Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Getting to Strategic and Generative Governance: Beginning the Journey with Your Board

Getting to Strategic and Generative Governance:  Beginning the Journey with Your Board

We live in a time of profound change. Faced with shrinking budgets, rapidly evolving community needs, a hostile political climate, and ever more intense public scrutiny, nonprofits are finding that it’s not enough to simply update a mission statement or patch over a list of outdated goals. In order to meet the challenges of building long-term financial sustainability, weighing strategic restructuring options, planning for leadership succession, and more, boards need to think and act differently.

Some boards are already making the transition by applying the lessons of the book, Governance as Leadership. This leadership model challenges boards to engage in three modes of thinking and decision-making: fiduciary, strategic and generative. While all three are important, the third, generative thinking, is receiving the most attention. Thinking further into the future about new possibilities through generative mode thinking, can lay the groundwork for board leaders to develop breakthrough strategies that will assure increased mission impact and sustainable growth in the future.

It has been my experience that once nonprofit leaders begin to grasp the importance - and necessity - of strategic and generative governance, they want to know more about it AND they want to know HOW to do it. They ask: what tools and activities will help us begin to govern strategically and generatively?

Interested in Enhancing The Capacity of Your Board for Strategic and Generative Governance?

We offer a number of training and consulting programs to help you do this. These offerings will provide a practical introduction to strategic and generative thinking and offer concrete ways to apply this approach in your board. As a result of these programs, you will:
·         Gain knowledge of the Governance As Leadership framework with emphasis on strategic and generative mode thinking;
·         Grasp the implications of strategic and generative thinking for the design and conduct of future board, committee and staff meetings;
·         Leave with a toolkit of activities, methods, and practices for incorporating strategic and generative thinking into the ongoing work of your board and committee structure;
·         Develop an initial action plan to apply these tools in the coming year.

For more information, contact us at Frank@createthefuture.com. Or call 414-961-2536.


Check out my latest LinkedIn blog post on: Tapping The Connection between Scenario Thinking & Mental Models


In preparation for a recent Board Of Directors Retreat, we engaged in two activities that have been shown to increase the capacity of board leaders for strategic and generative thinking. The results of these activities fueled the move to increased strategic and generative governance on the part of this board and others with whom we have worked. To learn more, check out my latest LinkedIn blog post on Getting to Strategic and Generative Governance: Tapping The Connection between Scenario Thinking & Mental Models at http://tinyurl.com/qa7hgwl

Monday, July 20, 2015

Getting to Strategic and Generative Governance: Tapping The Connection between Scenario Thinking & Mental Models

Getting to Strategic and Generative Governance: Tapping The Connection between Scenario Thinking & Mental Models


We live in a time of profound change. Faced with shrinking budgets, rapidly evolving community needs, a hostile political climate, and ever more intense public scrutiny, nonprofits are finding that it’s not enough to simply update a mission statement or patch over a list of outdated goals. In order to meet the challenges of building long-term financial sustainability, weighing strategic restructuring options, planning for leadership succession, and more, boards need to think and act differently.

Some boards are already making the transition by applying the lessons of the book, Governance as Leadership. This leadership model challenges boards to engage in three modes of thinking and decision-making: fiduciary, strategic and generative. While all three are important, the third, generative thinking, is receiving the most attention. Thinking further into the future about new possibilities through generative mode thinking, can lay the groundwork for board leaders to develop breakthrough strategies that will assure increased mission impact and sustainable growth in the future.

It has been my experience that once nonprofit leaders begin to grasp the importance - and necessity - of strategic and generative governance, they want to know more about it AND they want to know HOW to do it. They ask: what tools and activities will help us begin to govern strategically and generatively?

In preparation for a recent Board Of Directors Retreat, we engaged in two activities that have been shown to increase the capacity of board leaders for strategic and generative thinking. The results of these activities fueled the move to increased strategic and generative governance on the part of this board and others with whom we have worked

A Scenario Thinking Exercise, the purpose of which was to develop a set of alternative scenarios reflecting multiple worldviews or perspectives on how the future might unfold for this nonprofit. The purpose of scenario thinking was not to predict or identify the most likely future, but to create a map of uncertainty — to acknowledge and examine the visible and hidden forces that are driving us toward the unknown future. In the scenario thinking exercise, scenarios are created and used in sets of multiple stories that capture a range of possibilities, good and bad, expected and surprising. They are designed to stretch our thinking about emerging changes and the opportunities and threats that the future might hold. They allow us to weigh our choices more carefully when making short-term and long-term strategic decisions.

An Examination Of Mental Models held by board and staff leadership. Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, beliefs or generalizations that influence how leaders understand the world, define success for their organizations, and how they take action. Mental models, especially when they have grown out of date, are often the greatest barriers to implementing new ideas in organizations, but they are also the area of organizational learning where organizations can make the most significant impact. 

