Meetings, meetings, meetings. We all know them, and we all attend them.here are three types of meetings and the way that you position yourself physically within the meeting could make a world of difference. Including meeting with our donors.
But, did you know there are three types of meetings, and the way that you position yourself physically within the meeting could make a world of difference to the meetings outcome? Yes!
Meetings, meetings, meetings! Are they positioned correctly?
So, what are these three essential meeting types and how can you best position yourself?
The three types of meetings are collaborative, presentation, and decision.
What is the difference between them?
A collaborative meeting is when you are engaging in an interactive meeting working as equals towards a common goal. These might be meetings held between department managers, Board members, or any other type of peer working group.
A presentation meeting is when you or someone else is presenting to or facilitating a group. You may be demonstrating a strategy, conducting a PowerPoint, or making a case. In this mode, you are in front of the audience.
A decision meeting is when there is a decision to be made, and the meeting needs cooperation to make that decision.
Can you see any one of these meetings between yourself and a donor? I sure can. In one instance, you may work together to volunteer on a project (collaborative), or you may be presenting your case for support (presentation), or asking for a gift (decision).
So, how do you position yourself at each of these meetings to affect the result?
Well, in a collaborative meeting, you surely want to create a high level of interaction, so you must create an “equal” seating pattern. In this case, round seating arrangements would work well. They foster a sense of contribution, collaboration, and community. Avoid at all cost, any seating position that places people at the “head” or in prominent positions of power.
In a presentation, the goals are to create connection and interaction. Presenters need to move freely within the group while working one-on-one with others and connect folks through hand gestures. The facilitator or presenter is in a spotlight, and they regularly bring others to the stage making them look good.
In a decision meeting, the power must always seem to be in the decision makers hand, even if it is not. Folks sitting at the head and foot o the table are in power positions, and those facing inside seats are more peer oriented. One must always work in this case to keep the power dynamic at the forefront through seat positioning.
So the next time that you have a donor meeting scheduled, think about what the aim of the meeting is and how you are going to position yourself at the table. Sometimes meetings can be much more than meets the eyes and you want to be sure to use all the tools in your potential toolbox as you can to have a successful outcome.
There always comes the point in an organization when the natural order of things is change. Whether that change is an executive transition, upheaval in the Board of Directors, or even things greater than that. Things such as what should we do as an organization? Stay the same? Merge with another organization? Or even cease our operations?
What does one do or how does one handle this inevitable change?
As with everything, the mission should always be forefront and center.
Case in point, I want to examine one major organizational change that many groups must addresses – merging.
I have some experience with mergers. For a few years, I worked at a religious order that had decided to consolidate. Now, there could have chosen any one of several options – cea se to exist, merge with another order, or combine their order to a larger entity. In the end, they chose to merge the order from local areas into one community, merging all the Northeastern states into one “community.” And, the end results, were that the merger made them more efficient and useful in many ways including financial, in their infrastructure and support, and in their ability to do ministry to those they serve.
In all cases, the organization should base these big decisions and transitions on how compatible the two or more organizations are in their missions. Are they like missions? Is this mission too much of a stretch? What will happen if they merge missions?
Then they need to determine if, in merging, the organization will become stronger or will it weaken? Will it dilute its services in merging? Will the organization change and become different?
But, most importantly how will this merger impact those that the organization exists to serve? Will the demographics of who the organization serves change? Will they serve this demographic in a different way? Will they serve an entirely different demographic? Will they stop serving a particular demographic?
What about the culture of an organization? What about history? What about past leadership? Will they become financially more viable? Stronger in its internal operations through greater infrastructure? More funding?
I have seen other organizations where these mergers have not been carefully thought out, and, thus, have not faired so well. They lost their identity to those they serve and the community; their organization’s culture of compassion and nurturance changed, and they lost their historical memory. But, most importantly their mission became diluted into a bigger whole and lost its effectiveness. For in this merger, long-time staff was forced to leave, and supporters turned away.
Significant change during an organization’s life cycle is inevitable and in some senses should be planned and accounted for in advance of this change ever transpiring.
