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Bill Hoffman

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Opening a Window on Your Nonprofit’s Performance

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As a conscientious leader of your organization (board member or senior staff), you put a lot of thought and effort into developing your strategic plan. Ideally, the planning process resulted in quantifiable goals that will be tracked over the course of the year to measure progress on the plan. Peter Drucker’s quote, “What gets measured gets improved,” is as valid today as when he first said it. But the challenge is how best to track and report on progress, because you’re engaging busy volunteers who are probably only working on portions of the plan, and then only sporadically. Because many people are visually oriented, charts and graphs are natural ways to report measurement. That’s why many organizations regularly produce dashboards as their windows on performance.

Influencing Public as Well as Philanthropic Efforts

As members of the independent sector, we continuously strive to increase our impact in the focus areas of our missions.  We think creatively, plan scrupulously, collaborate where possible, and work hard at maximizing resources we can bring to move the needle.  Many thousands of volunteer and paid staff hours are spent in these efforts.  And, make no mistake, we definitely do move the needle and often have demonstrable impact.  But could we have more impact with similar levels of effort if we focused them differently?

Top Ways to Engage Non-Development Board Members in Development


A key responsibility of nonprofit board members is to assure that the organization has sufficient resources to fulfill its mission. There are many indirect aspects of this—helping with outreach in the community, serving on a finance committee to provide fiduciary oversight, etc. But the most direct and perhaps most impactful is fundraising. While many board members embrace the prospect of helping with fundraising, others run in the opposite direction.

Most folks who aren't regularly engaged in fundraising equate the entire process with "The Ask." There are, however, plenty of steps leading up to and following the actual ask that a board member who is uncomfortable with asking for donations can help with. Here are the top ways in which volunteers can help with resource development and without realizing they're actually fundraising.

Pruning Deadwood from Your Board


Have you looked at a board member's name and thought, "When did we see that person last?" Or do you have board members who show up physically at meetings but aren't working on any projects, don't participate in discussions, and haven't contributed in any way to the board's work?

Most nonprofit boards have deadwood at one time or another. And many nonprofit leaders suffer some degree of angst in deciding what to do about it. Can we get the person off the board voluntarily? If we force him or her off the board, will there be repercussions from other board members or stakeholders? The best test to get over any self-doubt about pruning deadwood from your board is to ask yourself, "What could we accomplish if we had an active, energetic, and engaged board member in that slot?"

Inactive board members aren't necessarily bad people. They may, in fact, have actively contributed to the board's work early in their tenure. Life changes and priorities shift. Maybe they've over-committed, or maybe the work of the board has changed enough to leave these board members behind. There are also board members who looked great on paper when they were recruited but for whatever reason never really engaged and or found their role on the board.

When confronted with deadwood on your board, it's worth stepping back and trying to determine why a member is not active. It's possible that the situation can be remedied. Perhaps you need to have a conversation about expectations for board members, offer a new committee assignment, or even suggest a short sabbatical from the board to resolve business or personal issues that are monopolizing the board member's time.

When you've exhausted the possibilities of firing up an inactive board member, it's time to look at how to graciously remove him or her from the board and free up that slot. It's important that this be a board-driven process and not simply the executive director's initiative. If the executive director takes the lead, it's akin to firing the boss (which may be tempting at times, but not very practical). Certainly the executive director should be aware of what's happening, and he or she might actually be helping in the background.

A little research is called for at this point. When does the board member's term expire? The best time to ask someone to vacate the board is when the end of his or her term is coming up; in fact, you can just not renew the term. A corollary would be to evaluate all board members' activity levels as terms expire and address inactive board members then. Hopefully the bylaws clearly define terms for board members. Two-year terms are the most common, but there are other durations.

Ideally when the end of board members' terms are coming up, the board chair can call them individually to discuss their recommitment to the board. A conversation with an inactive board member can discuss whether or not his or her situation will be changing or if he or she has an interest in continuing on the board in a more active role. If the board member has disengaged so much that a phone conversation isn't possible or practical, the board chair should write a letter. The letter can thank the board member for past service, state that the chair is sorry that the member hasn't been able to participate more, and note that the term will not be renewed. It should also say to let the chair know if the board member's situation changes in the future and he or she would like to reengage with the board.

I've had very interesting experiences with these phone calls and letters—all very positive! Never have I had a (soon to be former) board member get upset. They seemed to be looking for a gracious way to exit an organization that they've lost interest in and appreciated the ability to go quietly. There's almost a sigh of relief. And from the organization's standpoint, there's now an open board slot to fill with new blood!

The preceding is a guest post by Bill Hoffman. Bill has more than 30 years' expertise in various aspects of the nonprofit sector, having worked at all levels of nonprofit organizations, including serving as chief executive of a $6 million education foundation for 9 years. He and his firm have written and presented on topics ranging from board development to community and volunteer engagement, organizational development and performance, and best practices in national, regional, and state publications and symposia.

Giving Honest Feedback to Your Board on How They're Doing with Fundraising

Every executive director I've known has at one time or another felt that his or her board could be doing more to raise money for the organization. It's a frustrating situation—how do you tell your bosses that they're not doing their job? Addressing the issue directly is fraught with danger. You can, however, hold a mirror up to the board's fundraising performance in a way that will allow you to identify problems without naming names or pointing fingers.

