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55 posts categorized "Governance"

Nonprofit CEOs Should Be Voting Board Members

March 02, 2015

BoardSource’s Governance Index for 2014 found that only 12 percent of nonprofit boards utilize their CEO/executive director as a voting board member. That caused me to wonder why the other 88 percent of nonprofits still embrace old-school management practices. If nonprofits want to be treated with the respect they deserve and hope to achieve their full potential, the non-voting CEO is an antiquated idea that should be jettisoned.

There are some who’ll argue that including the CEO as a voting board member compromises a board’s ability to provide impartial oversight and governance. That’s a straw man argument. How often are for-profit CEOs who are voting members of the board removed as CEO? Exactly. A voting CEO only has one vote, and if he or she fails to deliver on expectations...well, they usually end up looking for a new job.

There are many reasons why it makes sense for a CEO to be a voting member of the board. Here are a few:

  • No one knows the inner workings of an organization better than the CEO, and the information on which a board bases important policy decisions is likely to be more timely and relevant when the CEO is in the room and has a real say.
  • Board discussions tend to be more frank and productive when the CEO participates as a peer rather than as an employee reporting to his or her “bosses.”
  • Voting CEOs are in a stronger position to deal forcefully with underperforming board members.
  • As the person (in most cases) directly responsible for raising the lion’s share of the organization’s funding, a voting CEO is in a position to inspire other board members to step up to the fundraising plate.
  • Giving the CEO a voting stake in the governance of the organization typically inspires him or her to perform at an even higher level.

Headshot_lowell_perryCertainly, every organization is different. However, the challenges that most nonprofits are trying to manage and/or find solutions to are too complex and fluid for nonprofits to remain stuck in the past. If your nonprofit still denies full board voting rights to its CEO, it’s time for a change.

— Lowell Perry, Jr. is the former CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee and a national youth advocate. In his previous post, he argued that nonprofits are not doing enough to help young men of color.

A Two-Step Exercise for Designing Your Best Board

February 23, 2015

Board-puzzle-piecesTry this exercise: Gather your board members around a white board or flip chart and ask the following question:

"If we could design the perfect board for our organization, what skills and qualities would we look for in prospective board members?"

Skills would include program knowledge and specific expertise in areas such as  marketing, fundraising, consensus-building, finance/accounting, legal, and so on.

Qualities would cover more intangible – but no less important – factors such as firsthand knowledge of the organization, sense of humor, ability to function as a member of a team, listening skills, experience on other boards, and diversity profile (i.e., race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation.)

Of course, one of the most important criterion for a board member is passion for and commitment to the organization’s mission.

Brainstorm your list with the full board. Think as broadly as possible. With a bit of effort, most groups can generate twenty-five to thirty characteristics they would love to incorporate into their ideal board.

After you've created the list, you'll want to ask: How does our current board compare to our ideal? What key skills and qualities are already represented on the board? Where do we need help? And how do we recruit a different mix of board members to fill the gaps we've identified?

Next, review the list with key staff and board members and assign a collective grade to each item.

You can also use this exercise as a self-evaluation tool. Ask each board member to rate himself or herself against the criteria on the list, using the same scoring system. Doing so will help your board members think more creatively about what they bring (or don't bring) to the table, and will provide them with an opportunity to work with – or remove the less effective members of your board.

Andy Robinson is a Vermont-based trainer, consultant, and author. To hear more tips and techniques for building a better board, register for Andy's webinar series, "Build Your Best Board," March 4, 11, and 18, from 1:00-2:30 p.m. ET.

Nonprofits Are Not Doing Enough to Help Young Men of Color

January 27, 2015

Headshot_lowell_perryWith the recent grand-jury decisions not to indict the police officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, protests over the racial profiling of youth of color and the excessive use of force by individual members of police forces across the country have made the national news. Many of the demonstrations have been led by young people, of every color and stripe.

Meanwhile, the White House, which last year launched the My Brother's Keeper initiative to address the fact that too many young men of color are failing to reach their full potential, continues to work with concerned leaders to develop a comprehensive solution to the problem.

