these or are you analyzing their effectiveness? Are you making the effort to regularly read or participate in workshops and webinars to learn about governance practices rooted in science? Are you implementing what you’ve learned? If not, why not?

As an unknown sage once said, “Hope is not a method.” You cannot afford to merely come in once a month to chair a meeting, check in occasionally with your executive director and write your column for the newsletter and expect an exceptional board to emerge. Nor can you rely on years of experience with a multitude of boards. The world has changed too much. If you dare to lead, tell us what you are doing differently and what impact it has made.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Succession Planning: Is Your Board Prepared for Transition?

Everyone is talking about succession planning today. Much of the conversation is motivated by the large numbers of baby boomer executives expected to retire in the next few years. While this is a real concern deserving of our strategic attention, I have to wonder why so little attention is paid to succession on our boards of directors. After all, turnover is virtually an everyday occurrence on boards. Term limits and life’s challenges move people out of office or off the board altogether on a regular basis; and fewer and fewer individuals are stepping up and into the vacated leadership positions. The result is that boards are often forced to choose creative approaches to filling the empty chairs, such as allowing people to share the leadership responsibilities or conferring key positions on inexperienced talent. Unfortunately, experience tells us that such solutions typically result in a loss of organizational momentum or effectiveness. But, this needn’t be the case if we will commit to adequately preparing our boards for transition.

I doubt there is anything we can do to bring back the days where people will spend a decade or more working their way up to a coveted leadership position. But a strong succession plan is within reach of every organization. To see how, we must first consider what a succession plan really is, and what it isn’t. It isn’t about knowing who the next three board chairs will be. It is ensuring that you have a strong board with clear procedures in place, where everyone understands the big picture, is engaged and knows his or her role. In other words, the best succession plan is having a board that regularly operates under proven practices because a board like that will be able to continue to perform effectively regardless of what position may turn up empty tomorrow or the next day.

To determine if your board is prepared for the inevitable expected – to say nothing of sudden – transitions, answer the questions below.
 Does your board have criteria for membership?
 Does your board maintain a current pool of good prospects for board membership by continuously identifying and cultivating potential members?
 Does your board “test out” potential board members by encouraging committee or other participation first?
 Does each individual on your board have a job description?
 Does your board chair have a job description?
 Has each individual on your board gone through an orientation?
 Does your board share a collective vision for the community?
 Does your board share a passion for the mission of the organization?
 Does each individual on your board have ready access to a copy of the bylaws?
 Do the bylaws indicate how the transfer of power will operate under both normal and extenuating circumstances?
 Does your organization operate according to its bylaws?
 Are the expectations of your board members clear?
 Are board members that fail to live up to their expectations asked off the board? (Is this a given, regardless of the person’s affluence or influence?)
 Are your board members provided board education at every meeting?
 Does each individual on your board understand the issues critical to the organization’s mission?
 Do your board agendas encourage participation around substantive issues?
 Are decisions consistently made on the basis of your organization’s mission, vision, guiding principles as well as defined criteria for success?
 Is every individual on your board offered opportunities for leadership?
 Do your board members know each other well enough to look forward to working with one another?
 Does your board take time at most meetings to evaluate what it is doing well and what it could do better?
 Does your board do an annual self-evaluation?
 Does your board make changes in its behavior on the basis of its evaluations?
 Does each committee have a purpose?
 Does each committee have goals?
 Are your committees held accountable for achieving their goals?
 Does your board have a crisis management plan in place?

If you answered “no” or “only sometimes” to most of these questions, you may be left wondering if there is a future for your organization when one or more of your key leaders leave. Don’t let that happen. Make a commitment today to begin working on those conditions to which you were not able to answer a resounding “yes” and soon you’ll realize that succession is no longer an issue because your board is functioning efficiently and effectively no matter who is in the driver’s seat.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Our Boards Must Understand How They Operate

I just finished analyzing a governance assessment completed by 15 different organizations participating in a board building program sponsored by our local Community Foundation. It was fascinating. In many cases there would be one person from an organization that would answer the question in the affirmative about whether that organization had a Whistleblower Policy or a Records Retention policy – policies every organization must have. The rest of the respondents would answer “no” or “I don’t know.” In each of these cases, the executive director/CEO completed the survey along with board members. While I didn’t have the access required to manipulate the data, I’d bet my bottom dollar it was the executive director/CEO that was correctly answering the question because he or she was the one who ensured compliance. Even the answers to questions such as whether the organization employs term limits or a consent agenda revealed that oftentimes more than half the board members did not know if they did or didn’t.