Start by suggesting the idea to the board chair or Executive Committee: "Wouldn't it be a good idea to look at an anonymous profile of our board members to see how active and effective they are at the board's various responsibilities?" Getting board leadership behind collecting and sharing the data is important—the issue then belongs to someone other than the executive director.

Next, gather data on how much each individual board member has personally given to the organization and how much in donations he or she has facilitated.

Create a profile for each of the items you're measuring. The images below show how you can report the information.

Note: When you report on donations board members have facilitated, use the broadest definition of facilitated that you can. If a board member made an introduction that eventually led to a gift, participated in a fundraiser, helped cultivate a donor, or in any way assisted with efforts that culminated in a donation, that individual should get credit for facilitating the gift. More than one board member may have facilitated a single donation; there is nothing wrong with that. If you split hairs and do not acknowledge everyone involved in securing a gift, you'll bring the credibility of all of your data into question.

It will quickly become apparent how many (but not which) board members are active—and inactive—in fundraising. In my experience, presenting this information in this manner normally generates productive discussions among board members about their own fundraising activity levels, how they can help in this area, what roles they may play, and prospects the executive director needs help cultivating. A chart with more detail (but no names) can also be made available to board leadership to help frame the conversation and answer any questions about the data. (I have rarely found that this process has led to questioning of the data, but it's good to have the backup available for scrutiny.)

The full profile of the board is also invaluable to the Membership Committee in analyzing potential areas of need for future board membership. Not every board member may have been recruited with the expectation of helping with fundraising; some board members serve roles in line with other areas of expertise. For board members who were recruited with the expectation that they will be contributing to fundraising, however, it's healthy to use this anonymous process periodically to give honest feedback on how the board is doing in this crucial area.

Note: The process described here can also provide insight into other aspects of the board and its activities, such as tenure, areas of expertise (e.g., business, law, finance, community), demographic profile, geographic representation (if the organization serves multiple geographic areas), and board meeting attendance.

Bill Hoffman, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC
© 2014, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC

Bill Hoffman has more than 30 years' expertise in various aspects of the nonprofit sector, having worked at all levels of nonprofit organizations, including serving as chief executive of a $6 million education foundation for 9 years. He and his firm have written and presented on topics ranging from board development to community and volunteer engagement, organizational development and performance, and best practices in national, regional, and state publications and symposia.

Just Getting On Board or Getting Up to Speed?

Let me share two totally different situations of two new executive directors (E.D.s) taking over leadership of two different nonprofits. In each case the organizations were functioning without glaring problems, although both were suffering somewhat from the normal uncertainty of a leadership change.

In the first instance, the board was cordial and welcoming but not involved in the process of the new executive director's coming on board. The board made it clear they were ready for business as usual and expected everything to continue as if there had been no changes. The new executive director was given the keys to what they considered their well-honed machine and was expected to merge into the fast lane as if no change had taken place. It was no great surprise that within six months organizational performance dropped off. It was not business as usual because there had been a major change; there was a new leader at the helm with a different perception, outlook, and skill set than his predecessor. Almost all stakeholders were still getting used to the new E.D. and holding back as a result.

Now let's look at the second situation. As the change in leadership was taking place, the executive director and board realized it was an excellent opportunity to step back and evaluate the organization's direction. The executive director went on a "listening tour" of board members, staff, donors, and various stakeholders. The E.D. was able to ask for candid feedback, since there was no need to defend past practices and no egos involved. As a result, the E.D. and board reevaluated some programs and approaches and made changes that reflected stakeholders' needs. Here there was an acknowledgement that there would be no business as usual. As a result, changes and new relationships developed, and in 18 months revenues doubled.

I was the E.D. in each of these cases and can attest to the value of the cooperative and transparent approach in the second example. Bringing a new executive director on board is always a challenge, but it can be made into a tremendously valuable opportunity for the organization. It takes a partnership between the new E.D. and the board to bring value to the change. Here are some key components that can lead to a successful transition:

  • Written description of what early priorities will be. The E.D. should develop the priorities with the board, then share the final version with it. The process should exemplify the transparent approach being taken and what expectations exist around early efforts and outcomes.
  • An acknowledgement and willingness on the board's part to use the change in leadership as an opportunity to step back and reevaluate the organization's programs and tactics. This may mean putting some current strategic initiatives on hold. The board should also keep an open mind to making some adjustments if warranted.
  • A possible listening tour, plus an analysis of the organization's programs, staff, financial situation, etc. These initial activities should be scheduled for the E.D.'s first 90 days so that the process doesn't get strung out too long.
  • An inclusive approach to listening to stakeholders. The first apparently defensive comment by the E.D. will shut down candor, when it's that unfiltered input that's necessary.
  • A start on developing relationships. Everyone likes being asked their thoughts and opinions—as long as you truly listen to the answers. Each meeting should be closed by thanking participants for their comments and asking if you can follow up with any further questions and to share the results of your collective outreach.
  • A focus on learning. None of these meetings should be about asking for money.

