In Episode 42 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Marla Bobowick discuss:
Marla Bobowick is an independent consultant based in Washington, DC, has served as a Senior Governance Consultant for BoardSource since 2008, and is also a Standards for Excellence® licensed consultant. She has more than 30 years of nonprofit experience and a history of creative problem solving. Specializing in nonprofit management and leadership, she has extensive experience with board governance, strategy, and publishing. She has worked with nonprofit organizations of all types and sizes, including regional healthcare and social service providers, educational institutions (independent schools and colleges and universities), family and other private foundations, and local and national offices of federated organizations and professional associations. Previously, Marla was Vice President of Products at BoardSource, where she oversaw publications, online products, and research. During her tenure at BoardSource, she was an active consultant and trainer, developed educational curriculum, managed regional capacity building projects, oversaw the global program, and coordinated the annual conference. While at BoardSource, Marla managed Leading with Intent: A National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices. She was also a member of the working group for The Source: Twelve Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards (BoardSource © 2005). She managed “Governance Futures: New Perspectives on Nonprofit Governance,” a multiyear research project that culminated in publication of Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards (John Wiley & Sons © 2005). She is co-author of Assessing Board Performance: A Practical Guide for College, University, System, and Foundation Boards (Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges © 2018). Previously, Marla was an acquisitions editor at John Wiley & Sons, where she developed Wiley’s Nonprofit Law, Finance, and Management Series and the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fund Development Series. Marla holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Amherst College, a master’s degree in business administration and a certificate in nonprofit management from Case Western Reserve University. She is a past board chair of Maryland Nonprofits and a past board member Calvary Women’s Services.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Marla Bobowick. Marla and I talk about the misconceptions that people have about nonprofit boards and governance, why shared leadership and governance is important to strive for, and why boards needs to shift their focus from hindsight to foresight Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Welcome Marla, welcome to the podcast.
Marla Bobowick: Thanks for inviting me. This'll be fun.
Carol: So I like to start by asking folks what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you and what would you describe as your, why?
Marla: I fell in love with the nonprofit sector by accident. I love being involved with people who are absolutely passionate about what they do and believe in it and get to live and act and work their values and passions. And I wanted to be surrounded by people like that. And my passion is the nonprofit sector and making it work better, which is a little wonky, but that's what I do. Yeah. The most people, when they think of the nonprofit sector, I think they, they think of that direct, direct service or, or, working on the front lines, but there's so many layers and I've often felt that I was a couple layers removed from, from those frontline folks, but it's all important work.
Carol: Your work focuses on nonprofit board governance, which is obviously very key. What would you say is the most common misconception about nonprofit boards?
Marla: Of course, I always think there's more than one answer to questions like this, which is, I think it's two extremes. It's either the board thinks they have all the power or they think they have none of the power and same from the CEO executive director point of view. And so. Undoing that misconception because I really believe in a notion of shared leadership and a governance partnership is forcing people to challenge a lot of their implicit or explicit assumptions.
Carol: And where do you think those two extremes come from?
Marla: I think it's sometimes the language that, that we in the sector that state laws say that the board is responsible for the mission. Well, they can't do that by themselves. They do it with the community that they serve. They do it with professional staff who are on the front lines. So there's language that says the board is responsible for it. Sometimes unfortunately it's more egregious, I pay for it. Therefore I get to decide what our priorities are. And I think executives over underestimate they either manipulate or overestimate how much power they have because they control information. And so board members sometimes feel excluded or executives don't want to give them too much information because they'll get in the weeds. And that creates a tension that is counterproductive.
Carol: Yeah. And I've definitely always wondered about that aspect and, and been in organizations where I've seen those dynamics playing out where it seems like in the, the, the way that conventionally nonprofit governance. Is taught and the models that people are using currently, there is a lot of power in, in that executive director role of, especially around controlling information and what information is shared, what information isn't shared that, can, can lead to some not great outcomes. So I'm curious about what your perspective is on that.
Marla: So I feel like I walk into a lot of boardrooms and there's this hope. Assumption that there's a nice, neat line in the middle of the sand. That's a bright line that says on one side is what the CEO and the staff do. And on the other side is what the board does. And when I walk in and say, the reality is it's a fuzzy line. It moves sometimes depending on the circumstances of the organization, either as it grows and changes over time or on the size and shape and nature of the organization. And the goal is to know where the line should be and agree on it for your organization at the moment in time. No, when you cross over and know when it's time to go back to your respective sides and that underlying that is the. Every decision you can make the case that should really be borders should really be, may be management and to say, What's the sequence of the discussions and conversations and decision making, as opposed to thinking it's all one or all the other, and realizing that almost everything really has to be done in partnership or together in some way. And it's the process about how do you do that? That is the way through the mass to see where the line is and what to do on terms of what's management and what's board work,
Carol: Can you give an example of what you mean by that?
Marla: So strategic planning is a pretty classic one, which is, again, it depends, the board has a role in it. I think of the board as bookends. They should be involved in the front end, the back end, but board members and the board in particular, can't do strategic planning by themselves. They need information from the CEO. They need information from the field. They need information from the frontline staff, from constituents and stakeholders. And it's gotta be an inclusive process. And often the executive and the staff are the ones that filter and synthesize and frame that information for the board on a regular basis. And together talk about what's the priority, what's the shift, what are our goals and what matters most? And some of those things about what matters most are going to be based on client needs. Others are going to be based on organization. so the client needs in terms of which programs, where should we grow, where should we shrink? How do we rethink what we do? Some of them are going to be on Operational issues about size staffing technology. Inevitably, every strategic plan has to improve operational excellence or systems. And that's really the purview of the staff and the CEO. But when you get to fundamental questions about sort of, are we really a hunger organization thinking of a food bank or are we really a poverty or anti-poverty organization? Those are philosophical conversations that have to be had by everybody.
Carol: Yeah, I definitely see when I'm doing strategic planning, I want to see it as a partnership between board and staff, because each is bringing different information, different perspectives and to really have buy-in for what those final strategic goals are going to be. Staff need to be involved in those conversations. So what would you say is the key to having healthy governance?
Marla: You need magic. So I'm a big fan of alliteration as a recovering book editor, but I think there's a combination of, I used to say, it's just, you need good. You need clarity, real clarity, and sharpness of focus on what you're doing. You need great communication and information sharing. I always say this is a little of the Goldilocks approach, the right amount, not too much information, not too little and at the right time. And I started to add to that list. You need real curiosity to break out of old habits and maybe COVID has brought this to the fore, but I also think it is just part and parcel of words in particular need to be with. Ask good questions and then work together to find the answers and executives who have a lot of the answers, and sometimes think it's their job to give answers all the time. Need to be curious about what's behind board members, questions, interests, responses, as opposed to being defensive. And the last one I would add as context, which is what does the organization need now? And in the future, knowing where you've come from. And the, I did this somewhere else. And you hear that a lot from board members, and you'll hear that a lot from executive directors to say what fits the culture, what aligns with the organization's culture and purpose and mission. So that it makes sense for this organization now and going forward. And I always say the end going forward, because board work is often hindsight and I wish there was more foresight with it.
