I’ve been a part of dozens of board retreats (leader/observer participant), meetings and planning sessions in the last few years. A traditional strategic planning session lays out goals and actions but often fails to ask some really big driving questions.
WHAT IF… we asked these questions?
- What is our purpose or raison d’être? This is different from mission – which should be the same thing but usually ends up being more about ‘place in the world’ vs. purpose. Raison d’être literally means REASON FOR EXISTENCE. It’s the WHY question. If you can’t answer WHY, then WHAT and HOW are irrelevant.
- How can we (intentionally) go out of business? Is this for the short term (1000 days) or long term (50+ years). You exist to change lives, save lives or transform lives. How often do we re-examine our activities and ask, “Can we find a SOLUTION?” I started to qualify this question – to say that it might not apply to some organizations such as schools. Then, I withdrew my qualification. Ask it anyway; see where the conversation takes you. Education is changing.
- What would you do with $10M or $100M? Or pick a number that is a factor of 10x higher than anything you’re thinking about now. I recently attended a board retreat as a Board Member
for Road of Life Cancer Prevention For Kids. With $100M, one board Member said she would get laws changed to make health education mandatory at an earlier age and another said we should invest in longitudinal studies to understand how health prevention impacts kids.Those are two VERY DIFFERENT priorities and we aren’t doing either right now. Ultimately, the question helped to build consensus around focusing on EDUCATION. Until the question was asked, every debate was about incremental tactics, not Vision or even, I would argue, Strategy.
- What Strategic Partnerships can we pursue? You have finance committees, development committees, marketing committees, campaign committees. If anything, I would like to see a partnership committee. Better yet, just a commitment to partnerships as a core priority (DNA) of the organization. I haven’t seen the numbers in a while but there are somewhere in excess of 2 million nonprofits and many more socially focused businesses (all For Impact). Current structures and strategic planning questions focus on bloat, not partnerships. We’re all trying to make a difference, so let’s make a commitment (financial resources) to exploring this full time.
- How can we scale our Impact? Simple and open-ended… but not asked enough.
- What are we best in the world at? Jim Collins has made this conversation prevalent in the last few years (revisiting the Hedgehog Concept). It’s ultimately a question of priorities and focus. Consider finding the one thing you do very well and FOCUS on that. I can’t tell you how important this discussion is for your staff. It helps them make decisions about grants, programs, staffing, etc. Equally important is identifying those things that you’re not good at. Side note: I am a big Marcus Buckingam believer. He tells you to focus on your strengths. [Our strength at For Impact is live training, facilitating and coaching. We’re focusing on ways to do more of that.]
- Should we grow ‘wider’ or ‘deeper’? It’s a Scope of Services question. Ultimately a lot of ’strategic planning’ comes down to this question. Do we add more depth to our current programs (make them longer, more available, etc)? Or, do we expand our scope of services (diverse offerings, expanded continuum, etc.)? Refer back to question six to help you frame this debate.
- How much money do we need to achieve our vision? What usually happens: we spend time tweaking funding goals based on last year’s results. It would be of huge value [to everyone] if
we knew how much money we really needed to accomplish our Vision (annually or over time via a campaign initiative). Reflecting on this, I would say that this question is often asked in preparation for a campaign but it is not asked in relation to our operation (annual). Why not? Instead, we set a number and then allocate it (budget)… every year.
- What is our business model? What business are we in? I think this goes along with several other questions and relates to strengths, focus and priorities. It also adds clarity and could even become part of your message.
I think these questions would also SOLVE a lot of the problems I hear about every day:
- Board Engagement/Staff Communication: It works both ways.
- Board Meetings: If we’re on board about the big stuff it raises
the level of the conversation. I think a lot of the comments
I hear about Board Members being too detail focused or
staff members seeming unfocused is resolved when we can
communicate about and focus on the big picture.
- The Proverbial Rat Race: Incremental thinking gets
incremental results (some times).