Here's an example: In the past, one mental model of library leadership might have been expressed as "A library is a building with shelf space to house book collections; patrons come to the library and check books out for reading elsewhere." With such a mental model in place, library leadership initially had difficulty noticing, understanding, and then acting upon implications of the Internet, and the rise of social media use especially by young people, on future planning for libraries. The new mental model of the library as "gateway to an expanding world of information" changes how the libraries define success and how they plan for the future, the professional development of new librarians, and more. We can see what this new mental model has helped library leaders to create in our communities.

We believe there is a close connection between scenario thinking and surfacing mental models. Our mental models, beliefs and assumptions can be expected to influence our efforts to think about the future and develop alternative scenarios about how the future might unfold for us. At the same time, scenario thinking can stretch our thinking about emerging changes and opportunities that the future might hold for us, and in the process, alter our beliefs and assumptions.

A recent article, Effects of Scenario Planning on Participant Mental Models appearing in the European Journal of Training and Development, by Margaret B, Glick, etal, provides evidence that, in fact, scenario thinking and planning can change individual mental models.

They began their research with the understanding that scenario thinking and planning, typically conducted in groups, naturally lends itself to group dialogue, conversation and decision-making. They note that it is well argued in a variety of scenario planning resources that one key outcome of this activity is to change the way participants think about an issue or problem and thus to change the participants mental models about it.

According to the authors, because scenario thinking provides this opportunity for group interaction, participation in scenario thinking and planning can also encourage the development of shared mental models, resulting in leadership teams with a more cohesive, congruent view of the organization and its potential futures. Further they suggest that the ability to shift mental models may lead to more innovative and creative thinking which can drive many organizational improvement initiatives. They conclude that scenario planning offers a unique way to help leaders learn and thus change and improve their mental models.

Interested in Enhancing The Capacity Of Your Board For Strategic And Generative Governance?

We offer a number of training and consulting programs to help you do this. These offerings will provide a practical introduction to strategic and generative thinking and offer concrete ways to apply this approach in your board. As a result of these programs, you will:
  • Gain knowledge of the Governance As Leadership framework with emphasis on strategic and generative mode thinking;
  • Grasp the implications of strategic and generative thinking for the design and conduct of future board, committee and staff meetings;
  • Leave with a toolkit of activities, methods, and practices for incorporating strategic and generative thinking into the ongoing work of your board and committee structure;
  • Develop an initial action plan to apply these tools in the coming year
 Contact us at Frank@createthefuture.com. Or call 414-961-2536.

Resources You Can Use Now:
In the meantime, here are some excellent resources on the subjects of surfacing mental models and scenario thinking and planning in the nonprofit sector:

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Moving Upstream to Root Causes




In my last post, I referenced When Good Is Not Good Enough, a recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. This article makes the point that the nonprofit sector needs to shift attention from modest goals that provide short-term relief to bold goals that tackle root causes. The dilemma is captured in the essay "A Contemporary Fable" which I included in my post. "A Contemporary Fable" has been around for a long time and reflects the same challenge to our work as a sector: Are we getting to root causes or are we inadvertently making it easier for unjust and mal-functioning systems to remain unchallenged and unchanged? As a sector, are we about social change or social control?

Here is the link to my earlier post: http://tinyurl.com/ox88hp8.  The following question was posed in response to this post: "How do you propose that a nonprofit fund such a preventive project? Many, if not most, have just enough resources to provide day-to-day services."

A few thoughts to get us started: Let’s begin with the good news. Today there are more and more donors and funders, deeply dissatisfied with our collective failure to solve a range of problems, who are looking for new approaches that get to the root causes of those problems. They want help "getting upstream".

The not-so-good news: Many nonprofits are simply not organized or positioned to work upstream. They have neither the leadership vision nor the revenue base to support such efforts. In some cases they are saddled with legacy programs that make it very difficult to consider anything different from what they've always done. Added to this, the words "social change" are used so loosely today and applied to so many things, that it becomes very easy to mistake well-intentioned activity for purposeful social change, as in "changing and transforming underlying systems" that give rise to so many problems facing our communities.

Not that every nonprofit needs to be working upstream. In fact, there are so many people being deeply hurt by the way our social and economic systems are organized, that some of the nonprofit sector needs to be working "downstream". Countless children who are hungry right now, recently returned vets who are unemployed and homeless right now, young people languishing in failing schools right now – all of these and so many others need help right now.

But the problem is that not enough of the nonprofit sector is working at the deeper systems level, addressing the root causes. So, for nonprofits that want to move upstream, how does that journey begin?

I think it starts with asking ourselves a few questions: What problem are we trying to address with the programs and services we currently offer? What is our vision of intended future impact on the problem -– What are the changes we seek to create and at what level? Do we understand the root causes of the problem? Do we see our role as primarily addressing the symptoms or do we want to address the deeper causes? Are we interested in going deeper – in identifying the root causes? Do we have board understanding and support for such an approach? Do we have a donor base that is supportive of such efforts? (Or are we dependent on donors who don’t want us to rock the boat?) If the answer is “yes” to any of these initial questions, what are we prepared to do to come to a deeper understanding of those causal factors and, based on this understanding, to then identify/ uncover/ design promising programs, services and initiatives that will address those root causes? In many cases such initiatives will involve our organization in nonpartisan advocacy and public policy work allowable by law – in addition to direct services.