More can and must be done.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration's decision to provide funding for fifty thousand body cameras as well as additional training for police officers, at an estimated cost of more than $250 million, is not the kind of "solution" we need. In a world in which public-sector money to address social problems is scarce, do we really want to spend tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars on equipment to record interactions — the vast majority of them uneventful — between police officers and the public they are hired to serve and protect? Wouldn't that money be better spent on interventions designed to help boys and young men of color long before they come to the attention of local law enforcement?

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Beyond the Kitchen Table: The Board’s Evolving Role

January 22, 2015

Many organizations begin as "kitchen table" groups: a bunch of neighbors sitting around somebody's kitchen, trying to solve a common problem or meet a community need. These folks share a passion for the cause and a willingness to roll up their sleeves and do the work.

They're seldom skilled in nonprofit governance, and, frankly, they don't even think about that stuff. They just want to fix what needs to be fixed.

Sometimes these informal groups continue for years or decades without growing or changing significantly, and their familiar leadership structure continues to serve them well. For example, I belong to an all-volunteer organization that has had no staff for most of the past seventy-five years – and yet the work gets done.

Taking "The Leap"

In other cases, these groups want to expand their impact, so they decide to hire employees and open an office. My colleagues at the Institute for Conservation Leadership call this stage "the leap," and it's filled with peril. Organizations hiring staff for the first time must address issues such as:

  • Now that we have an employee(s), how does our role as a board change?
  • How do we provide supervision without micro-managing?
  • How will we ensure that our staff has adequate resources to do the job well?
  • How do we evaluate our programs, our staff, and each other?

At this stage, other problems may surface. Board members who originally got involved with the organization because they care about the issue or cause are suddenly responsible for personnel policies, staff supervision, a more detailed level of planning, and greater responsibility for fundraising.

Illus_board_schematic
"Four Stages of Organizational Development" adapted, with permission, from the Institute for Conservation Leadership.

The visionary leader(s) who founded the organization may be unwilling to share power with the staff, which can lead to conflict, confusion about roles, and employee turnover. Or maybe the board breathes a collective sigh of relief, backs away, and abandons its responsibilities, assuming the employee(s) will do everything.

As you can see, the skills needed to start a group are not the same ones needed to take it to the next level of effectiveness.

The Sweet Spot: Moving to Shared Governance

As a nonprofit continues to grow, expand its programs, and hires more staff, the board's role continues to change. Because organizations become more complex, board governance also becomes more complicated.

In the next phase, sometimes called "shared governance," board and staff share power and responsibility, are clear about their respective roles, and have systems in place to create orderly transitions as people leave and new ones come in.

At this stage, the board has explicit written agreements that define what is expected of each trustee and what he or she can expect in return. These groups have a culture of accountability and mutual respect; they also have fun together and celebrate their shared accomplishments.

Clearly, board requirements and behavior must evolve as organizations develop and change. The board you need when starting something is not necessarily the same board you'll need to grow it to maturity.

So if somebody tries to convince you there is only one correct model of board governance, beware! No single "right way" will be relevant to all nonprofits, or even to a specific organization at different stages in its life.

Headshot_andy_robinsonTo learn more about how to develop and maintain an effective board at every stage of your organization’s life cycle, join me on Thursday, January 29, from 1:00-2:00 p.m. for the Foundation Center webinar Building a Board That Works. I'll share tips for recruiting the right mix of board members for your nonprofit, ensuring that they fundraise successfully, and keeping them motivated and accountable.

Andy Robinson, a consultant and trainer based in Vermont, is the author of six books, including Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money. This post originally appeared on the Philanthropy Front and Center-New York blog and is adapted from Great Boards for Small Groups (Medfield, MA: Emerson & Church).

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (May 2014)

June 01, 2014

It was a rough month for Typepad, the blogging service/platform used by tens of thousand of blogs, including PhilanTopic. On two separate occasions during the month, the platform was subjected to significant DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks that knocked it completely offline. In fact, we were down for the better part of six days. Despite the inconvenience, it was a busy month here, as some of our favorite contributors -- Allison Shirk, Derrick Feldmann, and Foundation Center president Brad Smith -- checked in with popular posts. Here's another chance to catch up on some of the things you may have missed....