Carol: Can you say a little bit more about what you mean?
Marla: So board meetings often happen and you get lots of information and reports. That is all about what happened in the past. What happened last month, last quarter, last year, and not a lot about the, what you see coming up in the next 3, 6, 12, 18, 24 months. And so how do you use it? And that's, that's the reality of information sharing because there's nothing, there's no data on what's going to happen next, but how do you use the past to inform conversations about wow, we saw. But they need an X during the last six months. How do we pivot to make more of that available? What are we going to stop doing so that we can put more staff onto this program? And so I think it's that using the past to inform the present, as opposed to saying pat yourself on the back and say, Hey, we just did a great job on this, or, oh my God, we're having a panic. Because if something didn't work, we should beat ourselves up and slash the budget to say, let's really think about what. Coming ahead and short-term, and long-term.
Carol: Yeah, I think that's so important. Especially around the communications piece. Cause that could be so tricky of a kind, you want people to be informed. It's challenging to get people to read things ahead of time. So you end up with a lot of reports, but as you're saying, that's all looking backwards and so, how can. Boards, carve out the time to have some strategic conversations, get, sometimes I'll talk to folks about, what's a, what's a question that you can have a half an hour conversation about that isn't necessarily about making decisions today. But opening up so that you're thinking about possibilities for the future is right. None of us can predict the future, but by just having that discipline of trying to look ahead and notice name and notice trends, et cetera can, can help. And I think having some a couple of questions to frame that up really helps people have those conversations because otherwise it's like, okay, well, are we being strategic? We're supposed to be strategic. How are we doing?
Marla: One of the challenges is that people are so prone to asking, yes, no questions as opposed to open-ended questions. And there is a time when you need a yes, no. And up, down, vote on something. I think you learn more from the boards when you can ask them open-ended questions, which is what worked, what would work better? What would you do differently? What did we learn from this? Where there is no, yes, no answer. And you can then pull out the nuggets of information that can inform things. And so as opposed to saying, will you approve this or do you agree with this decision learning to ask open-ended questions creates more discussion. And I think the more board members are given a chance to have productive and constructive conversation and discourse in the boardroom and not be talked at or to. Is healthier. So one of the mantras, I think I can brag about board source on this podcast is that when we were aboard board source, our rule is staff. When we presented to the board you had five minutes of the hour-long agenda item. They had them on our board and came prepared, but they had the materials in advance. You framed the questions for discussion, and we gave the highlights and then it was a board discussion. And they would ask big questions and they would offer different points of view, but it wasn't. I gave the report for 20 minutes or half an hour that they already had read. And then ask them, do you agree with that?
Carol: Yeah, that's so important. And it's really like those almost as if the report is laying the groundwork or setting the stage for having that conversation rather than yeah. Being talked out and then going, oh, whoops. We ran out of time for any conversation about this. Yeah. So, what are some other things that you see get in the way of kind of, of good governance? You talked about those extremes of like either the board that you may have all the power and none of the power. What are some other things that get in the way of boards that are just being talked at by staff?
Marla: It’s people. Boards would be great if there was nobody on them, nobody staffing them. Right?
Carol: None of us, we have any work. If there weren't any people in home,
Marla: We get in our own way as execs and board members in terms of not listening in terms of having preconceived ideas in terms of. Presenting a defense or offense for something as opposed to a conversation. And so I think it's, and I think board members, on the one hand, there's this push for efficiency. We want to be efficient. So we're going to run through a bunch of conversations or meetings. Or we're going to try and cover so many things that then there's no time for conversations. So I feel like board members and execs put up their own barriers, they bring a lot of baggage or and preconceived ideas into their board work and their work together. That, to say, taking time out to pause And find a way to say what's how we should be as a board and spending time on board purpose and culture can overcome a lot of the usual frustrations that go around boards, but it takes time. And often people don't feel like they have time for what board, something many board members do. We'll say it is navel gazing. And many execs would say it's not going to make a difference. But taking time out to say, well, is this a good use of our time? What's the most important thing we talked about? What could we do differently at the next thing? I just came from a board meeting this weekend where we finally have turned around the board. We've restructured it. We've got new board members on and somebody complained about one of the agenda items. Like, all we do is talk about fundraising. So I said, what do you want to talk about next? And I think that was the first time that the board had ever been asked what's of interest to you. And I think that's a healthy conversation and let the board own some of it.
Carol: Yeah, I think so often when I talk to folks, the whole question of slowing down and taking a pause and stepping back and thinking about, well, why are we doing things the way we're doing them? Or, is this really serving us? Always comes up and then there is the pressure of, we just gotta get through this. We've got so many things on our agenda. Yeah, I, I, to me, when. When I was on board. And, and in charge of putting together the agenda, I was always fighting. Well, it was us fighting might be a strong word, but there was a struggle often between us having all these different things to talk about and then being saying, well, We're really not going to talk about any of them. If we just try to rush through it all we'll just end up having to come back to it anyway. So could we have fewer things on the agenda so that we could really dig into at least one of them?
Marla: Well, I think that's a silver lining for boards during the time of COVID, which is, many were meeting more often, less often, but they were all meeting differently than they used to. And I think it is forced. One of the most important conversations, which is what does the board need to talk about and why, and what do we not need to have as a board meeting on a board meeting agenda. So to hear a lot of reports that there's not a lot of conversation about is a waste of everyone's time. And yet it has value. I understand when you're in a board meeting, like people aren't thinking about the organization as board members on a day-to-day basis, and they want to know what's new and different, but finding a different way to convey that or a more engaging and interactive way to talk about what's happening at the organization so that when you are together with the board, with the average of whatever 15 people. You are using everyone's time to the highest value, which is what's. How can we add value to the organization and help the executive and help advance our mission? No. Be not a board, his book club. Let's just talk about what you did last month and how great it was, but you're not actually contributing anything of, of intellectual or strategic value.
Carol: So, what are some of the innovations that you've seen come out this past 18 months?
Marla: I have been surprised and shocked and pleased at being able to do some board assessment, evaluate self evaluation, work online with doing the typical online survey and then presenting the results, and creating it as a separate meeting. Whereas if we were always meeting in person, it was an all day retreat. There was a lot of drama and anxiety around, oh my God, what are we going to do per day? Is it worth it, but to kick off a conversation in an hour and a half or two at a zoom meeting and talk about it and then parlay it into full board discussion. So it's almost like deconstructing what were retreats? Definitely missed the in-person social networking that happens when board members are together. No one get this wrong, I'm all for meeting again in person. But I think the innovation of saying we can call an extra meeting for an hour and a half and use it as a listening to her, use it for a discussion that doesn't require action. Use it to dig into one topic. So I think that's the notion of focus. Out of it. I think there's just a lot. I think people have realized how much information you need and what's the best way to present it. Because I hear all the complaints and I haven't heard them lately. That board meetings are just a bunch of presentations. So when you work on zoom. You have to think about how much presentation, how many Hollywood squares can I see, how many, how much is too much PowerPoint. All of that is a test to be rethought. The strain honestly, though, is that it takes a lot more work to organize a meeting like that on zoom than to do it in person. It can take a lot. It can, it doesn't have to, but even as a consultant who does this all the time to plan and design interactive meetings, it takes more of a.