I founded The Suddes Group in 1983. My very first ‘client’ was an amazing 100-year-old Catholic High School in the Chicago area. At the time, I was using pretty much everything I had learned at Notre Dame on THE CAMPAIGN for NOTRE DAME.
The model at the time was to have a CAMPAIGN CHAIR. The absolute best candidate for that was an alum who happened to be a Chairman of (at that time) one of the largest retail operations in the United States with a huge ‘Tower’ in downtown Chicago. We got our 20 minutes on the 44th floor. Showed the Plan and Structure. Told him we needed him to do “These 6 Things” (none of which were about taking personal responsibility for raising all the money).
He said, “I can do everything but this one.” I took my pen and put a line through #4. I don’t even remember what it was. I asked him if he could do it now. He said, “Yes.” It was huge.
Nick’s Note: Killing off Campaign Commitees
(THE MESSAGE AND MEETINGS, NOT THE PEOPLE)
by Nick Fellers
Here’s a story about an organization that was having a hard time getting leadership engaged and ‘on board’ through a Campaign Committee / Chair Structure.
A youth-serving organization in the Midwest started a campaign two years ago – then put on the brakes. It couldn’t find a ‘Capital Campaign Committee Chairperson’.
The description for this ‘Capital Campaign Committee Chair’ was four pages in length. It included things like (and we’re not making this up):
[First line of the description:] Acceptance of the Capital Campaign’s financial goal by the General Chairperson represents his/her commitment to raise this goal for this Campaign.
This person should make a lead or the lead commitment for the Campaign.
The Chairperson is responsible for achieving the Campaign Funding Goal. [Yes, essentially this is stated twice.]
The Chairperson is responsible for identifying, recruiting and soliciting other members of the Campaign Committee.
The four pages did have other filler that wasn’t as harsh, but…The message? The Capital Campaign Committee Chairperson basically has to do the whole Campaign… devote the next two years to focusing
on Income, no Impact… he’s on his own… except he’s not because he’s going to sell others to come along for the ride.
OBVIOUSLY no one in his or her right mind would sign onto this. it’s no wonder this organization was having trouble finding a chair. The description above probably works (but not because of the description) when there is one clear and strong leader that STARTED the Campaign Effort… that’s LEADING the Campaign Effort… from day one…. As in, it was HIS or HER idea. For the other 98% of Campaigns, it’s completely unrealistic and completely off-putting.
Prior to putting on the brakes, the organization profiled had asked eight people to be the Chair – without success. All eight have expressed STRONG enthusiasm for the Vision, the Case and the Project.
So here’s what we did.
We scrapped the Capital Campaign Committee all together.
‘Capital Campaign’ tells a story about a building. The building is a means to an end. ‘Committee’ connotes committee. Ugh.
What we really need is LEADERSHIP – so that the community OWNS the project – not the nonprofit development team. We also need CHAMPIONS – people that will help us make the vision a reality.
Instead of a Campaign Committee, we’re identifying ‘Ambassadors for the Children of [CITY]’. We’re focusing on ten great ambassadors who can help us Advance the Vision by doing three things (that match our Champion/Invite/Invest strategy).
- Be a Voice – For the Children. [CHAMPION]
2 out of 4 children in this city’s metro area live below the poverty level. Many are on a path to gangs and unemployment. This is all in an affluent city where people would probably guess the
numbers to be much lower.We’re asking the Ambassadors first and foremost to lend their name and endorsement to the Vision, the Mission and Project.
- Help us Share the Story [Invite]
When people come down to our existing neighborhood center it takes about ten minutes of walking THROUGH the story before they ask us, “How can I help?” We’re reinforcing to our Ambassadors that the story illustrates itself… but we need their help by bringing people TO the story.We even note that in doing this, it’s all about ‘Sharing the Story’ and not about asking their friends for money. We have a well equipped staff with a killer process if someone is moved by the Impact.