Some more good news: there are many resources for analyzing problems in terms of root causes. The world of systems thinking offers us many tools and techniques. Also, in the last several years, there has been a proliferation of resources for developing theories of change for our work. A theory of change has been defined as a graphical depiction of the strategies that an organization plans to undertake to achieve its intended impact in alignment with its mission. All of these tools provide opportunities to analyze the problems we face at a deeper level. Often, we discover the underlying systems that give rise to the problems and symptoms we encounter in our everyday lives on a daily basis.

Armed with an understanding of root causes and promising approaches to address them, we can begin to consider other roles our nonprofit can play: We can launch new initiatives that increase our mission impact further upstream. Or we can enter into new partnerships and alliances with organizations that are already tackling the problem at its root. In some cases, we can redesign programs and services we currently offer in order to have greater impact at a deeper systems level. Or we may decide to divest of some programs and services so that we can free up resources and focus our future efforts to advance our mission. We might even end up changing our mission!

We are now in a stronger position to develop ways to communicate our intent and resolve to others: we can search for the donors and funders that that are looking for the new approaches to seemingly intractable problems. We also can also look for partner organizations that have an interest in tackling the problem at the deeper systems level. They’re out there. We have to find them and develop relationships with them.

There is so much more to say. What are others doing to move upstream? What problems and successes have you experienced? What have you learned?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

When Good Is Not Good Enough


When Good Is Not Good Enough, a recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review makes the point that the nonprofit sector needs to shift attention from modest goals that provide short-term relief to bold goals that tackle root causes.

"A Contemporary Fable" has been around for a long time and reflects the same challenge to our work as a sector: Are we getting to roots causes or are we inadvertently making it easier for unjust and mal-functioning systems to remain unchallenged and unchanged? As a sector, are we about social change or social control?

A Contemporary Fable: Upstream/Downstream (author unknown)

It's been many years since the first body was spotted in the river. Some old-timers remember how spartan were the facilities and procedures for managing that sort of thing. Sometimes, they say, it would take hours to pull ten people from the river, and even then only a few would survive. Though the number of victims in the river has increased greatly in recent years, the good folks of Downstream have responded admirably to the challenge. Their rescue system is clearly second to none: most people discovered in the swirling waters are reached within 20 minutes, many in less than ten. Only a small number drown each day before help arrives; a big improvement from the way it used to be.

Talk to the people of Downstream and they'll speak with pride about the new hospital by the edge of the waters, the flotilla of rescue boats ready for service at a moment's notice, the comprehensive health plans for coordinating all the manpower involved, and the large number of highly trained and dedicated swimmers always ready to risk their lives to save victims from the raging currents.

Furthermore, state of the art information systems capture data demonstrating that measurable outcomes are being achieved - even exceeded- in line with detailed program logic models and theories of change that clearly explain the service delivery approach. Extensive cross sector collaborations serve to increase the collective impact. Finally, solid financial plans assure long term sustainability of the rescue efforts.

Sure it costs a lot, but, say the Downstreamers, what else can decent people do except to provide whatever it takes when human lives are at stake.

Oh, a few people in Downstream have raised the question now and again, but most folks show little interest about what's happening Upstream. It seems there's so much to do to help those in the river, that nobody's got time to check how all those bodies are getting there in the first place. That's the way things are, sometimes.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Partnership Self-Assessment Tool

In this blog, I have frequently talked about the importance of forging partnerships and alliances that will help to advance the strategic plans of nonprofit organizations. The planning process can provide an oppotunity to assess current partnerships. Here is one tool that can help: The Partnership Self-Assessment Tool gives a partnership a way to assess how well its collaborative process is working and to identify specific areas for its partners to focus on to make the process work better. The Tool is provided by the Center for the Advancement of Collaborative Strategies in Health at The New York Academy of Medicine with funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. The Tool was originally offered as a web-based assessment. Recognizing the popularity of the Tool and its usefulness to partnerships, the Center has now made the questionnaire and action-oriented report available with instructions for using the Tool offline. You will find a brief overview of the Tool, with a rundown of who should use it and why. For partnerships interested in using the Tool, a coordinator guide has been provided, along with instructions for using the tool offline (including how to use the questionnaire as a pen and paper instrument and how to tabulate the results), the tool questionnaire, and the tool report. Go to: http://www.partnershiptool.net

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Positioning Your Board for Strategic Leadership - Part 3

In the previous post, I described a number of barriers that prevent boards from exercising strategic leadership. Let's look at five strategies that can help your board overcome these and other barriers.