Carol: Yeah. I mean, it's been interesting to me where you talked about deconstructing the retreat. I've definitely seen the advantage of breaking up. I do a lot of strategic planning and break up those processes into a series of two hour or three hour meetings where you're really just doing one piece of it. You're starting out with that. Okay. So, I've, I've done all those conversations. I've done that assessment. I've got survey data, all of that. Let me share that with you. Let's make sure. But that's it that we're going to do today. We're not going to try to get to the very end in one day and have that marathon that people have had before. So I've really appreciated that, that focus that that can be brought.
Marla: I've done something similar with orientation and I did this before. COVID with an organization that is very small and. It's a national organization and people just can't afford to come together very often. And so a couple of years ago, we started a three-part session of orientation. One session about the state of the organization. One session about the work of the board in one session. Planning for the next year, board action planning that then feeds into organizational planning and budgeting. And we've been doing it in these three-part sessions now, I think for three or four years. And it really is like there, it compounds it, it gives people time to think about it. They tag it on to an existing board meeting, so they're not creating more stuff. It's worked really wonderfully and I've watched the board come along. And the conversation, even if the session, the content doesn't change much, the quality of the conversation has improved. And in the beginning they didn't talk a lot. And now there's much more back and forth. It's much less hearing me talk, but to have board member to board member conversation. So I think things like breaking things down have been, has been.
Carol: Yeah. And I'm even thinking, in terms of all those presentations what, what, might've all been written reports before, you could just record a brief, the, the staff or the, whatever the report is and have those go out beforehand. So you watch them while they're doing the dishes or listen to them while they're taking a walk, it doesn't have to all be written materials. So there's lots of different ways that you can deliver whatever information people need to have to have the conversation.
Marla: I'm trying to think of other innovations I've seen. And I think it just has to do with better reports. I've seen a, like little they're, more logistical and operational about better way board members are getting in the execs, I guess, are getting better at organizing board packets and materials and online handbooks and resources. And I think this is the nature of the pandemic, but I think it's a healthy thing. And I've seen other execs do this often when they're new, which is communication between board meetings. Assuming you're not meeting monthly, which I rarely recommend. But that, they're like, here's an update from the staff on what's happening on the ground because board members, especially during COVID and especially if you're doing frontline work, want to know what it’s like in the office or the quote office. What are you seeing? And so they don't have to be long emails, but a, like, here's three exciting things that happened this month. And yes, it takes some time from the exec to do that, but to be strategic about it and balance it between operational and strategic issues and need, and mission has, I think, helped some board members feel better connected. I've also seen some really savvy execs have coffee hour sort of, much more intentionally one-on-one with board members or an open house, like just call and ask questions, schedule time on a, like once a month basis for just whats. So people can ask questions because I think with all the uncertainty around, going back to work or direct service needs or increases or decreases in funding. It's just a way to ask questions without feeling like it's the formality of a full meal. Yeah, I love that.
Carol: There are lots of different ways to do that communication, that isn't all in the box of a board meeting, but what are the different ways that you can poke people in and not have it be onerous either on the board members part or on the staff part, but to keep those lines of communication open. So on each episode I'd like to play. A game where I ask one random icebreaker question. My question for you is what book have you read recently that you would recommend and why?
Marla: One of the things they did during the pandemic was a virtual book club with people I've been in book clubs with over the course of my life, and none of us are in the same city. So it's been a blast. My favorite book was Deacon King Kong by James McBride. I can see you smiling. Not everybody can do that on the podcast. So it is a historical novel, if you will. We'll about, I believe it was the sixties in New York city and it had the, the Italian mafia on the Irish cops and the black drug dealers. And The Bronx or Harlem or Brooklyn, I can't even remember, but it had the best characters.
Carol: Character names for sure.
Marla: Absolutely the best names. And so it was incredibly relevant to the world today and issues of social justice and community. And yeah, just a blast to read. He's a wonderful writer. And we had some fun conversations about it, we were joking about that. So if you haven't read the book, the burning question in our head was what was the cheese that was left in the basement by that was left for the community in the basement of the boiler room.
Carol: I do remember it now. I do remember it. Yeah, there was just so it set in, in a, in a housing project. I can't remember what borough of New York and just all the intersections of community and. These characters. Oh my goodness. Yeah. So Donald has great characters, but the story moves too. So yeah. I love that.
Marla: I want it to be a movie.
Carol: Yes. I think it would make a great movie. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you. What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Marla: It was amazing in the middle of the pandemic. I worked on a think tank research project about the principles of trusteeship which I did with the association of governing boards of universities and colleges. It's always a mouthful to say that and it really focused on what are the principles of would that make a great board member? Not a great board because the board is made up of a bunch of people. And as I said earlier, one of the obstacles to governance is people. And so it was really fun and amazing to tap into the wisdom of a bunch of college and universities per professor presidents and foundation executives to say what they had seen and to do this in the middle of the pandemic. When you thought colleges didn't even know if they were going to be open that semester. Folks, hundreds of volunteers from AGB we're on focus groups. And so really walking away with this sort of, how do you speak to the individual? I think it has made me realize how important it is to say, it's not just what a good board should do, but it's like, what can you personally do and do better as a board member and. I feel like that's a mantra that comes out in conversation, but not as explicitly as this project brought it into focus. And so really helping people see what you are doing to help or get in the way of yourself or others. Be part of a great board.
Carol: Is there a report or some summary of findings for that?
Marla: It’s coming. There is a big purple book that we did that has nine principles. They fall into three big buckets. I was a PI. Now it's a mandola because that sounds far more sophisticated than a pie. It was at Thanksgiving when we came up with a pie that has an inner circle of three pieces, which is understood by the government. Think strategically and lead by example or lead with integrity. And so that is what you as an individual should do. And then each piece of that pie has components built within it that get at your role as a. As a fiduciary of the organization. So you've got to uphold that they get a, what role you play on the board as a member of a team. Like not everyone is the captain or the center or the goalie. I'm a soccer fan. And then there is the, what do you do outside of the board and board work? That you do as a volunteer. So when you have special expertise or you show up on campus for an event or whatever it is that you're doing, that is not board work, but you do because you love the organization or you're passionate, or because you're a board member, but you have something to add that is not a governance function. And I think so. Yes, it came out as a book that you can buy from AGB. There is an article that I wrote for trusteeship magazine that I believe is free to anyone on the AGB website, agb.org. And the title is what board members are you? So it's again, it's speaking to you. And then there's a whole bunch of stuff that AGB is rolling out, but it really was this process of self-reflection and trying to make it and put it in the language that is accessible and not jargon. And that isn't shaming people or giving them commandments, thou shall do this, but that's say, we know this is hard and we know it varies from organization to organization, but there are some fundamentals that we think everybody should be capable of doing, or you shouldn't be on the board.