What have you read/watched/listened to over the last month that made you think, surprised you, or caused you to scratch your head? Share your finds in the comments section below....

Taking Board Leadership From Good to Great

May 14, 2014

Headshot_kevin_monroeI'm a consultant who spends a lot of time working with nonprofit boards,
and as I ponder the experiences and effectiveness of many of those boards, I can't help but notice the gap that exists between their promise and actual performance. In fact, it brings an old song to mind...

You may say I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you'll join us,
And the sector will grow as one.

Okay. I took some liberties with the lyrics. But since this is about board leadership, I thought you'd catch my drift and forgive me.

I'm in this line of work because, as the song goes, I'm a dreamer at heart and truly believe in optimal scenarios, especially as it relates to the millions of do-good organizations around the world and the people who lead them every day.

Imagine how different things would be in communities across the U.S. and around the world if every board member that served a nonprofit or NGO vowed to invest only their best into the organizations they lead and serve. They would read the financials and the body language of frustrated employees. They would hold executive leadership accountable in the boardroom – and in high regard outside it. They would balance criticism with encouragement. There would be fewer dictates and more discussion. Instead of being evaluative of goals, they would be evangelical about missions. What if breaking even and taking chances were equally rewarded? What would happen then?

Imagine.

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[Review] 'Abusing Donor Intent: The Robertson Family's Epic Lawsuit Against Princeton University'

April 16, 2014

(The newest book by Doug White, a well-known expert in the fields of philanthropy and nonprofit management, is "equal parts thriller and cautionary tale," writes Daniel Matz, Foundation Web Manager at the Foundation Center. Click here for more from PND's long-running Off the Shelf series.)

What is a gift? In an ordinary sense, a gift is something — money, property, advice — given freely by one party to another without the expectation of receiving something in return. We all like gifts, and so, too, do the 1.4 million nonprofits in the United States that benefit from private donations, large and small. But in the calculus of large-scale institutional philanthropy, a gift isn't really a gift; it's a gesture with a purpose — a purpose informed, to varying degrees, by the intent of the person or institution that gave the gift. And therein, as Shakespeare might say, lies the rub.

Cover_abusing_donor_intentIt's no surprise that wealthy donors and foundations seek out organizations and institutions that share their own passions and interests. But what do donors really expect from a nonprofit grantee in the long run? In the performance-measured, accountability-driven world of twenty-first century philanthropy, grantee reporting is de rigueur. For most nonprofits chasing after scarce dollars (and hoping for future gifts), the willingness and ability to demonstrate that they've aligned themselves with a donor's intent goes without saying. But what happens when a donor, after many years of happy engagement with an organization or institution, begins to believe that the original intent of the gift is no longer being honored? Our intuition tells us that, at some level, gifts/grants/donations involve a leap of faith, and that when the trust between donor and recipient is compromised, the recipient is unlikely to receive additional future gifts from that donor. A donor or foundation might even go public with its disappointment in order to discourage others from making gifts to the recipient. But rarely does a foundation or donor who has become disenchanted with a recipient ask for their money back. Which raises the question: Should they be able to? And does a statute of imitations ever apply in such a situation?

Those are two of the questions Doug White, a well-known expert in the fields of philanthropy and nonprofit management, tackles in Abusing Donor Intent: The Robertson Family's Epic Lawsuit Against Princeton University. Just as White earlier explored a rogues' gallery of swindlers and incompetent trustees in Charity on Trial, here he invites the reader to look behind the curtain of privilege and wealth, this time to learn just how bad things can get when a donor and beneficiary no longer see eye-to-eye. Informed by the slow burn of a decades-old frustration, not to mention the disposition of hundreds of millions of dollars and the reputation of one of America's oldest and most respected universities, Abusing Donor Intent is equal parts thriller and cautionary tale.

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PND Talk: Founder's Dilemma

March 14, 2014

In the fourth installment of our PND Talk series (you can find the others herehere and here), Anonymous outlines a situation with which too many nonprofit executive directors are familiar: the founder who can't or won't relinquish the reins of an organization or agency that has outgrown his or her capacity to manage it.