While not surprised, I must admit I’m a bit disappointed. Clearly the majority of these organizations are operating according to proven practices, but the board is not aware of it. According to their answers to the question about the ease of getting a quorum, it doesn’t appear the problem lies with nonattendance. It seems as if the chief administrative officer is implementing the right policies and procedures but failing to share this with the board along the way.

What is the answer? First, maybe it’s time that the executive director/CEO turn over the implementation of board-related responsibilities to the board. Using the example above, this would mean that the development and dissemination of policies would be done by the board. And, if the board handles the job, the members would know the policies exist.

Second, perhaps the content of board education should be changed to focus more on proven practices and how the board complies with such practices. The bylaws committee might mention what section in the bylaws is guiding each action. The board development committee might create more or different talking points or initiate a short quiz at each board meeting designed to test whether the board knows how it is/should be operating. The orientation might be enhanced to ensure new board members understand what is expected and why.

Finally, there has to be a better communication. At meetings the board chair might make it a point to explain why certain actions are being taken. Committees might use a report form that spells out how recommendations relate to the organization’s strategic initiatives the budget, staffing and so on.

Hopefully, by working together more as a board each member of the board will know exactly how the board operates and why. Ultimately, that has to result in a more effective board.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Painless Giving

By Terrie Temkin

Last month I blogged about three graduate students at Rutgers University that made a life-long pledge to give a significant portion of their incomes to those less fortunate. A common response I got to the post was similar to what the three themselves have heard: “How admirable. But I wonder how long they’ll maintain that pledge once they start having families and facing the everyday responsibilities of a mortgage and car payments? But must these commitments be mutually exclusive? Can’t one still give generously without negatively impacting one’s lifestyle? There are those that would answer a resounding “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second.

After posting that last blog, I heard back almost immediately from a colleague, Dr. Donna Goldstein. She wanted to share what she does to make a difference in others’ lives that take little more from her than her time. One idea she presented is that when she goes to the grocery store she takes liberal advantage of the frequent two for one offers, even though she rarely needs the second item. She keeps the one she needs and donates the second to her local food bank. She also haunts the second-hand stores, often finding just the perfect item for her wardrobe or home. She takes the money she saves by not buying new and donates it. On top of the good feeling she gets from that, she enjoys the pleasure of the hunt.

My brother, Dr. Larry Temkin, is a Professor II in the Philosophy Department at Rutgers. A moral philosopher internationally recognized for his work on inequality, he lectures on this topic regularly. He tells his students that while some, like Donna, may actually prefer finding something unique at the second-hand store, they can still buy new and make philanthropic contributions, all without necessarily affecting their desired lifestyle. As an example he might suggest that perhaps they have been lusting over a special pair of jeans that cost $150. They are going to buy the jeans, but they just haven’t gotten around to it. Then one day, the jeans go on sale. They pick them up for half off. They were perfectly willing to buy the jeans at $150, but only had to spend $75. They could take the $75 they saved and donate that to charity without taking a dime from the pocket they know they should be designating for charitable giving.

On a smaller scale – that does add up – they can become coupon shoppers. Fifty cents here, two dollars there… If they put aside their savings, in short order they will have a full piggy-bank to share with someone less fortunate. Again, it’s all out of money they have mentally already spent, so it seems less onerous than having to come up with “extra” money that they can donate. And, of course, if they are among those that empties the change from their pockets each night and throws it into a can to sit for years and years, they have a ready source of cash that will never be missed.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for painless giving.