Carol: Awesome. All right. Well, we'll look for that so that we can put a link in the show notes, so, awesome. Thank you so much. It was great having you in love to have this conversation.
Marla: Likewise, thanks for including me and keeping up the good governance work. All right. Thanks.
Carol: I appreciated Marla’s perspective on how the work of governance is not always crystal clear about whether an issue or decision is in the realm of strategy or management. Those are two categories that are somewhat arbitrary and there is a gray area between them. Clear communication and trust between the board and the executive director and senior leadership can go a long way to make it safe for each group to ask the questions it has, get the information it needs and feel supportive of each other instead of so wary about whether they are stepping on each other toes or getting in each other’s lanes. The models may make it look super distinctive but folks need to realize that sometimes it is not. I also appreciated the point that boards needs to spend more time looking forward than backward. Too often so much of board meetings is taken up with reports – updates on work done by committees, staff, task forces, etc. Instead of using the time that everyone is together to have a discussion about a key issue – whether it is one facing the organization today or one that folks see coming down the pike. As much as you can get reports to people in another format than shared verbally in a meeting – whether it is a written update, a short video or audio message – there are lots of options to consider.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Marla, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed it, please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. Until next time.
In the special 1-year anniversary episode of Mission: Impact, Carol Hamilton discussed the following:
Carol Hamilton: Welcome to mission impact the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I'm Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. This is an exciting episode for me. I've been podcasting now for a year. So this is my one-year pot of nursery, and it's been so much fun doing this podcast. I've had a lot of great guests, wonderful conversations, and have really appreciated everything that I've learned from everybody that I've spoken to. And I launched the podcast back in August of 2020, but actually started doing interviews for it. Even at the beginning of the pandemic, starting in March. And so this has really been a pandemic project, although I will continue. I intend to continue on after that. Hopefully there will be an after at some point But I certainly have learned a lot.
I've learned, heard a lot about how the pandemic has impacted how folks do their work, how they approach their work. And it certainly had a lot of impact on how I approach my work. The default before the pandemic for strategic planning was of course, to have some in-person event where you did the planning of one day retreat, a one and a half day retreat. Where you brought the key stakeholders together, got them all in a room and had a series of conversations that helped them make decisions about the future of the organization. Other parts of the process certainly have been done online though.
Video conference, focus groups, listening sessions, interviews over the phone, et cetera, but that main crux of the process where you bring together the planning group has always by default, been done in person.
And of course we had to shift that overnight to working online. Now I had a head start because I'd been doing online events since the early two thousands, I in fact organized my first virtual conference in 2004 and had been producing a number of different online experiences over the course of those years. And so it was pretty easy for me to switch up how we were going to do strategic planning, but what's been so interesting to me over the course of this period.
As I've done over 10 different processes with 10 different organizations is actually to see the benefit of doing it online, doing it in a, in a remote setting. And most folks think, well, how can you really make good decisions if you're not all in the same room? And the thing that I've really noticed is that when you do that intensive retreat oftentimes right, when you get to the point of making a decision. With the group, they have hit cognitive load. It's three o'clock in the afternoon, four o'clock in the afternoon. They've been thinking hard all day processing lots of different information brainstorming and they are worn out. And that is the point in the agenda often. When you need the group to make some important decisions.
In the virtual environment, there's no need to have that intensive long eight hour experience. You can take that eight hours or 10 hours, whatever amount of time you might've had at that retreat. Pace it over a number of sessions, two hours here, three hours here, and with a contained set of goals that you're trying to accomplish in each one. Then beginning each the next one with, this is what we did last time, and this is where we are in the process.
But what I've seen is that groups really benefit from having a little bit of time to do one piece of the process and then process that integrated, to think more about it. Be able to kind of mull over the conversations that they had to then bring all of those new, all of that thinking into the next session. With a little more pacing over the period of time, I find that groups are able to get further quicker. In some ways it takes a little bit longer because you have a little bit of a gap between those two or three hour sessions, but in the same amount of meeting time, I'm able to get groups further with more clear and more refined goals than I might do if I were working with them in person.
Pacing also allows strategic planning or other leadership groups to do refinement between the large group planning sessions with time, for back and forth. So people really feel like their perspectives have been taken into consideration. And then with the pandemic, of course, everyone has thought it just has brought to the fore how unpredictable our world is. And can you really plan in this VUCA world volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and I can't remember what the, a stands for (ambiguity). And it was always unpredictable. It's just more obvious now.
I always tell folks that a plan is just a plan. It's not set in stone. They aren't tablets from on high. There's something that you created yourself, but the process itself brings clarity and alignment by creating an opportunity to talk together and explore issues together.
Another thing that I'm seeing a lot about recently with people writing about and considering whether they're going back to the office, whether they're going to stay remote, the method they might do, a blended version is talk about that you can't have culture unless you're all together in the same office. And the truth is that any organization always has called.
There's always an organizational culture, whether you've named it, whether you've explored it or not. It really more, a matter of, are you clear about it? Are you explicit about it? Are you, do you have a type of culture that you want to move towards? That that feels healthier, that you're trying to work. And just bringing everyone back into the office is kind of a de default. It's a default that allows that culture to kind of be there by accident. It allows folks to maybe not pay so much attention to it.
I think one of the blessings in disguise is actually working remotely. That we really have to pay more attention to what the expectations are? How are you working together? What are those guide rails in terms of how much flexibility folks have and their schedules and, and how they're doing their work, what are they expected to produce in a particular week, et cetera. And so it's, again, it may be more of. Are the managers in your organization? Do they have the sufficient training and tools for how to, to manage in this remote and. And so in-person can be such a, just a substitute for giving folks the tools and training that they need to really build that intentional culture and manage well within a remote or a blended context.
So this provides you with an opportunity to shift their culture in a positive direction and get everyone in gray involved and envisioning and working towards and creating that new future instead of just favoring the preferences of leadership and defaulting to. Whether you continue remote or go for a blended schedule, all you have to do is decide if you all have to go back to the office together. Think about what you've learned in this past year, past a year and a half. What do you want to keep? What do you want to let go? There's lots of opportunity there for being more intentional, more and more in clear and more explicit about the type of organization and how you want it to feel to work within your organization.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. Again, we're excited to be celebrating our one year anniversary and as with every episode you can find show notes and links and resources at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. And you'll also find transcripts for each episode.