Fortunately for Anonymous, our late, good friend (and all-around wise person) Carl Richardson was on hand to help and responded with some practical advice that surely must have helped. But see what you think. And then use the comments section at the bottom to share your thoughts and advice....

Founders_dilemmaHELP. I'm working with a great organization that is experiencing a huge growth spurt -- and approaching a total budget of nearly $1 million. But the founder is still "running the show" as if it were a tiny volunteer-driven operation. He inserts himself into everything, from giving staff directives, to changing information on the Web site, to starting new programs without consulting with anyone. Basically, he is an extremely impulsive person and is unable or unwilling to hand the agency over to a professional staff (though he claims otherwise).

A few months ago I stepped in as ED with a twelve-month contract. But despite the fact that we've made some amazing progress, I am not sure I can "save" the organization -- and am beginning to believe I helped create a monster.

We have plenty of board members who are willing to roll up their sleeves, and new blood willing to help. But through his actions, the organization's founder makes it clear that he is in charge, and after a while people get discouraged and become unwilling to engage.

This founder was the sole support of the agency for nearly a decade, and I understand and appreciate his commitment and compassion. Yet the agency has grown beyond his capacity to run - and not just because he has a business to operate as well.

I have dealt with difficult founders before, and I hate to walk away. But I fear for its future -- and my reputation!

_______

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Trust and Corruption

March 03, 2014

(Mark Rosenman is emeritus professor at Union Institute & University and a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. He lives in Washington, D.C., from where he drew many of the examples of the national problems cited below.)

Rosenman_headshotSelf-serving and dishonest actions in both the public and private sectors are severely testing the trust and confidence of Americans. That's a problem for government, for courts and the criminal justice system, for corporations and business leaders, and, yes, for the nonprofit sector.

It's a much more significant problem, however, for the larger society. Are we destined to slide further toward the pernicious levels of corruption so prevalent in other parts of the world? Can the already strained fabric of American society hold as growing numbers of public, private, and charity officials scramble to profit, legally and otherwise, from their positions? What happens when the fundamental American belief in fairness is undermined by declining confidence in the institutions we all rely on?

Make no mistake, confidence in our institutions is declining. Since the early 1970s, those of us who have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in our institutions, including banks, newspapers, and the medical establishment, has fallen dramatically – in some cases by more than 50 percent. Confidence in religion, the Supreme Court, schools, organized labor, and the presidency has fallen by 25 percent or more, while fewer than 25 percent of us have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in big business.

Charitable organizations don't fare so well, either. Following a precipitous drop more than ten years ago, a recent survey found that over a third of Americans have "not too much" or no confidence in nonprofits. Meanwhile, Congress's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 10 percent.

Interestingly, the few institutions that have shown gains in public confidence include the military and the police and criminal justice system. But while the military is the most respected of American institutions, a series of recent incidents is beginning to take a toll. They include a scandal involving two Navy officers and a senior agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and a series of misconduct charges leveled at senior military officers for abusing their positions and accepting illegal gifts. His confidence shaken, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has demanded a broader investigation.

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5 Questions for...Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director, Wallace Global Fund

February 27, 2014

In late January, Divest-Invest Philanthropy, a coalition of seventeen foundations with nearly $2 billion in assets, introduced itself to the world with the announcement that its members have agreed to divest their portfolios of investments in fossil-fuel companies and invest a portion of those resources in climate change solutions instead. Arguing that continued investment in the fossil fuel industry carries both ethical and financial risks, coalition members are calling on other foundations to realign their portfolios away from investments in coal, gas, and oil companies and to join them in supporting and sustaining the clean energy economy.

PND recently spoke with Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, a leading member of the coalition, about the genesis of the divestment movement and the need to act now.

Headshot_ellen_dorseyPhilanthropy News Digest: What was the catalyst for the creation of the Divest-Invest Philanthropy coalition? And what is at stake here?