Strategies for Becoming a Visionary Board 

Strategy 1—Focus on the ultimate ends of the organization 
Taking our inspiration from John Carver, author of Boards That Make a Difference, boards must concentrate on the ultimate ends of the nonprofits they govern and avoid any tendency to micro-manage. Stated another way, they should focus on the mission, vision and overarching strategic priorities contained in the strategic plan. Recognizing that strategic leadership is a shared responsibility, they should leave the means—the daily management of the organization—to the executive director. This approach will help boards structure their meeting time to address more pressing governance matters. Key practices to consider:
·         Design board meeting agendas to focus attention on governance priorities and avoid micro-management. This includes the use of consent agendas to minimize time on routine matters of  board business and to maximize the time spent in strategic deliberation that are directly related to governance.
·         Utilize an organizational dashboard to monitor the organization’s performance on key success factors that are linked to the nonprofit's strategic plan. By paying close attention to these indicators, boards are more likely to maintain a focus on priority areas of governance.
·         Align the board’s committee structure with its strategic thinking and decision-making responsibilities. Core committees such as governance, finance, and fund development, as well as all other board committees, workgroups and task forces should reflect current strategic priorities requiring the board's focused attention in the coming year—attention that will move the vision forward.
·         Conduct an annual assessment of the board's capacity for visionary leadership. Such an assessment would include an examination of how well the board is maintaining its focus on the mission, vision and current strategic priorities.
 
Strategy 2—Build a board leadership talent pipeline for the future
In contrast to the typical short-term recruitment process that focuses narrowly on filling anticipated board vacancies for the current year only, boards need a long-range plan for developing future leadership. Such a plan centers on the following questions: Who will be serving on and leading the board over the next five years? What is our plan to scout board leadership talent for the future? How will we go about fostering and developing this future board leadership? What we're talking about is board leadership succession planning. Key elements to this approach: 
·         Create a standing governance committee to replace the traditional nominations and recruitment committee. The governance committee will use the key questions listed above to devise an ongoing process that includes prospecting, recruiting, selecting, orienting, training and assessing the performance of board members.
·         Develop a written board member job description that reflects the future needs and expectations of the board with an emphasis on strategic leadership.
·         Link board development to your strategic plan. Identify the new skills, knowledge, personal contacts and other attributes future board members will need to possess in order for the board to do its part in advancing the strategic plan. Based on this analysis, develop targeted board recruitment and leadership development priorities.
·         Develop a just-in-time board orientation program to speed up the learning curve for new board members so that they can hit the ground running in their first meeting. The idea is to cover this ground earlier with prospective board members – to move orientation further upstream. Again, it is important to link this advance program of orientation to the strategic plan.
·         Beyond this initial orientation, foster a continuous learning environment for all board members.

Strategy 3—Develop a shared vision of future intended impact
The key question for nonprofit boards is: "If we could have the impact we have always desired in advancing our mission, what would this success look like in five years?” The board's answer to this question captures the organization's strategic vision. 

Strategic vision reflects the institutional and community impact we intend to create and the kind of organization we will need to be in order to achieve this impact. “Vision of Intended Impact” has also been defined as a clear, measureable statement of what the organization will hold itself accountable for and align activities around. 

As mentioned earlier, it is critical that the board be involved in the development of a shared vision—the centerpiece of the strategic plan. Once your board has developed a vision statement, look for ways to live the vision in your organization and the community. For example: 
·         Use the strategic vision as a framework for board decision making in every meeting—not just during an annual planning retreat.
·         Share your vision with the community. Once you go public with it, it's hard not to live up to the vision.
·         Ask board members what they think is most exciting and inspiring to them about your nonprofit's vision. . Remember: It was their passion for mission and vision that led them to join the board in the first place! Tap this energy to increase board performance and accountability.
·         Use the vision as the basis for regular dialogue in meetings on emerging issues and challenges.
·         Seek media coverage when strategic plan milestones are reached, and use this as an opportunity to promote your vision both inside and outside of the organization.

Strategy 4—Keep up with the rapid pace of change
Another strategy for nurturing visionary leadership is to help the board keep up with the rapid pace of change. Provide information that helps the board think about these key questions: What external changes and trends will have the greatest impact over the next three to five years on the organization and the people it serves? How can the organization effectively respond to these changes and trends? How are other organizations responding to these changes and trends? 

Let's remember, however, that busy people will have difficulty finding time to read a lot of material. So, if you intend to share information with the board, whether in print or online, make sure that it is timely, relevant and well-summarized. Here are some suggestions for helping board members stay abreast: 
·         Schedule time during the regular board meetings for discussion about the impact of key external changes and trends, as well as emerging critical issues.
·         Encourage individual board members to read, listen and look for information about emerging trends and share that information with the rest of the board.
·         Periodically send board members short readable articles summarizing relevant future trends.
·         Involve the board in ongoing strategic thinking and planning as a way to expose it to new external trend data. 
 
