Saturday, July 28, 2007

Emotional Issues

The participants in our recent Succession Planning roundtable agreed. The struggle with succession planning wasn’t with the steps involved in the process. Other than the time it takes to document the process, the steps alone are not that difficult. The primary challenge with succession planning is in the emotional issues. The Executive Director might not want to bring up succession planning for fear the Board would think they are planning to leave. The Board might not want to bring it up for fear the ED might think the Board wanted them to leave. You may have staff that you want to train to perform functions in the ED’s absence or in the interim between an old and a new ED but you don’t want them to be the new ED. The staff or key donors may have a close relationship with the ED and fear that the loss of the ED would adversely impact the future of the organization. Navigating the emotional impact that comes with succession planning can be mitigated by focusing on policies and procedures and investing time in fostering open communication. Focusing on policies diffuses the personal aspects. Developing better communication between all the people involved can reduce the tension that accompanies these discussions.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Board succession

We started out at our last roundtable discussing Executive Director succession planning but ended up focusing more on Board succession. Thoughts—
  • You sometimes think that it will be hard to find Board members with the same passion for the organization. But new members join and its not long before they are “infected”.
  • Create meaningful roles for volunteers. Allow selected volunteers to serve on certain committees. This gives you (and them) an opportunity to see what their role as a Board member would be like.
  • Limit terms for all officers to 3 years. Limit terms for Board members to 2 consecutive 3 year terms with a year break before the next six year stretch. But ask your Board member if they would like to stay involved during the one year break—on a committee or helping with a program or a fund raiser. If you don’t limit terms you make it harder for the Board as a whole to get used to working with new members.
  • In at least the last year of the President’s term, have a President in training. This does not necessarily have to be the Vice President. This person will spend a year with the President assisting them with their duties so that the transition is easier.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


At our Thursday breakfast roundtable, our discussion on succession planning moved into Board succession matters which then diverted to a discussion on Board accountability. Namely, what do you do when a Board committee is not keeping up with its responsibilities? A few suggestions:

  • Each committee chair needs to report to the President and/or the Vice President of the Board. The President and the Vice President should not chair committees so they are free to mentor and guide the other committee chairs.
  • Written descriptions of each committee and what the committee is expected to accomplish within a certain time frame.
  • Written reports from the committee as applicable.
  • Consider appointing a new committee chair if necessary. Sometimes, someone doesn’t have the time to be the chair but is afraid to let everyone down.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Decisions, decisions

Still thinking about setting priorities, especially in light of two consulting projects we are involved in right now. Great missions, passionate staff, tons of ideas, not a lot of time or financial resources—yet. Some of the ideas have the potential to generate significant funds. What to do first? Here are two techniques to help narrow focus. Look at your financial picture. Get it down on paper. Where are the current revenues sources coming from? What programs generate what type of funding stream? Analyzing objective financial data can help point you in the right direction.
Next, use a matrix to classify ideas. Make a chart divided into four quadrants. In the upper left quadrant place those ideas that are high return, low risk. In the upper right quadrant-high return, high risk. Lower left quadrant, low risk, low return. Lower right quadrant, high risk, low return. Those initiatives in the lower right quadrant are the ones you would be least likely to do. Those in the upper left quadrant have the most promise. You need to consider what can be done to either mitigate risk or increase return for the items in the other quadrants.
Although everyone probably has a general perception of the ranking of the initiatives, charting them out clarifies things for everyone.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Setting Priorities

Sometimes the issue isn’t a shortage of ideas but limitations on resources and the challenge of determining which ideas to pursue. Organizations will have retreats and brainstorming sessions. New ideas abound. But seldom does an organization have unlimited resources. The challenge in deciding which ideas to implement is multi-faceted.
  • Which initiatives will staff be most likely to embrace, increasing the chance of success?
  • Which initiatives will result in the most return on the investment of resources?
  • Which ideas are most likely to be feasible?
  • Sometimes an idea with a high potential return has more risk attached to it. When do you take the risk? When do you stay the course and keep to steady progress?

There are no easy answers but the organization that is effective in answering these questions will be more successful in implementing new ideas.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Whole New Meaning to Summer Camp

I spent 3 days last week with a group of families who set aside one week a year to do maintenance and construction projects at a camp. Last week the group worked at Mt. Gilead Camp and Conference Center in the Pocono’s. The families replaced the kitchen and dining hall floor; constructed benches for a fire pit; dug trenches and spread gravel to help with the water flow; and numerous other tasks. There were about 80 people involved including the children and I have to include the children because I watched a 3 year old spend two hours removing rocks from an area so grass could be planted and children ages 7 to 12 work from 7 to 5 each day on various tasks. A number of teens helped too but it was especially impressive watching how hard the younger ones worked. At the end of the week they figured out that it would have taken the camp director a year to do all the things they did.

Most of the families had been involved with this for an average of nine years though some people had been involved from the beginning in 1974. An 82 year old man and his wife handled the plumbing tasks. There were carpenters, electricians, and other professional contractors but probably half of the group were not professional contractors.

The costs for the camp—materials for the projects. The cost for the families--$30 per person for food for the week. The camp provides the facilities at no cost. Different camps vary as far as amenities, but at Mt. Gilead, we swam in the pool at the end of each day; and slept in very comfortable, clean cabins.

There was no need to ask the families why they did this. They enjoyed working together; spending time together at meals and around the campfire; reconnecting a year later; and meeting new people who had joined. It was exciting seeing how much could be accomplished so quickly. And it was rewarding for parents to watch how hard and how enthusiastically their kids worked. I know that there was a lot of work prior to the week from the participants and the camp director but an endeavor like this makes volunteering fun.