Ellen Dorsey: The catalyst was the climate crisis itself — a serious threat that affects all of us — and the need to divest from fossil fuels and invest in climate change solutions. As a responsive philanthropy, we want to support that shift and encourage the philanthropic sector as a whole to take this movement seriously.

So the goal of the initiative is not just to announce the commitment by seventeen foundations to divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy; it's also to call on the philanthropic sector more broadly to engage in the climate debate and encourage other institutions to both divest from coal, oil, and gas companies that are driving the problem and actually use their investments creatively to identify and fund climate solutions in ways that help move us toward the kind of new energy economy that the world needs.

PND: It's clear that members of the coalition see divestment from fossil fuels as a moral issue. The letter you released in January says, "Mission-based institutions whose goals and constituencies are threatened by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels should not also seek to profit from them." When did your foundation, the Wallace Global Fund, decide it has a moral obligation to address the threat posed by our continued reliance on fossil fuels?

ED: In 2009, we began analyzing our grantmaking and our investments. We quickly realized there were real inconsistencies. One striking example was investing in fossil fuels at the same time as we were working to combat climate change and all its environmental and human rights impacts. How could we be invested in the very industries driving the crisis we were asking our grantees to solve? Not only was our investment strategy potentially undercutting our grantmaking, we were foregoing the opportunity to use our investments as a tool to achieve our mission and goals. We could be helping create the clean energy economy the world requires.

Additionally, we don't believe there is only an ethical risk to investing in fossil fuels. We also believe there are serious financial risks. Prudent investors are listening to the warnings that fossil fuel stocks are overvalued, as we cannot possibly burn the reserves coal, oil, and gas companies currently hold without cooking the planet. It is clear that a tectonic shift is required in the way we produce and consume energy, and smart investors will put their assets in the energy sources of the future.

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Weekend Link Roundup (February 8-9, 2014)

February 09, 2014

Sochi_logoOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Fundraising

Interested in learning how to run a successful online fundraising campaign? Slava Rubin of Indiegogo tells you how in this animated video.

Governance

With foundations subject to more stringent tax laws and regulations than ever before, writes Virginia P. Sikes in the Nonprofit Quarterly, foundation boards and executives need to pay special attention to self-dealing, compensation for personal services, excess business holdings, and grants to charities that lobby -- "four areas from which complications and issues often arise."

Nonprofits

In a post on her blog, Beth Kanter draws a useful distinction between organizational cultures that are data-informed as opposed to data-driven. Among other things, writes Kanter, data-informed cultures

have the conscious use of assessment, revision, and learning built into the way they plan, manage, and operate. From leadership, to strategy, to decision-making, to meetings, to job descriptions -- a data-informed culture has continuous improvement embedded in the way it functions. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the specific quantifiable metrics that an organization agrees are necessary to achieve success. They are the mileposts that tell a data-informed organization whether they are making progress toward their goals....

Philanthropy

In a letter posted on the James Irvine Foundation Web site, Jim Canales, president of the foundation since 2003, says good-bye, as he gets ready to head east to the Boston-based Barr Foundations, to the visionaries, the truth-tellers, the optimists, the ego-less, and the merely curious who have been "essential to the progress that the Irvine Foundation has made and who have personally contributed to my growth and learning as CEO."

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Weekend Link Roundup (January11-12, 2014)

January 12, 2014

Calendar01_JanuaryOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector.

Communications/Marketing

Kivi Leroux Miller has a nice infographic on her Nonprofit Communications Blog illustrating key findings from her 2014 Nonprofit Communications Trend Report.

Interesting post on the Open Democracy blog by Janey Stephenson, an activist and filmmaker, about the language of activism and how word choices subtly shape the way activists position themselves with respct to contentious social issues.

Data

The Markets for Good team has announced the launch of its first reader-proposed theme, "Beyond Data Silos," which was suggested by Andrew Means, founder of Data Analysts For Social Good. Means frames the conversation, which is open to contributions from all comers, thusly:

[W]hether they hold grain or information, silos are stores of value. Recognizing that, and without parsing this metaphor to death, we can ask new questions. Chief among them is how to get the most value from data that lies in different parts of an organization and from data that could be shared for greater good between organizations. Also, how can we ensure faster communication of key information across an organization, across the sector?