If one keeps mission at the center of significant shifts in an organization, then the right decisions will be made. However, if the mission is left out of the picture when making this decision, almost, always, the merger is doomed to fail, or if it doesn’t fail, the organization is in for some rough perceptual seas and waves of transitions ahead.
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Interestingly enough, I met with a wonderful and highly intelligent gentleman this past week. As we were eating lunch, we started talking about systems thinking. It reminded me of a mentor who once said that we needed to be reading people like Peter Senge.
I could never really make the correlation between Peter Senge’s highly complex writings and my practical work as a fundraiser. But, during this recent conversation, the dots began to connect.
You see, Peter Senge outlines the whole concept of what systems thinking is and how to frame it within your work. It made me think of my clients.
Systems thinking, at its broadest level, believes in the interrelatedness of forces and seeing them as part of a collective process. Peter Senge notes that it was Professor Jay Forrester at MIT who outlined the nature of “system dynamics” or how complex feedback processes can generate problematic patterns of behavior within organizations and large-scale human systems. Think eco-systems, physical building systems, teams working together, etc.
For many organizations, they have the basic problem of not having enough. – enough resources, time, staffing, etc. For some reason or other, they just can’t seem to rise above the realities of this problem. They go on in endless circles always seeming to address the same issue. For many, the problem may be that they have been relying on grants and foundations to meet their budget, and they never seem to have enough, or a funding source suddenly stops funding them. For others, there fundraising has plateaued or even declined over the past few years. Others face continuing turnover in fundraising staff. I see these same problems over and over again in different organizations.
Truly, what we all must realize is that a fundraising problem is never really a fundraising problem. It is some other underlying organizational problem impacting how well an organization can conduct fundraising. We cannot begin to isolate a fundraising problem as just a fundraising problem. It is much more than that.
Organizations are living, breathing entities. One thing impacts the other which in turn impacts another. Everything in an organization is interrelated. So when, one is under stress, it has a direct bearing on the strength of the other. Nothing works in isolation.
Sometimes old models are kept in place far too long. Outdated and problematic mental models keep perpetuating cycles of behavior that impact the entire system.
Some systems that an organization should be looking at beyond fundraising itself:
The board of directors and its governance model.
Staffing patterns and their compensation and their incentives.
Deeply held organizational assumptions and beliefs.
Performance expectations both implicit and explicit.
Cultures within organizations.
Changing demographics within the community that an organization serves.
Demographic changes within populations of donors.
Marketing or lack of marketing efforts along with general overall perceptions of organization.
Physical conditions of facilities.
The overall financial and economic environment.
A savvy fundraiser and fundraising consultant will understand these dynamics. One knows in most cases that if a Board of Directors is managing the efforts of staff, then fundraising will be impacted. If employees are not given the tools or resources to be able to do their job, then fundraising is affected. If expectations are unrealistic, fundraising is affected.
When clients present themselves to me with a fundraising problem, I often dig deep with questions. Because often and in most cases, the solutions that the client thinks they need are the ones not needed. The answer lies deep below the surface, and it takes someone versed in the language of systems thinking to be able to conduct an appropriate diagnosis and to outline a roadmap for making that systems change possible.
The consultant or fundraiser must be skilled at this work, for one should not make a change just because they see a leverage point. The amount of change, the type of change, and the scope of the modification proposed can either create the needed change or in some cases further exacerbate the problem.
So, for that gentleman who I was having lunch with, thank you! It behooves us all to have such strong mentors in our work from a multitude of disciples beyond fund development. Broadening our scope of resources allows us to care more holistically for the organizations that we steward.
The founder. What does that mean to be a founder of an organization? And, how does that impact the relationship with your Board of Directors?
Organizations have natural life cycles and founders play a unique role in the organization that the found. There is growth and with growth comes pains.
For founders, what was once solely their creation, becomes something much bigger and larger. And, then the organization grows up and beyond and needs structure and staffing. The founder must give up something that was very personal to a bigger entity, a bigger dream. Founders hire their first staff; they organize their first Boards, and then they even go on to leave the organization that they founded.
But, through this process, the founder must struggle with their identity and vice versa. How much power and autonomy does the Board have with a founder who remains at the helm? How much power and authority does a founder have to a new found Governance Board who now supervises this very person who founded the organization? Can the Board make as many decisions as another Board with a non-founder CEO? When does this dichotomy change? And, how does it change? At what point?