I'd like to thank Nora Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production, as well as April coaster of a hundred ninjas for her production support.
Please take a minute to rate and review mission impact on apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts. It helps others find the podcast and we appreciate it. Thanks a lot. And until next time.
In episode 21 of Mission: Impact, some of the topics that Carol and her guest, Andy Robinson discussed include:
Andy Robinson provides training and consulting for nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies. Over the past 25 years, Andy has worked with clients in 47 US states and Canada. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, he has designed and facilitated 70 online meetings, webinars, and remote workshops covering a variety of topics, including fundraising, board development, marketing, leadership development, facilitation, and train-the-trainer programs. Andy is the author of six books, including Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money, www.trainyourboard.com. His latest is What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Do, and Avoid. He lives in Plainfield, Vermont.
Carol Hamilton: Well welcome, Andy. Great to have you on the podcast.
Andy Robinson: Thank you for inviting me, Carol. It's good to be here with you.
Carol: So just to start out, I like asking the question of all my guests of what drew you to the work that you do, what, what motivates you and how would you describe your why?
Andy: So you're looking for my origin story in this work.
Carol: Well, I mean, it could be a more recent version of that, cause I'm sure it's evolved over the years.
Andy: All right. Well, for those of you who are listening, but not watching, I'm an old guy with a gray beard. And my, my origin story goes back to 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected president and I was fresh out of college and I didn't know who I wanted to be when I grew up or what I wanted to do. And I was a little stunned. I was like, what, what happened here? What do I do? And so I was casting around for something to do, and I opened the newspaper and. I looked in the classifieds and there was a job title called activist, and I thought, huh, that's interesting. What does that mean? What do those people do? And I applied for this job and I was hired and it turned out what I was doing was door to door canvassing. So I was one of those nice young people who came to your door and knocked on your door and told you about an organization. I had a conversation, asked you to give money. And that was my entry point into the world of nonprofits. And I think also the worlds of social change, social justice and community organizing. So what. Moves me now is what moved me then, which is the desire to create a positive change in the world and looking for tangible ways to do it. And for the last 25 years, I've run my own consulting practice as a trainer and consultant and facilitator. And I work with groups on planning and fundraising and facilitating meetings and building leadership and some of the stuff that you also do, Carol.
Carol: Yeah. It's interesting that you talk about that period right after college. It took me a little bit longer, but my first job that I got was working for a company that helped people get on talk shows. And so I found that I was actually rather good at writing the publicity and PR for folks and decided that I wanted to apply that skill to causes that I believed in. So that's what prompted my shift into the nonprofit sector.
Andy: This is sort of hilarious, cause you've recruited me to be on the talk show today.
Carol: Yeah, I've come full circle, I guess. So you said you, you've been in business for a long time and before that obviously had a long career in the sector and well, all the entire career in the sector, but in, in different roles. And you've said recently that you're shifting now into semi-retirement. And intentionally stepping back, taking shorter gigs. What's, what's your intention in doing that?
Andy: Well, there's three or four things. It's, it's a, it's a lovely question. The first thing is my own. Sustainability energy. One of the pleasures of working for yourself is that you work for yourself, but one of the pleasures of working for yourself is that you often never stop working. So I'm one of those people. Who's often at my desk at 10 o'clock at night, responding to emails that I didn't get to during the day. And I'm, I've reached the age where it's time for me to dial back my work so I can have more fun though. That's one answer to your question. The second answer to your question, and this slides us into the topic of succession planning. I have been helping and supporting other people enter this work for a number of years as facilitators and trainers and consultants. And I helped to lead a university program on this and then. I'm an informal coach to a lot of people who are entering into supporting nonprofits and, and, and the work that meets. So I feel like if I step back, there's more room for others to step up and jobs than I am not accepting. And I am referring those out to other people or jobs that I don't get any more. Cause it's okay. I have enough, I've had enough work. I don't need to do it much longer, but I'm also supporting and training and helping other people who want to enter this space. And that feels good to me. So this is my personal succession plan and I can't say I wrote it down, but it's something I've thought about for years and they've been implementing it step by step. And the latest step is for me to work less and be more assertive about pushing jobs out to other people, especially folks who are new to consulting. I'm sending a lot more work to BIPOC consultants, black indigenous people of color, as a way of supporting social justice and equity. So that's my current thinking and I'm spending more time having fun. I'm, I'm hiking out in the woods and I'm cooking good food and I'm spending time with my spouse whom I adore. And I still have enough work to keep things going. And that seems like a good balance right now.
Carol: Yeah. And a couple of things that you talked about you've worked with other leaders on succession planning. What do you think other nonprofit leaders could, could learn from your approach and how you've been doing it? It seems like you've been very intentional in how you're approaching it, which. I don't think it's particularly actually very well supported in our culture.
Andy: Well said. Well, I wanna, I wanna frame this two ways. One of the things I've done with organizations over many years is strategic planning, which is also something you've done a lot of. And one of them, I have a couple of favorites. Planning questions. One of the things I ask people is how long will it take to win? And they're like, what? And I say, how long will it take for you to change the world so effectively that the workflow of your organization is no longer necessary? Like, what's your exit strategy right now? We should acknowledge many organizations are perpetual organizations, hospitals, universities, some of these institutions should be around forever. I totally get that. A lot of groups are trying to solve a problem and go out of business. So my first question is how long will it take for you to win? And we spend some time chewing through because it might be a generation or two generations or three generations, right? Depending on the organization. Then I say, are you going to be here for the victory party? And of course, everybody laughed and said, no, I'm not going to be around that long. And then I say to them, if you are not actively grooming the next generation of leadership for your organization right now, by definition, you are failing at your mission by definition. So, this is not this optional thing. If you don't have a succession plan, excuse me. If you're not building leadership, as you're building your organization and doing your work and changing the world you're failing. So that's a little aha for people. And I wanted to apply that same thinking to myself, you know? So there's an old thing that people might remember if they were Scouts or they learned how to backpack, you're supposed to leave the campsite in better shape than you found it. Like if you show up at the campsite and there's trash, pick up the trash, when you, when you check out, take the trash with you, don't let somebody else deal with the trash. And so literally I am trying to leave the campsite. In better shape than I found it. And I feel like the way I can do that is by handing off and supporting, and training and building other people who are coming in behind me. And I will tell you, I have, I don't know the number there's at least 50 and probably more like a hundred different peers that I interact with over the course of a year, in terms of sharing jobs, trading notes, doing referrals. Picking each other's brains. I mean, I have an amazing network and that's what sustained me for all the years. I've been self-employed as all these lovely peers who are generous to me and I aspire to be generous to them. So if I can help people do that for themselves. And built that peer network and what a gift. Right. That's beautiful. So that's my intention here and I will do it imperfectly, cause we all do everything imperfectly, but so far so good.
Carol: So what would you think? What, what, what are some ways in which inside an organization, a leader can, can start to groom that next generation.