Looking forward to reading what others have to say about these and related questions over the next three weeks or so.

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A New Kind of Strategy for Nonprofits -- Convene, Reflect, and Take Time to Strategize

October 07, 2013

(Carla Goldstein, JD, is chief external affairs officer at the Omega Institute and co-founder of the Omega Women's Leadership Center.)

Headnote_carla_goldsteinThe top managers of the Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Practice only get to meet once a month, if that. "We needed time away from our hectic court-based environment to think more clearly, without interruption, and in a supportive environment," says Ann Marie Scalia, attorney-in-charge of the Manhattan Juvenile Rights office. Theirs is not a unique story.

In Washington, D.C., GirlTrek, a national nonprofit focused on helping black women and girls improve their health by walking, was at a turning point. The group was growing exponentially but needed time to plan and figure out the most strategic way to scale and launch their big push to get one million black women "walking in our neighborhoods" by 2018.

In New York State's Orange County, the domestic violence prevention organization Safe Homes identified a need to improve their internal communications and supervisory structure and to incorporate self-care into their institutional culture. That might seem like a luxury, but given the high stress levels among staff in an extremely challenging environment, it was critical for Safe Homes.

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 28-29, 2013)

September 29, 2013

Ty-mattson-breaking-bad-02Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

How are market forces, public policies, and digital technologies changing nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, and associational life at the heart of civil society? That's one of the questions the Project on Philanthropy, Policy, and Technology at Stanford's Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society set out to answer last year through a series of monthly charettes. Now, the fruits of those conversations (and a lot of good, hard thinking) have been captured in a series of reports issued by the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford PACS. Written by Lucy Bernholz, Chiara Cordelli, and Rob Reich, the reports -- The Emergence of Digital Civil Society (42 pgaes, PDF); Social Economy Policy Forecast 2013: Project on Philanthropy, Policy, and Technology (38 pages, PDF); Good Fences: The Importance of Institutional Boundaries in the New Social Economy (18 pages, PDF); and The Shifting Ground Beneath Us: Framing Nonprofit Policy for the Next Century (30 pages, PDF) -- are thought-provoking, deeply researched, and a pleasure to read. They're also available as free downloads from the Stanford PACS site.

Responding to Dan Pallotta's hugely popular TED Talk -- and echoing some of the conclusions arrived at by Bernholz, Reich, and Cordelli in their Recode Good work -- Ashoka's Valeria Budinich suggests that one of the most important points made by Pallotta in his talk (and first book) is a point everyone chooses to ignore: Philanthropy's moral foundations -- and the resulting legal and policy framework in which it operates -- have remained largely unchanged since the 1700s.

Climate Change

The most exhaustively researched climate report in history is out -- and, as environmental journalist Richard Schiffman explains in The Atlantic, its findings are grim.

For those as troubled by the findings of the report as Schiffman is, the UN Foundation's Kathy Calvin has some words of encouragement.

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Six Ways to Make Your Volunteer Board Members Feel Appreciated

August 13, 2013

(Allison Shirk is a freelance grantwriter based in the Northwest. In her last article, she offered some tips to help you spice up your grant proposals.)

Headshot_allison_shirkA new generation is making its presence felt, and its members are eager to give more than just their hard-earned money. They want to give their time and talent, to get down in the trenches and serve on boards. They want their ideas to be taken seriously, put into action, and reported back on with charts and graphs. Oh, and they want to be appreciated and recognized for their efforts and contributions to your cause or organization.

What's that? You're too busy to let your volunteer board members know their efforts are appreciated? You might want to rethink that. Before you start planning your next volunteer appreciation event, run through this checklist of things you can do to show you care.

Common courtesy. The easiest way to appreciate and recognize volunteer board members costs you nothing. It's giving them a proper greeting when they arrive for a meeting and letting them know how grateful you are for the time and effort they’ve expended to be there. It's small things like starting and ending the meeting on time. It's making sure everyone's voice is heard and that everyone has a chance to contribute to the discussions.

Continue reading »

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