As the Board begins to professionalize and develop, the Founder plays a key role in ensuring this transition and establishing a Board that will live well beyond them. This reality must be hard for founders as they grapple with creating an organization living beyond their control of it. What was once their dream becomes something much more. While awe-inspiring, on one hand, it can also be frightening on another. And, they are now charged with putting in the structures and supports that will ensure that this continues well beyond them, a founder faces their mortality and lack of power on the other. These same structures and supports i.e. Governance structures, professional staff, start to cause a separation in the identity of the founder. The organization is changing in a way that separates and institutionalizes their role.
Is Governing the same in a nonprofit organization that is led by a founder as it is by a non-founder? I say the structures and functions are the same, but the relationship is not. This relationship needs time to “catch up” and transition. The dynamics need to develop. Decision-making is not as black and white. The founder still has much invested in the direction of their organization, and only through time will this separation happen. I wouldn’t advocate that a nonprofit Board takes a hard stance and decide that it is the “Boss” of the founder. Nor would I advocate that the founder has free reign without the Board. I wouldn’t advocate that the Board sit back and let the founder make all the decisions or nor would I advocate that the Board make all the decisions. There is much more of a fine line when it comes to Board Governing in a founder-led organization. The Governance model provides structure, and then the organization is charged with strategically dealing with the “Elephant in the Room” regarding Governing with a founder at the helm or not? Parameters need to be developed that outline what this unique relationship will look like and what is considered acceptable or not acceptable not just today, but as the organization continues to move forward into the future and the tension of Governance and management continues to evolve and change and go beyond the founder.
The organization must move towards professionalizing if it is going to continue beyond its founder. And, in doing so, the growing pains that a founder and a Board go through are unlike any other. But, as the Board continues to become more sophisticated in its functioning and as the organization begins to professionalize and hire staff, the founder must continually define his or her new role with increasingly less control and a willingness to divest themselves of ownership. Likewise, the Board needs to navigate gingerly this transference of organizational equity to begin to take more control, ensure the overall effectiveness of the organization, continue the mission, and plan for succession of the founder and the resulting organizational shifts. How an organization manages this change, happens over time.
But, all – both the Board and the founder, must be aware that unlike other organizations, they do face unique challenges and opportunities, and must ease each other into their new roles and organizational structures while honoring the past and preparing for the future. This change in roles is a Governance question that if left unaddressed can cause great consternation and organizational dysfunction. It is better to deal with the “Elephant” than to have it trample all over you.
Change management is hard work, but so is dealing with the aftermath of an organization that failed to identify its complexities and address them as they navigate the sea of change. Lifeboats only help when the ship is sinking. A rudder helps to steer the ship, and a compass guides it while in sail.
Ah, Board committees. Now, we get knee deeper into confusion. So, keeping the Board focused on governance is challenging work. Keeping the committees focused on governance seems at times almost impossible.
A few observations from the field.
Just like with Board of Directors, Board committee’s need position descriptions and expectations. Now, I won’t recommend specific committees because each organization is different, but the basics such as Finance and Governance Committees are essential.
Why a position description for the committee? Well, far too often, I have seen committees want to take over management types of activities. You know, they think governance is at the Board collective level, and therefore, they can focus on getting things done. Yes, to some extent, but with specific parameters in place. A committee also needs to be engaging in governance regarding examining trends and their implications.
Take, for instance, a Development Committee. Where does the line end between helping to establish a philanthropic goal, approving a fundraising plan, and then actually implementing the work and sometimes even circumventing staff efforts? Ah, yes, this does happen. And, it happens more than we like to think. Once you get down to the committee level, management seems to creep in. So, a powerful committee position description will help to create appropriate boundaries.
Now, I say, in the case of Fund Development, members as part of this committee work to engage their fellow Board members in the process of fund development. So, they may call upon a Board member to chair an event, or to help solicit funds, or to introduce the organization to a significant prospect. This fact does not mean that the manage the fundraising process. And, this is not to say that they manage staff. That is up to staff. But, even in all-volunteer organizations, when Board members must manage, governance comes first. Heck, you can establish a special event committee of the Board that works on event logistics with both Board and non-Board members. Governance rules.