Andy: Yeah, well, once upon a time I mean, I've done webinars on this topic and, I could probably rattle off 10 steps. I don't know that that's a lot, but I'll throw you two or three, which is one thing you should do is look at your task list and try to hand off, I don't know, one task a week, two tasks a week. And I don't mean, pardon me, Carol. I don't mean the menial stuff. I mean, substantive stuff. I mean, if you're doing all the data entry and you hand that off to somebody else. Sure. That's lovely, but that's not building their skillset. So that's one thing they could do is actually look at what you do and say, is there stuff that I can delegate? Reasonably appropriately without burdening other people, but also takes me out of the center of things. That's one idea, second idea. And this speaks to the facilitation work that you and I both do is when I'm building an agenda and I'm figuring out who's going to lead. What section of the agenda. I want multiple people leading different parts of the agenda because the ability to. To run a meeting, to facilitate a conversation is a leadership skill. So I am currently chairing a board and I had a board meeting last night. So this is top of mind. And as I was building the board agenda, I had about, I think, five different people leading different parts of the meeting. And so that's a second idea if you're actually bringing groups together, share the power within the group so that you have that agenda where people are. Taking turns, facilitating and leading and, and building the conversation. The third one is one that I've touched on already, which is don't be a perfectionist. And there's the classic thing you see is that you have a leader who wants it done their way, and often somebody else has a different way of doing it. That is different, but could be just as effective or differently, effective or weaker in some ways, but stronger in ways that your way isn't. And so part of it is accepting the fact that other people do things they think about. Problems or challenges or opportunities differently. They approach them differently. That's something that should be embraced by leaders, as opposed to we have one way we do things here. So those are some ideas. I mean, I kicked this back to you. I know you think about this. When you're advising leaders on succession and distributing power, what tips do you offer?
Carol: Well, it's interesting that you talked about delegation because I think people think about that. That's an obvious one, but yet folks struggle with it for so much. And I think it goes to the last point that you've talked about. And I've been in situations where I've dealt with things delegated to me. And the leader has told me explicitly that, that, no, you, however you approach it is great until I stumbled upon the way that they actually wanted me to do it. Yes. And I think it's not even conscious on their part. Right. It's not their, their conscious intention was to hand this off and let me run with it. And then, I approach it differently and, and it was like, Ooh, well, wait a second. Not so much. And I think you can then ideally you then have a conversation to figure out what's the middle ground between the two. I don't know that I always handled it that way. Because I think my perpetual lesson that I've had to learn over and over again is indeed that people do things differently than I would do.
Andy: if you've done any anti-racism training, anti-oppression training, one of the first things they talk about is the difference between intention and impact. Sure. Right. And often we have very good, positive, sacred, Holy high-minded intentions, but we're clueless about the impact we're having on other people. And this is one of those examples. It's like, My intention is to give this job to you. But the impact I'm having is I'm micromanaging you while you're doing it. I'm just doing that. So, I mean, I have a mental way to do this, which is I would have people imagine there's a spectrum. And at one end of the spectrum, I'm pointing to my left are people who are really good at empowering others and supporting others and delegating. That's one of the ends of the spectrum. The other end of the spectrum pointing to my right. People's responses, the heck with it. I'm just going to do it myself. It's easier to just do it myself and full disclosure here is I live down at that. Right, and the second end of the spectrum, my default button is, the heck with it. I'm just going to do it myself. It's easier. And what's interesting here is I have spent an entire lifetime trying to move myself down that line to the opposite end of the spectrum. Getting myself out of the way. So, I mean, I don't know if this is today's topic, but I will touch on it. I carry a lot of privilege. I'm an upper middle-class, white, cisgendered, straight male. I have an Ivy League education. I'm able-bodied. I mean, I have all the markers. I have English as my first language. I am, I have all the markers of privilege and I feel like my work for the last several years and maybe the last decade is to shrink my footprint and take up less space. And because that's what that's, what privilege is, is you take up a lot of space that you're not even aware that you're taking up. So, and I'll talk about this in front of groups and, there's a chance to bring this into a training or a facilitation, and there's a moment to have this conversation. I'll have it, but one of the ways that I can delegate perhaps in an we'll use the word unintentional, but as a secondary way is to just take up less space, to speak less to. Shrink my presence in whatever way that looks like, because that creates space for other people to step in and embrace their leadership skills. So I am like the amazing shrinking man, but I still take up huge amounts of space, but I'm mindful of it. And I am checking that whenever I can. And I think that's a succession planning strategy too. If you're a leader, how do you take up less space so that other people can occupy that space? And how do you really underline that and embrace that as a, as a strategy and a tool?
Carol: Yeah. So one of them is just, let's say, you're, you're discussing a topic with a group and trying to figure out different ways that you might approach it brainstorming. And if the leader can take a beat and not be the first person to talk can be huge.
Andy: Yeah. And I’ve facilitated a couple of online things over the last year where I've had leaders say to me, I'm not, I'm going to say very little, I'm going to not speak first. I'm going to step back intentionally. This is not me telling them this is them coming to me and saying, FYI, if you see me being quiet, it's me stepping back. And my response is thank you. And if I, if I feel as a facilitator, I need their voice. I can call on them. And say, Martha, haven't heard from you yet on this, what's your thinking. And I can cue them when needed, but that's, that's a great level of self-awareness and I'm, I'm glad you brought that up.
Carol: Yeah. And there's some tools, I mean, for brainstorming, there's some tools that you can use to help everybody's voice get in the room. By just having people, write things down first, like, the classic sticky notes and, and now in the virtual space on something like mural or jam board and, before anybody says anything, allowing people a few minutes to get their ideas out onto the board and in some cases you can trace, who's had what, but most people, by the time they're on there, they're not paying that much attention to it. And so it gives space for people, all, all the folks who are participating to step in. And, and one other thing that you talked about at that rotating facilitation, which is a simple thing, I was in this past year I've been teaching folks how, how to facilitate effectively online. And I was working with an intact team walking through the program and then they were trying to think about, okay, so how do we actually, the classic challenge with training of how do we actually make this stick? How do we, that was nice, but we did it in your, in your session. How do we actually start implementing this in practice? And so we talked about them using it in internal meetings first so that the stakes are lower. And so when I had my one-on-one with their leader, one of the things we talked about, I was like, well, okay, so what meetings do you typically lead? And he always led their weekly staff meeting.
I was like, well, what if, what if you rotate that. And, the intention there was to make sure that everyone was practicing facilitation. But as you say, facilitation and leading a meeting, thinking about an agenda, how are you guiding the group? How are you guiding the conversation? What questions are you asking about self leadership skills? So just by that, by him stepping back and saying, no, I'm not going to be the default, in a weekly meeting that doesn't need to be me. Is an easy first step to take. Yeah,
Andy: I totally agree. And one of the things I'm noticing about all these zoom meetings is all the boxes are the same size. And if you're fairly skillful, I mean, my experience of Zoom so far is that the alphas who tend to dominate it's a little harder to do it in that environment. And especially if there's some good facilitator helping work the process the alphas are less alpha and. That creates an equity opportunity. So what's one of the things I'm appreciating about all these virtual meetings is I think they do level the playing field a little bit if you handle them properly.
