Getting Meetings Started Off Right

Lack of board engagement is a frequent complaint I hear from executive directors. They feel like they never hear from their boards and when they do, it is negative. There are lots of reasons for this. Sometimes the board isn’t asked to do anything interesting or thought-provoking so they lose interest in the work. Other times they aren’t sure what their role as a board is, or what their role as an individual board member is. To help have better board meetings, I’ve suggested two books: Boards on Fire and The Art of Gathering.

In this article, I want to specifically address how to start a meeting so that everyone will stay engaged. A great beginning will make for a great meeting. I highly recommend taking the extra time to engage your board members at the start with one of these questions.

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Conducting a Great ED Interview

Interviewing someone for an executive director position is not as easy as hiring for any other position in a nonprofit (or business for that matter). Making a good hire is critically important to the organization. It’s frustrating when I see board members rush through the process or assume it is easy to do.

I’ve shared a number of resources previously including How to Make a Good Hire, the Advantages of Using an Executive Search Firm, and the Value of Using an Interim Executive Director.

Here I provide some sample questions you can use in initial screening interviews and second-round interviews.

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Exit Interviews

Inevitably all employees are going to leave their position. You’ve prepared through good succession planning, but there’s still a huge advantage to talking with the departing person before they go and getting their input on the organization. Take time to do an exit interview and make use of the information you receive.

There are many advantages to conducting interviews. Besides the information you gather, it just helps the employee feel valued, even when they are leaving. And you know that a former employee can be an ambassador for the organization in the community, so it helps to end on a high note.

There are a few pitfalls to watch out for during exit interviews. If at all possible, the employee’s direct supervisor shouldn’t conduct the interview. If that’s your ED, can a board member with some HR experience do it? You’ll get more candid responses. You could also contract with an HR professional to conduct the interview. Also, make sure to prioritize the interview so it actually happens. Holding exit interviews consistently is key to gathering a better picture of how staff feel about the organizations. Finally, if the departing person doesn’t want to do it, don’t force the issue. Offer to let them give you written feedback instead.

You can even consider holding board exit interviews. There’s something about having a final conversation that helps people be more introspective and share information you might not have otherwise heard. Plus it just gives the board member a positive feeling to know someone cared enough to interview them at the end of their service.

Here are some useful questions to ask.

  • Why are you leaving your current position?
  • When did you start considering moving on?
  • What prompted you to look for other positions?
  • Were you given the resources you needed to do your job well?
  • What did you like most about your job?
  • What did you like least about your job?
  • What are you most proud of from your time with the organization?
  • What skills and qualities should we look for in your replacement?
  • Do you have any recommendations for the organization for the future?

Exit interviews are a great way to get feedback on your organization. As part of a consistent evaluation process, they will help you see how you can improve.

Board Source shares some great tips on exit interviews for board members in this article.

Departure-Defined Succession Planning

A wide range of terms are used in succession planning and the type of plan you create varies depending on your current stage in the process. I covered the basic types of planning necessary for all organizations in my article on succession planning. In this article, I will provide an overview for those organizations that have a long-time executive director who is planning far in advance for a transition.

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Organizing Your Board with a Calendar

Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay

It’s easy to get to the end of a year on your nonprofit board and realize that you haven’t taken care of essential tasks for your organization. An easy way to keep tabs on all of the tasks of a board of directors is to create a board calendar that you refer to as you develop each board meeting agenda. This will systematize your work and make it much simpler to check off the tasks.

Here is a starting list for your board calendar of tasks and events to include. The document itself should be reviewed and updated annually.

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Writing a Board Succession Policy

As organizations begin to plan for succession for the executive director and other key staff, they often realize that the board needs a succession plan as well.

I remember all too well the board meeting when our chair breezed late and announced this was her last board meeting. She’d changed positions at her company and could no longer serve. None of us expected this news. She’d been a fantastic board chair for the past couple of years. She was involved, brought great ideas, and cared about the mission. Everyone else looked around at each other, with no one willing to step up. Our vice-chair had stated from the beginning that he was unable to put in the time to be the chair. We had no one ready to step up.

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Creating a Crisis Communication Plan

Communicating effectively and quickly to your stakeholders in an emergency is an important part of building trust within your community. Imagine the difference between hearing through the grapevine that an executive director was fired, versus hearing from the organization directly that there’s a change in leadership and a plan to move forward with an interim or acting leader. In the first situation, you don’t know what has happened or why, and you don’t have any idea what is happening. It seems like the firing happened suddenly and without any thought. In the latter situation, you know the board took careful and thoughtful actions. Even if you disagree with their process, you know that the board recognizes the repercussions of their decision.

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Succession Planning for Success

Leadership changes at nonprofit organizations are expected, but too often no plan has been created. We know that so much can happen. The current leader’s spouse gets a job offer in another state. Their elderly parent suddenly needs around-the-clock care. The board finds out about an incident outside work, forcing the resignation of the current leader. Often, though, it is much less drastic. Maybe the current leader decides to take an extended vacation and realizes how much they need to record and delegate before they go.

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Advantages of Executive Search Firms for Nonprofits

Partnering with an outside search firm to hire the next executive director allows the board to focus on leading the organization, and on choosing the best candidate, rather than getting bogged down in the details of the search. Too often, boards try to do everything themselves, not realizing until it is too late how much time a search takes, and how different it is from a corporate hire. The executive director is the most important position in the organization and putting in the necessary time to get it right will save everyone time and frustration later on.

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Engaging Board Members [video]

Engaging Board Members Webinar – recorded August 12, 2020

Every ED and board chair wish that their board did more, but how can you actually make that happen? I share a wide variety of methods from simple changes to your agenda to systemic changes to your whole board structure.

Watch here.