Strategy 5—Stay in touch with the changing needs of your customers and other stakeholders
The fifth strategy consists of providing members with information that educates them about  the changing needs of your customers and stakeholders. Help them understand trends associated with all of the groups central to your success—clients, donors, volunteers, lawmakers, vendors, and community members. Key questions include: What do our stakeholders think of the organization? What are their most important future needs and service expectations of the organization? For the new needs and service expectations most likely to emerge among stakeholders, are there other organizations well-positioned to meet these needs? Are there opportunities to collaborate with those organizations? Consider the following activities: 
·         Create opportunities for board members to "meet the customer." One organization schedules an annual town hall forum to provide board members with a face-to-face opportunity to listen to constituents talk about their emerging needs.
·         Tap staff experience and knowledge of clients, partners, donors and funders to deepen the board's understanding of emerging stakeholder needs.
·         Establish a strategic marketing information system to supply the board with data to enhance its governing role. Access to such data helps to assure that the voice of the customer is reflected in major board decisions while avoiding any temptation to micro-manage. In most instances, such a marketing information system can draw from a variety of data gathering activities that are already in place and which support ongoing staff efforts in program development and grant writing; for example, focus groups, secondary market research, surveys, key informant/expert interviews, community forums, internal reviews, online literature searches, and more. Develop summaries that employ communication techniques such as infographics—visual representations of sometimes complex information, relationships or knowledge that make data more accessible and usable by the board. An example: Using a recent report on African American philanthropy with key trends summarized in a series of such infographics, board and staff leadership of one nonprofit are reassessing their current fund development strategies for this important donor demographic.

Next Steps
To summarize, an effective board of directors that can exercise visionary leadership is built upon a number of key strategies. These processes, structures and practices reinforce each other and lay the groundwork for board and organizational effectiveness in this time of continuing rapid, profound change. Here’s how to use them to transform your nonprofit board:
1.    Characteristics. Review the eight attributes of visionary board leadership. Use these factors as a checklist to assess your board. Identify areas that need improvement. Consider use of the Visionary Board Leadership Assessment which can be found on our website at http://www.createthefuture.com/Visionary%20Board%20Leadership%20Assessment.htm
2.    Barriers. Scrutinize the eight barriers to visionary board leadership. Some will be familiar. All can be overcome. Begin work now to remove these barriers. 
3.    Strategies. Remember, an effective, visionary board is built on five key strategies that lay the groundwork for board and overall nonprofit effectiveness in this time of rapid, profound change.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Positioning Your Board for Strategic Leadership - Part 2

There are a number of barriers that prevent boards from exercising the kind of visionary leadership I described in a previous post. Examining these barriers to visionary board leadership can be the first step in revitalizing an existing board or building a powerful board from scratch. Let's look at some of them now:  

·         Lack of time - In order to play a visionary leadership role, board members need the time to do the work of the board: attend meetings, serve on committees, read materials and maintain contact with each other in between meetings. This puts pressure on the board to do everything it can to organize for maximum effectiveness and avoid wasting time on trivial matters. This also challenges the board to recruit leaders who are able and willing to make the required time commitment. 
 
·         Avoidance of risk-taking - To be innovative and creative in its decision making, a nonprofit board must be willing to take chances, to try new things, to take risks. This risk-taking flies in the face of the conventional wisdom about board stewardship responsibilities. Success in new programmatic ventures is never guaranteed. Boards need to acknowledge this tension point and discuss it with funders, donors and other key supporters. Board leaders must strike a balance between taking risks and remaining true to their traditional stewardship role. It will also help to remember that holding on to the status quo can be a greater risk than trying something new.
 
·         Lack of board involvement in strategic thinking, planning and decision making - More than any other activity, strategic planning offers boards an opportunity to closely examine the changes and trends that will have the greatest impact on their nonprofits and their ability to make a real difference in the lives of the people and communities they serve. Based on this analysis, boards are then able to devise strategies to effectively respond to new challenges. This opportunity to reflect together on the big issues facing the organization leads to new vision and a sense of future direction, as well as the energy to move forward. Some boards are not involved in strategic planning at all. Some are involved but only superficially. When this happens, the board loses an important opportunity to hone and exercise its visionary leadership skills. And we’re not just talking about the formal structured planning process but rather all of the opportunities the board has to engage in strategic thinking and decision making on an ongoing basis.
 
·         Lack of knowledge in an increasingly complex world - The world is much more complex today for nonprofits. Busy board members frequently lack a deep understanding of critical changes, trends and developments that challenge fundamental assumptions about how they define the work of the board and what success looks like. Today, we see this shift most dramatically in the fields of health, education and economic development. Often, this lack of knowledge results in a lack of confidence on the part of the board to act decisively and authoritatively. 
 
·         Micro-management - There is the story about the city council of a major American city spending almost an entire meeting deciding what color to paint the seats in the new stadium. Think of the seemingly intractable problems facing this and other cities today-unemployment, low student achievement, crumbling infrastructure. A time for bold, decisive action, if there ever was one!. Where was the leadership? 