Moreover, committees in no way, shape, or form make decisions for the Board. No, way. You see, the only people that make decisions for the Board is the Board collective. Committees can wrestle with tough strategic, governance issues, and make recommendations for actions at the Board meeting, but in now way does the Committee make a decision that is not vetted and voted by the Board as a whole. Again, clearly outlined position descriptions and expectations create parameters for appropriate behavior.
I know, I know, governance in small nonprofits. Again, governance discussions come first. Operational issues can be done by a task force or other such components. The Finance Committee in a large or small organization needs to look at economic trends in the overall community both locally and globally and make sound fiscal decisions. That does not mean that they get into the minutia. Yes, Board members do need to do management kinds of things in small non-profits, but they can also engage their membership or volunteers to assist in getting things done. So, while a nature organization needs to discuss trail maintenance and who is going to do it, they most importantly need to discuss which trails where, why, and how much is going to cost. What are the environmental impacts of a trail system, etc. They can always appeal to their membership or the general community to help clear brush.
So, again, clear, written, articulated in advance, position descriptions for the Board as a collective, individual Board members and the committees of the Board themselves are needed to create parameters and boundaries around keeping the Board focused on its significant role in governance.
I have been known to point out, “Would you see a Board committee of Pepsi-Cola engaging in supervising staff other than the CEO, or working in the factory bottling soda pop?” Even small, family-owned businesses, need to talk about things like, “there is a new competitor in town, what does that mean for us?” or “Our chocolate sales hit rock bottom, what is our cash flow over the next year?”
No, so what makes us in nonprofits think that we need to operate any differently? Just because we are “non-profit” doesn’t imply that our Boards of Directors should operate any differently. The difference being that for-profit Boards report to stockholders and our Boards report to stakeholders. And, yes, my friend, we can offer our Board compensation if we wanted to go that far.
Board governance is challenging work. It is especially difficult for smaller organizations. Even more so in all volunteer organizations.
When organizations lack staff including an Executive Director, it is the Board of Directors who often fills in the “gap” of responsibility regarding getting the day to day activities of the organization done. Board members may be out sweeping, cutting down trees, writing appeal letters, and providing critical direct services to clients. So, doing Board governance is often last on a small Board’s list of things to do or to talk about at Board meetings.
What is Board governance? Board governance is the process whereby the Board operates as a collective unit to ensure the health of the organization through overseeing things such as legal and moral obligations and a relevant and impactful mission. That is governance. It is not the day to day oversight of an organization; that is management.
There is a distinction between the Board as a collective and the roles of individual Board members. So, when the Board meets as a collective, it must focus on Corporate Governance. However, that does not preclude individual Board members from wanting to do management kinds of things – within reason.
It doesn’t matter the size of the Board or the staff. All Boards need to focus and act on Corporate Governance. They can’t be focused on management and expect to do a Board’s due diligence in terms of ensuring the health and sustainability of the organization. Some have said to me, “We are an all volunteer organization, we don’t have staff. These types of things don’t apply to us.” A Board is a Board is a Board, and Boards exist to ensure the legal, moral, and ethical fabric of the organization and be the vanguard for its mission.
Board members should not be discussing whether or not the clients need more hours or that some gardens need planting. That is not the realm of the Board. The Board as a collective should be looking at things like what is on the horizon in terms of financial risks, how they should plan for the future strategically, do they have a leadership succession plan in place, what are the expectations of their Board members, and are they in compliance with federal and state mandates.
How does a small organization with limited staff or all volunteers make this transition from management to Corporate Governance? It is not easy, but it can be done. When any Board is thinking about moving towards a Board governance model, which they should, the most important first strategic questions they must ask themselves as a Board collective is “Do we even want change?” “What will change mean for our organization?” “What will happen if we don’t decide to change?” and “What will change look like for our Board?”
There must be consensus on these critical questions before moving forward towards a Corporate Governance model. Before thinking about term-limits or financial risks, the Board of Directors must be committed to moving forward in a different, new way. This will be the first exercise that the Board undertakes in its new Corporate Governance role. Without this commitment, Board Governance will not happen.