- Invest with a Commensurate Commitment
It’s also important to note that we are not dodgy or coy about needing help. Instead of building out meetings we’re focused on building and leading a movement in the community – with the help of these 10 voices. And, we pretty much explain this thinking to them in the same way.We’re not focusing on ‘the group’ but instead on individuals that comprise the group. We’re only holding 1-2 gatherings per year for formal group updates about the Impact and Income. Otherwise, accountability is specific for each individual most months as needed. Notably, we ARE putting in place a ‘Lead Ambassador’ – someone who can help rally the troops!
Though we’re just rolling this out at this organization, we’ve used the same strategy with great success on other ‘Campaigns’/Funding Initiatives.
Community leaders want to help. They want to be Champions for your Vision. They want to make the Impact happen. They will even invest in the Impact and help to get others investing in the Impact.
This enthusiasm is muted (maybe killed?) when it becomes all about signing in blood to be a ‘Capital Campaign Committee Chairperson’ (or member).
IF IT WERE ME… I WOULD:
- Figure out who were MY C.P.A.’s… and then work directly with them!
- Recruit more women, entrepreneurs and small business owners who get stuff done.
- Hold my next Board ‘Memorable Xperience’ either where you deliver your service/solutions… or a really, really cool place that sparks ideas, creativity and innovation. (e.g. the zoo or children’s museum).
- Change the Framework of the Board ‘Gatherings’ (meetings) and focus on Altitude and Impact and Feedback.
- Share the CHANGE IN VOCABULARY as a means of creating great conversation/dialogue on WHY you exist, WHAT you do, and HOW you deliver on your premise (Mission, Vision).
- Spend the entire next Board session talking about the ROLES & RESPONSIBILITIES of the Board, summarized on a card (Addendum).
- And, perhaps most importantly, I would restructure my entire schedule in order to have one-on-one VISITS with each member of the Board to go over their ROLE and how they can best HELP!
*I would also share this For Impact Guide with everyone on my Board.
If you are ‘uncomfortable’ sharing this Guide with your current Board Members… that would seem to signify a BIG problem.
If you are sharing this with your Board, we would like to encourage those individual CHAMPIONS and PASSIONATE ADVOCATES to do these 3 things:
Joining the Board is NOT a prerequisite or a requirement for Maximizing the Relationship!
A common question we get during Prospect Strategy is “Should we try to see if he/she would like to be on our Board?”
First, every prospect should have a Customized Strategy, including goals. Putting them on the Board is not a goal or a Strategy. It’s a tactic that usually has nothing to do with Maximizing the Relationship at this given moment!
Most of your very best prospects are on enough Boards already. They don’t want to make that time commitment, but will help you any other way they can.
In addition, when you put somebody on the Board, you almost always want to ‘wait’ an appropriate amount of time before making a significant ASK. “We have to let them attend two (or twenty) Board Meetings.”
From a lot of experience, it’s actually easier to PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY for a LEADERSHIP INVESTMENT from your very best prospects without implementing the ‘get them on the Board’ tactic.
Sorry. This is a personal hang up. Other people have said this in better ways, but I’ve never met a ‘COMMITTEE’ that actually ACHIEVED ANYTHING!
Yet, the ‘CAMPAIGN COMMITTEES’ and ‘FINANCE COMMITTEES’ and ‘DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEES’ and ‘LONG-RANGE PLANNING COMMITTEES’ and ‘NOMINATION COMMITTEES’ and ‘COMMITTEE COMMITTEES’ (to establish new COMMITTEES) are everywhere.
STOP all COMMITTEES. (Again) START working with CHAMPIONS and PASSIONATE ADVOCATES.
Special Note re CAMPAIGN COMMITTEES: These are usually about ‘length’ (the more names we get the better) and ‘depth’ (lining up the names on the side of our stationery).
Are you putting people on your ‘Campaign Committee’ because:
- You don’t ‘like’ the people on your Board?