Practically all of us have hair-raising stories about boards that spent untold hours discussing trivial subjects while neglecting major governance issues deserving more thoughtful deliberation. It is essential that boards focus attention on the roles they are called to play in order to maximize mission impact. This means the board must avoid the temptation to micro-manage or meddle in areas that are more appropriately handled by staff or its own committees. The average board, meeting monthly for one- and- a- half hours, has approximately eighteen18 hours of meeting time per year to make all of the major governance decisions and still find the time to address new critical issues that are sure to emerge. It is simply impossible to do an effective job within those eighteen18 hours of meeting time if precious minutes are devoted to non-governance matters. In addition, a habit of board micro-management can adversely affect the morale of staff and the board's own committees as well. 
 
·         Holding on to the old ways - In their book The Accelerating Organization, authors Arun Maira and Peter Scott-Morgan state that one principle of survival scientists have observed in natural systems is the continuous shedding of operating rules that cease to be relevant because of changing environmental conditions. Organizations, they surmise, "can hold only a small number of rules and operations at any time so they must have the ability to shed old rules to make room for the new. Shedding becomes more complicated in systems involving human beings because their sense of self- worth is often attached to many old rules." This all-too-human tendency to hold on to what we know can prevent boards from considering and pursuing new opportunities that conflict with some of the old rules. 
 
·         Failure to see strategic thinking as the board's primary governance responsibility - Sometimes boards assume that it's the job of the executive director to do the visionary thinking. While boards rightly expect executive directors to be visionary, strategic and decisive, this doesn't mean that the board sits and waits for direction and inspiration. This lack of clarity can result in boards that don't exercise visionary leadership because they don't think it's their job. But it is! In fact, it's at the very heart of what it means to govern.
 
·         We didn't have to be visionary in a less-competitive past - Time was when clients, members, donors and consumers would just walk in the door on their own—or so it seemed. Viewing things in this way, boards didn't consider marketplace pressures, or for that matter the existence of a competitive marketplace. Those days are gone forever. For many boards, however, their leadership style hasn't kept pace with these new realities.

Some of these barriers will be familiar. All can be overcome. What is really required is a fundamental reorganization of board structure and process in order to position the board for strategic leadership. In a future post, we'll look at five strategies that can help your board adopt a visionary leadership style.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Positioning Your Board for Strategic Leadership - Part 1

From the very beginning, an over-arching theme of this blog has been the close connection between strategic planning and governing board effectiveness. In the nonprofit sector, we can't do good strategic thinking and planning without an engaged, committed, strategically oriented board, and, we can't have an effective governing board that is not involved in strategic thinking and planning on an ongoing basis. With this post, we are beginning a series on how to position your board for strategic leadership.

Positioning Your Board for Strategic Leadership - Part 1

Are you interested in building an active and strategically-oriented board of directors? You are not alone. According to a recent survey of regional and national studies about nonprofits’ greatest challenges, board effectiveness was cited as the most frequent concern.

For a nonprofit to succeed, it must have a board that is passionately committed to the mission, possesses substantial leadership skills, and is organized for strategic leadership. Nothing less will do during this time of heightened change. Boards continue to face the challenges of building long-term financial sustainability, weighing strategic restructuring options, planning for leadership succession, and more. The unrelenting pace of change challenges nonprofit boards to look and act differently. Some boards have already made the transition. They possess a number of qualities and characteristics that together define a new profile of board effectiveness. The boards that fit this new profile possess the following characteristics:

·         They are visionary and future-focused, spending most of their decision-making time looking forward.
·         They possess an entrepreneurial spirit, understanding that their organizations operate in a fast-changing marketplace, which seeks products and services to meet emerging customer needs.
·         The new-thinking boards’ leaders are risk-takers, balancing the need to take chances with the traditional stewardship responsibilities of board service.
·         They are strategic decision makers who, in partnership with staff leadership, utilize a range of planning approaches and tools.
·         They are effective communicators, understanding the importance of good communication at all levels.
·         They organize the board and its committees accordingly. They are systems thinkers, seeking to understand the root causes and forces that shape the issues and challenges they will face in the boardroom. They look for courses of action that will exert the highest possible leverage as they respond to those issues.
·         In these “new” boards, leaders also look for creative ways to connect their organizations to the world around them, exploring and imagining new forms of partnership and alliances that will support their missions and advance their strategic plans.
·         The “new” boards’ leaders also have a deep appreciation of the strength of diversity. They understand that diversity helps assure a higher level of responsiveness to customers and also promotes creativity, innovation and organizational learning.