Carol: Right. And again, it all goes back to how you're structuring them. And and, and I think it's interesting to also watch how some people who might not speak up then have access to the chat. And so, they may not be contributing verbally to the meeting, but they're contributing often very coherent and quite eloquent thoughts in the chat. So, there's, it just gives people different ways to interact with the group and contribute. Again, as he said, if you kind of. Position that well, so
Andy: Carol, can I bring some Shakespeare into the car? Sure. In many, many Shakespearian tragedies, there was a fool and the fool is the person who says to the King when the King is being a jerk and maybe he gets whipped or beaten a little bit, for the most part, it is their job to speak truth to power. And I feel like if you're a leader and you're thinking about succession, you need to designate somebody in your organization who will call you out when you're overstepping your boundaries and not be punished for it. So I think, I think every leader needs a full. Where they trust and love, but who will speak truth to them and say, you're overstepping here. Or you're, you're AWOL what's up. Or you really handle that one. You could handle that one differently than you did. And it takes some courage to have somebody who is your designated call you out person, and it doesn't have to be publicly, can be privately like, FYI at that meeting, you missed an opportunity. I want to share with you what I saw that opportunity was. So. Sometimes as the consultant, we fill that role. Sometimes our job is to speak truth, to power and name things that people don't want to talk about because they're difficult. But even if you had somebody like that within your organization who had that role and handled the Def that's a succession tool as well.
Carol: So what I think we've talked about this a little bit, but what are some of the mistakes that you've seen leaders make when, when. When they're thinking about their exit or perhaps not even not even thinking about it and then that broader transition that's, cause it's never just one thing. There's always a ripple effect. Yeah, it goes through the organization.
Andy: There's a guy named Don Tebbe. Who's written a lot about this. And one of his quotes is leading well is leaving well, or maybe it's the other way around. Maybe it's leaving well is leading well, it works either way. So first of all, we have to lift that up as a value. It's okay to leave well, in terms of mistakes. Oh, let us count the ways. I think a classic mistake is hanging onto them, you know? And I am I'm I'm right in the middle of the baby, boom, I'm boomer through and through boomers, we need to step aside and I acknowledge that maybe you haven't saved all the money you need to retire, or maybe you're having too much fun or maybe there's still work to do that you want to do. And that's awesome. And time to step aside, at least figuring out what that looks like for you. So one thing is just hanging on too long and it is, it is baked into the system, but the skills that one needs to start a company, a business, an organization to start anything is a different skill set that is required to build it to maturity. And it's few people that have both of those skill sets. So you and I have both. I dealt with this thing called founder's disease or founder's syndrome or founder itis. Right. And God bless founders, ‘cause we need them. They make stuff happen. They are amazing people, but founders sometimes leave trouble in their wake. So I think one thing we have to do is to be mindful of that as we're doing this, you and I have both worked with boards where there's been board members on the board for 20 or 30 years term limits is a whole nother thing here that we can be thinking about in terms of a succession plan, is that if the staff leadership turns over, you still have the same people on the board with the same set of assumptions and the same story that goes back to 1993, about why we should be doing this. And it's a different world. Would that be a second mistake? And I'll kick this back to you. I can come up with more, but I mean, what have you seen as the biggest challenge to succession? What gets in the way?
Carol: Well, one that was interesting. I was working with a group where it was that classic thing of the board members. originating founder, the founder was still on the board. some of the founding board members were still there. And I think part of the challenge, like, and the person, said that they wanted to step back, said that they were tired and they didn't, they wanted to groom new people and said all the right things. And again, behaved in the absolute opposite way of micromanaging staff and, and, questioning if a board, if the board made a decision then going around the board to undermine it when the, they didn't agree in those kinds of things. And I think what was as part of that challenge, and I think for many people is that for that person, it was so much part of their identities. That they couldn't imagine what they would be without leading that organization.
Andy: I came up in an era. I mean, again, my career started in 1980. I came up in an era where if you were working for nonprofits, especially these, heavily mission-driven nonprofits, the assumption was you were, you would bleed for the cause. And you'd come in early and you'd stay late and it was your life. And one thing I'm loving about working with millennials is they actually want to have a life outside of the office and an identity that's not connected to their jobs. And that's great. So I think the problem is, a generation that came up the way that I came up, which is your identity is your work. And your identity is the causes that you care about. And there's something positive about that. I mean, that's, that's commitment and that's powerful, but it's also destructive. So yeah, you're right. I think we have to have identities that are, at least we can separate from the work we do or the organizations we're involved with. Because I think the classic problem is people won't let go because their identities are tied up in the work.
Carol: Yeah. And then they feel, less than, or they don't, they're not useful or, they have no purpose without, without this work that they're doing. And I mean, I guess for me, I, I saw my dad struggle with that. He was the greatest generation and dedicated every minute. Of his working life to his working life. And just struggled when he retired or, it was in a system where you, you had to retire at a certain age. And because everything about his adult life had been wrapped up in that job. And watching the difference. And my mom was a stay-at-home mom, but she also shaped, like we. He was in the foreign service. So we traveled around the world and every country, she would get a new degree. So she entertained herself by getting degrees, taking care of us. But then like, but she was never as attached to those. I don't think in the same way, it's just, wasn't the same. And so for me, going into the workforce, I always had the, and my, my tagline for the podcast is how, how to be in the nonprofit sector without being a martyr to the cause. Cause I just think that martyr syndrome is just so toxic to our sector. And so I've always tried to think about, well, there's work. And then there, then it's not that there's like work in life. Like your work is part of your life, right? It's not that separate, but how do you kind of. Keep cultivating other communities, other networks and other aspects that you want to develop. I mean, I, I do know a lot of people through my faith community who are retired and I've just, I've seen some amazing transformations of, someone who was a lawyer who specialized in some incredibly arcane aspect of, Law who then after he retired and he struggled to retire, took him like five years from when he started talking about it to when he actually did. But then started taking classes, started taking art classes at the local community college and mean has become quite the, I don't think he was trying to become a great artist, but, but he's become quite accomplished and really enjoys that.
Andy: So exploring different aspects of yourself is as important I think. And, and I will argue that our greatest ex president is Jimmy Carter. He did, a lifetime's worth of work after he left the white house. Right, right. Amazing things, amazing things. And so, yeah, I mean, that's someone who had a third act or a fourth act, or however you want to count it. So, yeah, it's certainly possible to have a life after work. Like maybe you all have that.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I don't know. I've also worked with yes. And you named it, you named it. So I'll, I'll say it, the baby boomers who would be having conversations with me and I'm, and, just baffled with this baffled look on their face. So I just don't know where the leaders are going to come from. And I'm like, okay. I know when you started being a leader, you were like 15 years younger than me. In your career, but you don't think that I could possibly be in that role, you know?