- You can’t ‘get’ these people on your Board?
- You’re hoping that they’d agree to be on your ‘Campaign Committee’ so it will make it a lot easier to get money???
(Read this again and see if you’d like that to be published in your next ‘campaign newsletter’.)
See Nick’s Note on Killing Off Campaign Committees
“A committee should consist of no more
than three people; two of whom are absent.”
A play on words and pun intended.
At my very first Notre Dame Board Meeting as the Director of Development, a very prominent international business leader leaned over to shake my hand… and he had a GUN on his belt! That’s when I learned that Board Meetings are serious stuff!
I served on a Board at one of the finest For Impact Organizations around. I was actually there at the founding of this organization and helped them raise $20 Million to get going. The CAUSE is unbelievable…………Kids – College. Its staff is committed and passionate. Its founder and key Board Members are truly exceptional!
And… its Board Meetings were boring, dull and totally forgettable. Who wants to drive 45 minutes to a ‘Bored Meeting’ to review the ‘financials’… listen to Committee ‘reports’… and dose off during the staff/department ‘activities’???
WHAT IF… you made every Board Meeting a MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE?
WHAT IF… these MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES had PARTICIPATION, FEEDBACK, and ACTUAL CONTACT with those you SERVE, or those who DELIVER or your PARTNERS???
WHAT IF… you always did something dramatic that TOLD A STORY… around your IMPACT??? (A Tour. Actual Participation. A Beneficiary. Whatever.)
WHAT IF… you never held your Board Meetings in a Board (BORED) Room…But somewhere that just generated HUGE excitement and energy??
The key to a great BOARD MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE (BME) or GATHERING is to get people engaged and involved in the session vs. listening to one person ramble on with no purpose.
These BME’s are also wonderful opportunities for CELEBRATIONS of accomplishments and success, rather than just talking about what we’re going to do in year four of our Strategic Plan (a totally worthless
document, by the way).
Again, I would urge you to use the ALTITUDE FRAMEWORK.
BHAG’s happen at 30,000’; incremental tweaks at 3’.
And, don’t be afraid to take time to THINK!
(See Board Responsibility #1!)
A ‘BME’ is not the place to INFORM! If you what to share information, get it out in advance of the meeting. (There’s some new thing called e-mail. Might be a fad, but worth looking into.)
Nor should these BME’s focus on FINANCIAL REPORTS! The fastest way to lose the attention and involvement of your Board is to review the entire financial statements, details, audits, etc. That’s why we have a Finance Committee and an Executive Committee!
At the BME, you should be talking the WHY behind the numbers… not the actual numbers themselves. (IMPACT vs. INCOME) Better yet, DO THE MATH with your Board!
Note: The staff is responsible for the FRAMEWORK and FLOW of the BME. This is not about going to your Board and asking them if this is what we should do. Somebody needs to go in and say, “This is what
we’re going to do. We need your help. Give us your thoughts, ideas and feedback.”
And no more meetings. Period.
The RESPONSIBILITIES of a Board Member should be driven by a desire to help IMPACT, Change the World, solve a social problem, etc.
It is not as a place to ‘SIT’! (i.e. A ‘SEAT ON the Board???) We don’t want them to ‘SIT’. We want them to ACT!
WHAT IF… you could go to your Board (or recruit new talent to your Board) and talk about 3 specific things you need from them:
and GROW RICH
at APPROPRIATE ALTITUDE
based on EXPERIENCE/EXPERTISE
- THINK… and GROW RICH
This is from Napoleon Hill’s powerful book Think & Grow Rich. The ‘RICH’ in both the book, the title and the responsibility really has nothing to do with ‘money’… but it has everything to do with IMPACT! When people commit to be on Board, they need to commit to THINK! (Again, not ‘sit’.) Use words like solutions, ideas, innovation to
get them THINKING.ASK (Beg?) them not to check their ‘brain’ at the door…“because it’s a Not-For-Profit”!