These qualities and characteristics that define effective boards equip their members to exercise a more visionary and strategic leadership style. However there are a number of barriers that get in the way of boards acting in this way. I'll describe these barriers in a future post. Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Involving Members in Your Strategic Planning Process

During our recent webinar "Increasing the Impact of Your Strategic Planning Efforts", one participant asked "What are some concrete suggestions for involving the membership in the development of a strategic plan?" Here is our response:
• Reserve a few slots on the strategic planning committee for member representatives with a reputation for "big picture thinking"
• Invite selected members to participate in a strategic planning retreat
• Conduct dialogue sessions/focus groups with members to solicit feedback and input on what they view as emerging issues and challenges facing the organization, the field/profession and the members themselves
• Build in opportunities for input of members at already scheduled meetings and events – monthly membership meetings, conferences, training programs
• Conduct an online membership survey. I've taken an online membership survey which we used in some of our strategic planning projects involving membership organizations and associations and removed organization specific references. You can take a look at this survey online at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/H3KLMXD. Feel free to use the survey questions and edit as needed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Core Strategy #8: Deploy Targeted Volunteer Engagement Strategies

In previous posts, I listed 10 key strategies that need consideration in the strategic plans of nonprofit organizations. The first strategy is “Embed capacity building into the fabric of your nonprofit". The second strategy is to "Build an exceptional board". The third --to engage in accelerated strategic thinking and planning. The fourth strategy is to "Forge partnerships, alliances and mergers to increase mission impact and sustainability". The fifth strategy is to "Develop board and staff succession plans". The sixth strategy is to "Build capacity for effective public policy and advocacy". The seventh strategy is to "Master use of social media".

The eighth strategy is to deploy targeted volunteer engagement strategies.

One of the most important opportunities for nonprofits today is the potential impact of baby boomers as they now begin to retire. A lot is being written about what boomers will be doing with their volunteer time and their charitable dollars. Also, for a number of reasons, many boomers will put off retirement to continue working in their current jobs or in new part-time positions. Several studies suggest that many boomers, when they think of employment "after retirement", express a preference for work in the nonprofit sector.

All of this represents great news for nonprofit organizations. The problem is that many nonprofits are not thinking about how to capitalize on this phenomenon. They have no coherent strategy for volunteer engagement. This trend and its implications are so important that a strategic plan that doesn’t include concrete strategies to tap into Boomer charitable giving, volunteering and professional workplace skills and knowledge, is deficient in a serious way.

In my work with nonprofits, more and more organizations are looking for ways to maximize their engagement of volunteers to increase mission impact. And the good news? Lots of excellent resources are readily available. Here are several excellent resources including some that focus on engagement of younger volunteers:

• VolunteeringInAmerica.gov. This website hosted by the Corporation for National and Community Service, provides the most comprehensive collection of data on volunteering and civic engagement ever assembled, including data for every state and nearly 200 cities. The data is collected through a partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and has been released annually since 2005. http://www.volunteeringinamerica.gov.
• Everyone Ready Professional Development Program in Volunteer Management. Everyone Ready® is a professional development program in volunteer management delivered via Online Seminars, electronic Self-Instruction Guides, interactive discussion boards, and other online resources. To learn more about this innovative approach to training, go to: http://energizeinc.com/everyoneready.
• Calculating the Economic Impact of Volunteers. The Economic Impact of Volunteers Calculator created by the Points of Light Foundation estimates the appropriate wage rate for volunteer time based on what the person does, the value of specific tasks according to market conditions as reported by the US Department of Labor. Organizations can use the Calculator to determine the value of the time their volunteers give doing a wide variety of volunteer jobs. Go to: http://www.handsonnetwork.org/tools/volunteercalculator.
• Sample Volunteer Job Descriptions. The Community Services Council of Newfoundland and Labrador whose mission is to encourage citizen engagement, has created an excellent resource for the development of volunteer job descriptions. To learn more about creating job descriptions for volunteers, go to: http://www.envision.ca/voljobdesc/example_form.asp. To view a variety of sample volunteer job descriptions to help determine the type of volunteer you are looking for, go to: http://www.envision.ca/voljobdesc/description_form.asp. Then to create volunteer job descriptions, you can use an interactive template. You can view your job descriptions online, print them or email them, go to: http://www.envision.ca/voljobdesc/example_form.asp.
• The New Volunteer Workforce by David Eisner, Robert T. Grimm Jr., Shannon Maynard, & Susannah Washburn. Stanford Social Innovation. http://www.ssireview.org.
• Reinventing Aging. Harvard School of Public Health–MetLife Foundation Initiative on Retirement and Civic Engagement. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu.
• Resources on Baby Boomers. The collection available at the website of the National Corporation for Community Service originally complied by Temple University in April 2008, offers a list of resources for those who have had limited experience with this population, or anyone who would like to learn more. http://www.nationalserviceresources.org.
• The Boomers’ Guide to Good Work. Ellen Freudenheim is the author of a new guide to help boomers find public service jobs in the second half of their lives—the preference of most boomers in their 50s, according to a new national survey. Both the guide, The Boomers’ Guide to Good Work: An introduction to jobs that make a difference, and the survey, MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures New Face of Work Survey are available free online at http://www.civicventures.org. The MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures New Face of Work Survey is available at http://www.civicventures.org.
• Generation We: How Millennial Youth are Taking Over America And Changing Our World Forever. Eric Greenberg and Karl Weber. Free downloadable book at http://gen-we.com.
• Youth and Students in Service Resources. Collection of resources that includes volunteering by young people - children, teens, and college age - plus service-learning and family volunteering. http://energizeinc.com.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Strategic Planning for Networks

In a previous post, I discussed collaborative strategic planning, an exciting and important development in the nonprofit sector. I noted

"Nonprofits are showing new interest in collaborative strategic planning efforts in which the focus is on a shared customer/constituent base or pressing community issue rather than development of a strategic plan for their organization alone. Examples include several youth and family serving organizations developing a collaborative strategic plan to offer new services to children with special needs in a region or neighborhood development groups focusing on affordable housing in city neighborhoods."

