The Little Book of Boards – Review

The Little Book of Boards: A Board Member’s Handbook for Small (and Very Small) Nonprofits

By Erik Haneberg

A client recently introduced me to this wonderful book on board work for small organizations, which describes most of the organizations I work with. It’s a well-written overview of how boards can work best and how to avoid the pitfalls that many of us fall into. There aren’t a lot of good resources for small organizations out there and this book really fills the gap. It’s also easy to read.

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Crafting a Compelling Job Posting

Too often, job postings are simply a copy of the internal job description. They’re long, not too interesting, and aren’t going to cut it in today’s competitive environment. With fewer people applying for positions, you need to stand out from the crowd.

Your job posting is a marketing document. It’s advertising your organization and the great job opportunity you have. A generic laundry list of duties and requirements won’t excite applicants or tell them what the job is really like. Emphasize the job is about making a difference. And keep it to the point. Experts say a job description should be 500-600 words.

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The Number One Reason You Should List Salary Ranges on Nonprofit Job Postings

Over and over, I see job postings from nonprofit organizations that don’t list salaries. Instead, they say things like, “Salary shall be commensurate with experience.”, or “The company offers a competitive wage and excellent fringe benefits package including health, dental and life insurance, and tuition reimbursement.” It’s nice to know there are benefits, but the salary range is still the primary piece of information.

Employers have budgeted ranges for each posting, so why can’t they disclose the details? Do they hope they can find someone who will work for less than they budgeted? No one would admit to doing that, but it is likely that some organizations do it. Are they embarrassed by how little they are paying? They need to be upfront about it, and then work to change that in the future. Are they just following the lead of corporate job postings? How about doing something different and being transparent about what you are able to pay?

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Succeeding as an Acting Executive Director

Being promoted to acting executive director can be an honor but comes with its fair share of stress. You are suddenly taking on a new set of high-level responsibilities while still trying to maintain your existing work. There’s a huge advantage to the organization to temporarily fill a position internally. It is a fairly fast and simple process, but there are significant challenges to overcome.

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Building a Nonprofit Career

The nonprofit sector here in Lincoln has many fantastic leaders doing great work. Some are executive directors and program managers, other are committed case workers and fundraisers. How can you be part of this cadre of people? Here are some beneficial tips to become a true nonprofit leader.

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Leading for Justice – Book Review

Leading for Justice by Rita Sever is well worth reading for anyone who supervises or manages others at a nonprofit. She has put so many nuggets of wisdom into this book. You will get a wide variety of great ideas on how to work with people more effectively, efficiently, and most importantly, in a way that they feel valued and heard.

She addresses every relevant topic for supervising people, including supervising remote staff, dealing with burnout, holding staff accountable, and much more. Some of her advice covers things I’ve learned the hard way, other suggestions were completely new to me. I appreciated her emphasis on making sure you are holding regular one-on-one meetings with staff to make sure everyone feels heard and to clear up problems before they become big issues.

She also shared a lot of good information on the role of HR, at what point an organization needs an HR professional, or at least someone who has that duty formally added to their position. While HR professionals can sometimes emphasize potential legal consequences to actions more than staff want to hear, they are a valuable partner in the health of an organization and the happiness of its staff. HR is someone who is not the boss but is someone people can go to with problems. They are looking out for employees’ well-being and helping train supervisors. All of these important roles are vital to an organization’s success.

Sever weaves in a focus on justice throughout the whole book. She includes many lessons that she has learned along the way as a nonprofit staff member, leader, and consultant. This includes ways to see your own privilege and questions to ask yourself. She also talks about the need to understand the unwritten rules in your workplace so you can examine them more closely and how they might impact those who aren’t part of the group in power.

Leading for Justice is available on Hoopla or at your favorite bookstore.

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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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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Skills of a Successful Executive Director

Becoming a strong executive director takes a wide range of skills. No one can be strong in every single area, of course, but you do need to have the basics down in each and know where you can improve. The skills listed below are all ones you can learn with practice.

When I first became an ED, I had a variety of skills from my previous nonprofit position, but there was a lot to learn. The biggest areas of growth for me were financial management, fundraising, and HR, as I came from an organization with whole teams for those tasks. Other skills I had already. I was passionate about the cause, and cared about helping others. I had written and managed grants of all kinds. I had managed staff, and programs. Especially in those first few years, I spent my time learning the areas that I wasn’t as strong in.

Below are a few of the broader skills to consider developing if you are interested in an ED role. The good news is that they are applicable across all sectors. All my ED knowledge was quite valuable in my later roles as an interim ED in very different types of nonprofits.

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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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