From personal experience, the most common rejoinder when listening to stakeholders was "no one took the time to listen to me in the past." Participants greatly appreciated being asked for their opinions and having the opportunity to shape the organization's future thinking. And, of course, successful executive directors build strong relationships, and these meetings are excellent opportunities to begin this process.

Therein lies the value of truly getting up to speed in a new position and not simply getting on board. It takes concerted effort by both the board and E.D. as well as the willingness to reevaluate current practices. But it can lead to tremendous organizational success!

Bill Hoffman, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC
© 2014, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC

Bill Hoffman has more than 30 years' expertise in various aspects of the nonprofit sector, having worked at all levels of nonprofit organizations, including serving as chief executive of a $6 million education foundation for 9 years. He and his firm have written and presented on topics ranging from board development to community and volunteer engagement, organizational development and performance, and best practices in national, regional, and state publications and symposia.

Do You Know Who's Next? Planning for Changes in Leadership

Steve Ballmer rocked the tech world earlier this year when he announced his upcoming retirement. Why was that so shocking (other than Microsoft's being the 800-pound gorilla in that industry)? The news instantly generated more questions than answers, mainly because there wasn't a clear successor. People within Microsoft, those who do business with Microsoft, and manufacturers who rely on their Microsoft products were all wondering, "What's next?" That kind of upheaval is tough to overcome, as evidenced by the continuing dialogue in the media around Microsoft's future.

If you've ever been part of a nonprofit that goes through an abrupt leadership change, you've experienced a version of this upheaval. In the nonprofit world success is tied to relationships and trust. Both take a hit when the leader leaves and there's no clear successor or plan for succession. On the other hand, if there's a plan in place and someone is ready to step in, or there's a defined path to finding the next leader, you've answered many of the questions that supporters, partners, board, and even staff may have about the changes.

Before you work out the details of a succession plan for your organization, it's important that you get the board and leadership to agree on the need for the plan. It should be an organizational decision that is presented in writing, approved formally by the board, and reviewed regularly to ensure the plan remains relevant.

For larger organizations, the ideal situation often is to have one or more internal candidates who can be groomed to take on the top job. Just because a plan is in place, however, doesn't mean that the individual(s) receiving additional training and preparation are "automatic" to get a promotion; that point should be made clear to all. This concern should not be an impediment to developing a plan with an internal candidate and then doing everything possible to prepare that person to take on more responsibility.

The situation with most nonprofits, however, is that they don't have enough "bench strength" to have internal candidates. In this situation, it's even more important to have a written succession plan. In fact, the plan should address two distinct possibilities—what would be done if there were an immediate loss of the leader, and what is the long-term plan as a result of an anticipated departure (e.g., retirement). Call the first option the "Lottery Scenario," where the leader leaves the organization abruptly. In this situation, is there someone (a staff member, board member, volunteer) who could take over on an interim basis? If not, there are organizations and individuals that provide interim leader services for a price. In either of these cases, the solution is temporary, but it can ensure that operations are maintained until a longer-term solution can be arranged.

The longer-term solution also addresses the second possibility, a leader's planned departure. In this situation, the succession plan may call for a formal executive search for the next leader. This process will take time (and probably some expense), but it allows the organization time to go through a thoughtful and deliberative process. That is, the organization should step back and evaluate what traits, experience, and skills are needed to move the organization in the direction the board has determined. If done properly, the search also will cast a large enough net to ensure that the candidates identified have the ability to lead the organization for years to come.

A well-done succession plan accomplishes more than one goal. Certainly it lays out a clear path to replacing lost leadership. It also sends a message to constituents—the organization is in it for the long haul—even beyond the tenure of current leadership. The nonprofit has thought through what to do when it's time for leadership to change and wants those associated with the organization to know that they are doing everything in their power to ensure that the valuable services provided continue into the future.

Bill Hoffman, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC
© 2013, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC

Bill Hoffman has more than 30 years' expertise in various aspects of the nonprofit sector, having worked at all levels of nonprofit organizations, including serving as chief executive of a $6 million education foundation for 9 years. He and his firm have written and presented on topics ranging from board development to community and volunteer engagement, organizational development and performance, and best practices in national, regional, and state publications and symposia.

How to Engage Your Board Members—and Keep Them That Way

Are your board members truly engaged in the work of your organization? If your organization is like most, the answer is "yes" and "no." You're doing well if engaged describes half of your board members. But what about the other half?

Using Your Strategic Plan

Quick quiz: When was the last time you looked at your organization's strategic plan? And not just the nice binder on your shelf, but at what's inside it? When did you last use the strategic plan to inform what you were doing a particular week? If it's been in the last week or two, hats off to you! If it's been much longer, ask yourself: Is your strategic plan really informing your work?

Entering the New World of Strategic Planning

There was time when every nonprofit would have a long-range plan that it would roll out when completing grant applications or pitching for major gifts. Donors expected it—they wanted to know that the organization knew what it would be doing in five years, or even further out. Today donors are just as interested in a nonprofit's future focus and boards still need to be forward thinking to move the organization toward fulfilling its mission, but the days of "long-range" planning may be over.