Some important collaborative strategic planning is being done within networks. A stunning example of this phenomenon can be found in the work of Eric Kim who has facilitated strategic planning for networks. He recently presented in a webinar entitled "Strategic Planning for Networks" sponsored by the Leadership Learning Community. You can access the presentation slides as well as an excellent summary of the presentation on the blog of Patti Anklam. You can access all of this at the website of the Leadership Learning Community.

A related resource is the article "the Network Nonprofit" referenced in another earlier post on our blog: The Networked Nonprofit: A New Mental Model of Organizational Growth.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Core Strategy #7: Master Use Of Social Media

In an earlier post, I listed 10 key strategies that need consideration in the strategic plans of nonprofit organizations. The first strategy described in that post is “Embed capacity building into the fabric of your nonprofit". The second strategy is to "Build an exceptional board". The third strategy discussed in my last post is to engage in accelerated strategic thinking and planning. The fourth strategy is to "Forge partnerships, alliances and mergers to increase mission impact and sustainability". The fifth strategy is to "Develop board and staff succession plans". The sixth strategy is to "Build capacity for effective public policy and advocacy".

The 7th strategy is to master use of social media. Here's what some of the experts are telling us:

First, we’re not in charge anymore. There was a time when we were more in control of communication about our nonprofit. We created the message and we decided who would and wouldn't get the message. Those days are gone. Witness the multimillion dollar ad campaigns of major corporations gone up in smoke as a result of someone mobilizing an army of consumers through use of Facebook and Twitter.
Next, it's about engagement. Communication is no longer a one-way proposition. People are no longer content to be the passive recipients. People expect to respond. People expect to co-create content and knowledge with us.
Integrated with an overall communications plan. Social media is a powerful tool, technique, medium that needs to be joined to the other marketing and communication tools in our arsenal.
Define your desired outcomes. Like all communications planning, it starts with determining the desired outcomes of our efforts.
Monitor and measure. This follows from the previous point. Once we figured out what it is we want to achieve, what is the message? Who is the audience? How can we engage them? How do we measure our success - and our mission related impact?
• Finally, social media is not a substitute for building personal relationships of trust and commitment between the organization and our various constituencies, supporters and stakeholders.

There has been so much written on the use of social media by nonprofits. The following is by no means a complete resource list but provides you with a starting point:

Social Networking Guides and Resources for Nonprofits. Networking for Good has compiled an excellent collection of introductory articles and resources to help you determine whether or not online social networks including services like Facebook, MySpace, and blogs fit your needs, and if so, how to get started. You can access the collection at http://www.fundraising123.org/social-networking. A great place to start is the article entitled 10 Things You Need to Do Prior to Diving into Social Media‖. Go to: http://www.fundraising123.org/article.

YouTube Nonprofit Program. Does your organization have a compelling story to tell? Do you want to connect with your supporters, volunteers, and donors but don't have the funds to launch expensive outreach campaigns? YouTube can help. Video is a powerful way to show your organization's impact and needs, and with a designated "Nonprofit" channel on YouTube, you can deliver your message to the world's largest online video community. Go to: http://www.youtube.com/nonprofits.

Everything You Need to Know About Web 2.0. Web 2.0 is a category of new Internet tools and technologies that focuses on the idea that the people who consume media, access the Internet, and use the Web shouldn't passively absorb what's available -- rather, they should be active contributors, helping customize media and technology for their own purposes, as well as those of their communities. These new tools include, but are not limited to, blogs, social networking applications, RSS, social bookmarking, and wikis. This resource provided by Techsoup includes articles on a variety of Web 2.0 tools and technologies. Techsoup intends to update this page from time to time so you can check back to learn about the latest technologies for your organization. Go to: http://www.techsoup.org/toolkits/web2.

Social Change Takes More Than Social Media. Go to: http://www.netsquared.org.

The Power Formula for Linkedin Success: Kick-start Your Business, Brand, and Job Search by Wayne Breitbarth. This simple, user-friendly guide explains how you can access the full power of LinkedIn--including advice on making lasting business connections, building a unique personal brand, and generating significant business opportunities. Breitbarth demonstrates how you can take advantage of all the features of this professional networking platform. He shows you how to create a compelling profile, use keywords to improve your ability to find and be found by others, build a solid base of connections, solicit valuable recommendations, and much more. Go to: http://www.amazon.com.