Questions Every Nonprofit Board Needs To Ask In 2010
We are entering a new decade. And let’s face it. Our communities are suffering. Increasing demand, decreasing resources and needs that far outweigh our capacity has made us vulnerable. However, this vulnerability creates some remarkable opportunities. Our society’s needs are so great, that we just don’t have the luxury of thinking small. As my friend Lydna says, “Now is the time for us to be unreasonable.” Reasonable is not enough now. Reasonable isn’t serving us. Now we need vision, innovation, collaboration, passion, advocacy, and commitment. We need impact. To create this impact, here are some good questions to ask your organization in 2010. Engaging in this discussion is energizing and amazing ideas can come from the conversation.
- Vision — Focus on 50,000 feet up. What is the future we see for our community? What are the possibilities? What are three things we can do this year to move this vision to reality? What is the story of success we want to tell at the end of the year? Ask each member to visually “fast forward”, “What is the legacy you want to leave for this organization?”
- Innovation — Devote some time to brainstorm this question “What creative thinking can we do to serve our clients better?” What resources are available? What investment do we need to make? What risks are we willing to take? What one or two things can we do differently that would have an exponential effect on the people we serve?
- Collaboration — How can we create new ways to work with other organizations, elected officials, funders and volunteers to serve our community better? What partnerships, collaborations, strategic alliances can we create? What conversations can we have to learn more about our community? Consider hosting a purely social event and invite Board and staff members from other community organizations to attend. Invite people into a conversation about what is possible, and what is possible for you to do together.
Note I feel compelled to add: The trend is to do this work in silos – education, health care, housing, hunger – while the real power to create systematic community change is in collaborations. Our work is holistic and we must create better ways of working together to address our most urgent social, environmental, and economic issues.
Collaboration and innovation are critical for our organizations, and more importantly, our communities success. The tremendous need for collaboration rang clear to me over the holidays when bombarded with requests to vote for one excellent organization over another in a on-line giving contest. With limited information and nothing more than a click of a mouse, I was going to choose one great group over another. I just couldn’t do it. We are in this for the community, our organizations are the vehicles to make our entire community stronger.
- Passion Passion is what keeps us going. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day “stuff” and start to lose sight of the reason we are in this work. It is SO important to remind ourselves of the GREAT work we do, and who benefits from our efforts. At every BOD meeting ask, “how have we moved our mission forward this month?” Celebrate the accomplishments of individual board members. And celebrate the organization’s successes. Invite someone who has benefited from your organization to come tell their story. Invite a funder or a donor to come and talk about why they fund you. Nonprofits do a good job of planning and implementing, although we don’t always do a great job of celebrating and reflecting. Take time to celebrate accomplishments. Always plan to plan, implement, reflect (evaluate) and celebrate. The evaluation and celebration are critical to keep the passion burning.
- Advocacy — Ask Board members to share how they have advocated for your organization. Have they engaged friends and family members, have they invited someone to join, have they ask for a contribution? As nonprofit leaders, one of the most important roles we can play is the role of advocate. Ask people if they would commit to advocate by having coffee with three friends/colleagues in 2010 to talk about your organization and your work, to meet with one elected leader to share the impact of your organization and the people you serve, and send out a personal e-newsletter to their friends and families. Ask the Board to brainstorm their ideas for being advocates or “friend-raisers” in 2010.
- Commitment — One of my favorite expressions as I do this work is, “this is a marathon, not a sprint”; Our work in communities is ongoing, invigorating, often “never-ending” and challenging. Our organizations have many excellent people, often volunteers. It is important to ask members, “what is it that keeps you committed to this organization?” “How can we support you so that you don’t “burn-out.” Ask, how can others support those that are carrying a lot of the load. Ask Board members what is one thing they could do this year that would energize their commitment. And, while it takes courage, ask what is something you are doing that isn’t energizing you? It is also critical for Board members to ask what can they can do to support and sustain the CEO’s and staff’s commitment. A mentor told me once, ” the tenure expectancy of a nonprofit CEO is shorter than that of only race car drivers and professional baseball managers.” There are many expectations — to the community, board, staff, funders, volunteers and critically, the people being served. There are never enough hours in the day to do everything and nonprofit staffs put in long, hard hours. Ask what are some things you can do to support staff commitment? Maybe it is a special acknowledgment, professional development or training opportunities, mentorship experiences, or a special three-day weekend.
When we ask these questions we create energy and excitement for our organizations and our work. People want to engage in a conversation about what is possible. There is real power in this honest, thoughtful dialogue. The dialogue creates ideas & commitment. Ideas & commitment turned into action can change the world. What a great way to start the new decade.