Andy: So yeah. Yeah, that's right. I am carrying the shame of an entire generation.
Carol: Well, we will, we will require you to do that.
Andy: No problem. It's it's, it's, it's the old thing. It's, it's like men have to talk to men about sexism and misogyny and. White people about racism and boomers have to talk to boomers about letting it go. So here we are.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. So since we've been at the end of every episode, I play a game where I ask one ice breaker question from this box of icebreaker questions that I have. So since we've been talking about, second, third acts, fourth acts retirement what's the last thing that you completed on your bucket list and not as soon as of course that you have a bucket list.
Andy: Oh, interesting. Yeah, we just bought an electric vehicle. Oh, wow. Yeah. From a neighbor. So we got a second hand Chevy bolt and I've been driving it for the last month and I'm learning all the bells and the whistles, but it's one of the things. And actually we had a We had a charger installed in our garage some time ago. And then we were going to buy another car. This is more detailed, but anyway I wanted to get an Evie and now I have one. So that was on the bucket list and it has been completed.
Carol: Excellent. Excellent. Well, when, when our cars die and we're waiting well, We're just watching them and they will die soon. That is on our list next to, to try to try to buy an electric vehicle. And probably we'll probably end up with a used one cause we ended up with a used Prius, so that'll be next. So, what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you?
Andy: We talking about work or, or fun, or where do you want to get?
Carol: Wherever you want to go
Andy: Well, I will say this next Thursday, which is the 28th, excuse me, the 25th. I am teaming up with my buddy Harvard, McKinnon, who is one of North America's great fundraisers. He's written many books. He's a lot of fun. And he and I are doing a webinar together called raising more money by asking and to answering better questions. And it's all about. Questions that donors think that you really have to anticipate and answer, but also questions you can ask donors to deepen the conversation. So for the fundraising webinar, it's sponsored by the sustainability network, which is Canada's national support network for the environment. And that's on the 25th. So people can track it down and go to my website, you'll see the information there. And so that's coming up and that's something I'm excited about.
Carol: This episode will probably be published after that happened. So will that be possible for people to access it after the fact?
Andy: It's a great question. I don't know. But I suspect if they go to the website for the sustainability network, which is sustainability to sustainability network.ca and poke around there, you may find it if not reach out to me and I'll put you on my list for future events, I'm doing lots of webinars and trainings. Someday I may actually go back on the road again when that's allowed. We'll see. And I look forward to supporting you in whatever way I can.
Carol: All right. Well, thank you so much. It was great talking with you this morning. Thank you Carol.
Andy: For inviting me. It was fun talking with you too, and have a good day, everybody.
Is strategic planning worth the effort? Frequently organizations are concerned whether it will be time well spent, whether the plan that gets created will get implemented. Here are two stories of the impact strategic planning had on two small organizations that prioritized getting intentional about their future.
Keeping Growth & Momentum Going
A small local disability focused service organization spent the last several years strengthening its board, its financial footing and documenting processes for its signature events. After this strengthening process, the leadership decided it was in a good position to be more deliberate about deciding its future direction.
After interviewing key stakeholders and conducting focus groups of board members, I shifted what was planned as a full day retreat to two online sessions. The goal of the sessions was to define the organization's key goals for the next 3-5 years. During the online sessions, the board
The organization now has a new strategic plan with clear support from the organization's leadership. The process helped the group celebrate the strides they had taken over the past several years. They were able to acknowledge their success and build on that positive momentum to move forward with focus and direction.
A lesson in letting go
A small local environmental organization had been volunteer-led for most of its 30 years. In the past five years, it had hired its first executive director and added several part-time staff. The organization had not successfully undergone strategic planning and its vision was primarily directed by its founding board members. The organization had a very large board that was still very involved in day-to-day operations.
I interviewed and conducted focus groups with key board members. Board members conducted interviews with external stakeholders. I facilitated two online sessions to define the organization's key goals for the next 3-5 years. During the online sessions, the board
Through these sessions the board and staff were able to recognize ways in which how they were operating was getting in their own way and make plans to adjust. They had tough conversations about what the role of the board and the staff needed to be going forward and how to make working together a more positive experience.
The organization now has a new strategic plan with clear delineation of roles and responsibilities as well as action items and key performance indicators. This is the organization's first strategic plan that was developed as a shared vision.
What does all this growth mean for us going forward?
Challenge: An education related organization had accomplished all the key goals in their current strategic plan. Over this period, the organization experienced substantial growth both in the number of clients it was serving as well as the scope of the services they were providing the field. With the increased staff strength, the board had become accustomed to relying on staff for direction and strategic thinking. The organization needed to assess the implications of this growth, ensure that there was alignment of staff and board in order to set direction and clear goals for the next 3-5 years.
Approach: After interviews with each of the board members, and external stakeholder interviews as well as focus groups with staff, I facilitated a one-day retreat with the board and staff leadership. The retreat focused on:
• conducting an environmental scan to identify key trends impacting the organization’s work,
• reviewing the themes from the interviews and focus groups and discuss their implications
• envisioning the organization’s future impact on the field,
• resulting in identifying two to three key strategic goals for the organization.
Results: The organization now has a new strategic plan with clear support from both the board and staff leadership. The process helped the board step into its strategic role. Board meetings now have time dedicated to focusing on strategic questions. Staff leadership was also able to recognize how some of their actions encouraged the board to rely on them. Thus they are now equipped to make different choices moving forward. They can be clearer about what is staff work and what is the board’s responsibility.
Are our board and staff focused on the right things?
Challenge: A local land trust organization had a regular good practice of conducting a board self-assessment each year. Over the past couple years, a few indicators created some concern. The group decided it would benefit from outside facilitation for its annual board staff retreat to dive into the issues raised in the self-assessment, including roles and responsibilities between board and staff.
Approach: In addition to the board self-assessment results, I conducted a survey of staff and board. My goal was to learn about the board’s current concerns and to understand the staff’s perspective on the organization’s current state. During the retreat, after a brief presentation on nonprofit life cycles, the group considered where their organization stood in its development. I then shared the themes from the survey and had the group discuss the implications.
Board and staff learned that they had more in common than they thought on their perspectives of what the organization needed to improve in terms of operations. It also became clear that the board was eager to stay at the governance level and focus on longer-term strategic issues. Through small group work, the groups considered its current initiatives and areas for future development and sketched out next steps. The group then gave each small group feedback.
Results: Through the retreat, the board and staff were able to open up conversations focused on roles and responsibilities that they had had some trepidation about addressing. The conversations revealed more agreement than individuals had expected. The group identified areas for growth and left with increased clarity on roles, goals and next steps.
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.
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