- FOCUS…APPROPRIATE ALTITUDE
Getting Board Members and community leaders to truly FOCUS on particular CHALLENGES (PROBLEMS) and look for INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS is a wonderful use of a CHAMPION’S/LEADER’S time.Review ALTITUDE framework… and then USE IT!!!
- COUNSEL… based on EXPERIENCE/EXPERTISE
STOP ‘INFORMING’ and start ‘INVOLVING’! Asking community leaders and Board Members to actually help in an area in which they have INTEREST and EXPERIENCE and EXPERTISE will have amazing results!*A really good CHAMPION or BOARD MEMBER should be there for you to provide ‘COUNSEL’. Think of them as your FOR IMPACT ‘CONSIGLIERE’.
Every single Board that we have worked with, without exception, has a very fuzzy and ill-defined ROLE for their Board vis-à-vis INCOME.
*One of the very best Executive Directors I’ve ever worked with actually told me that her Board’s ‘funding strategy’ was to buy LOTTERY TICKETS! It would be funny, if it wasn’t so sad.
Here’s what we believe the ROLE of the Board should be in an [IMPACT -> INCOME] CULTURE:
the CAUSE and the CASE.
others to get INVOLVED and ENGAGED.
with a COMMENSURATE COMMITMENT
(to help FUND THE VISION)
* Specific Board Members are a critical part of your SALES TEAM! They can help get the visit, predispose before the visit, possibly join you on the visit, and definitely help follow-up after the visit.
Following are some thoughts to help you and your Board better understand these 3 big words.
- CHAMPION. The power of this word is that everyone can and should know what it means to CHAMPION your organization, your Cause and your Case.* When you present these 3 roles to your Board, if there are any Board Members who are reluctant to CHAMPION your organization, they need to be removed immediately. (Call security and have them escorted from the building. )
- INVITE. Your Board Members and Champions need the opportunity to INVITE OTHERS to become INVOLVED and ENGAGED in your organization and Cause and Case.Just imagine if you went to your Board and said, “We do not want you asking people for money! We need you to INVITE a Qualified Prospect to a TOUR or a MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE .”This is 100 times better than asking them for ‘names’!*One of the best ways we’ve found to execute on this role is with specific ‘membership’ opportunities. Let them INVITE prospects to join the President’s Circle or a Legacy Society. Then they get ‘MEMBERS’… not MONEY!
- INVEST. The ‘COMMENSURATE’ word changes everything! Every single Board Member/Champion should make an INVESTMENT (in time, energy and money) that is COMMENSURATE with their Relationship… Capacity…and Involvement with your organization.
‘INVEST’ has nothing to do with Board Members ‘giving or getting $10,000’. Nothing to do with ‘time, treasure and talents’ from the 1950’s.
A $250 gift from one Board Member could be both commensurate and sacrificial. A $1 Million gift from another Board Member could be neither commensurate or anywhere near a sacrifice.
This COMMENSURATE strategy allows you to take a Board Member who is a $10,000 (commensurate) investor on a visit to Present the Opportunity to a $1 Million investor.
* We realize (from a lot of comments and feedback from our For Impact audience)
that a lot of Board Members were told very specifically that they did not have to
give money to be on the Board. We still strongly believe that you should have
this discussion with your Board around their ROLE, including the ‘INVEST with a
COMMENSURATE COMMITMENT’ conversation.
Why? Because it’s all about the IMPACT.
If they believe (CHAMPION), they should both INVITE and INVEST.
*The following is a direct quote from a ‘FEASIBILITY STUDY’ conducted by a very old and well respected ‘consulting firm’.“The Board must feel charged with the BURDEN (our caps) of the fundraising campaign‘s success.”
“Trustees are expected to give SACRIFICIALLY.” (Again, our caps.)
“BURDEN.” “SACRIFICE.” Is it no wonder that your Board Members are not very enthusiastically and passionately engaged in your fundraising and your campaigns?