They Didn’t Tell Me…


They didn’t tell me that the organization is about to go bankrupt.

They didn’t tell me we didn’t have a pool of individual donors to support the organization’s fundraising efforts.

They didn’t tell me the organization’s largest funder decided to end funding after the current grant cycle.

They didn’t tell me the credit line was at its’ limit.

They didn’t tell me this Board refuses to fundraise.

They didn’t tell me half the Board quit in the last year.

They didn’t tell me they couldn’t get anyone to serve as the Board Chair.

They didn’t tell me it was this bad.

They didn’t tell me…

New nonprofit executive directors and new nonprofit Board members have shared the above sentiments with me over the last year. With a look of despair, desperation, and frustration, they are often amazed to discover the reality of their newest endeavor is quite different from the image that had been created and expected. In almost every situation, the individuals struggling with the new awareness of their organizational realities, overwhelmingly state they would not have taken the new position, relocated their families, or changed careers if, “They would have told me.”

I want to offer some simple advice to anyone who finds themselves as a party in the above equations – from the new board member/executive director, to the selection committee, to the current board/executive director. I believe everyone plays a role in telling and asking.

Ask these questions before you accept the position as a new Executive Director or Board Member:

What is the current financial situation of the organization?
What’s the projected financial position of the organization over the next 2-3 years?
What have been the organization’s most significant accomplishments over the last 2-3 years?
What challenges or concerns are on the horizon for the organization?
What are your organizational priorities for the next Fiscal Year?
What’s the most recent storm that the organization has been through, and how did they weather the storm?
Why do you want me on your team?

Tell the prospective Executive Director/Board Member the following before offering them the position:

The current financial situation of the organization.
The projected financial position of the organization over the next 2-3 years.
The organization’s most significant accomplishments over the last 2-3 years.
Challenges or concerns that are on the horizon for the organization.
Organizational priorities for the next Fiscal Year.
The most recent storm that the organization has been through and how you weathered the storm.
Why you want them on your team.
I’m sure you see the similarities – everyone owns some responsibility. The bottom line is to not make assumptions. Don’t assume people know what you know. Don’t assume documentation, strategic plans – budgets – policies – etc.., communicate the whole story. Don’t assume if something was “bad” they would tell you. Don’t assume people won’t accept a position if they know the depth of the organizational challenges. Transparency, curiosity, and thoroughness will help everyone make the best decision with eyes wide open.

Congratulations on Your Engagement!

They tell me it’s wedding season – spring is transitioning into summer and engagement parties and weddings are common for this time of year.  Congratulations are surely in order.

Now imagine being engaged to a person that’s not engaged to you.  You’re committed, involved and attentive; but they seem distant, distracted and pre-occupied. You attempt to do all you can to engage the person that’s supposed to be engaged to you.  Sounds far fetched?  Well, I’m not sure how often this happens in personal relationships, but it’s a common occurrence in the world of Board Governance.

Countless nonprofit executive directors and board chairs wrestle with the question, “How can I get my Board member(s) to be more engaged?”

There are a variety of reasons for disengaged board members.  One of the primary reasons I’ve observed is that we build this relationship off of a variety of assumptions.  Here are some common assumptions:

  1. The Board member knows why we want them on the Board and they know what we expect from them.
  2. The Board member knows how to be a high performing Board member.
  3. If they are unsure or unaware of an expectation, they would ask someone.
  4. They know they’re not fulfilling their responsibility.
  5. They know what being “engaged” means.

Let’s take a moment and look at number 5 – I believe if we get this one right, it’ll have a positive impact on numbers 1-4.  We assume that Board members know what “being engaged” means, but the truth is this deserves to be clearly defined and communicated.  Face it – being engaged is a big deal and I think it’s only fair that all parties involved have a clear understanding.

Here are some common understandings of what it means to be an engaged board member:

  1. Attend meetings.
  2. Volunteer outside of the meetings.
  3. Financially support the organization.
  4. Serve as an advocate/voice in the community.
  5. Aware of local/national trends that impact the mission of the organization.
  6. Fully present during meetings.
  7. It’s not a matte of time spent, it’s a matter of energy spent on the organization.
  8. Inquisitive and concerned about the state of the organization.

What’s the lesson? If you want engaged board members or want to be an engaged board member spend some time defining what being engaged means and looks like.

For those nonprofit leaders that have figured this out, congratulations on your engagement!

It’s Just a Title, Or Is it?

In the past week I’ve spoken with 2 leaders (one in the private sector and one in the nonprofit sector) who don’t care about titles.  They just want the work done, they couldn’t care less about titles.  The problem is their team members care about titles.  Witnessing the exchange between the leaders and team members has been interesting, to say the least.  After much dialogue and consideration, I want to share a few lessons learned that may help you and your team:

  1. If titles aren’t important then don’t include the attainment of titles as part of the performance evaluation/bonus process.
  2. Just because something isn’t important to you, you can’t disregard it as meaningless and petty.  For some, their title is symbolic of their professional achievement.
  3. Titles, in some instances, are used in key word searches on LinkedIn and other platforms that people use to distinguish themselves from the competition.
  4. The right title  at one company can amount to additional income at the next company.
  5. In some companies, the title determines the seat.  The bigger the title, the better the seat.
  6. Don’t let your title define you.  There may be some practical and professional advantages to ensuring your title reflects your role, however; don’t rely on your title as your source of influence.

Let’s continue to learn as we grow.


NOTE: Sharing our lessons learned is neither a promotion or denouncement of them,  they are shared as points of information to drive further conversation.  We’d love to hear your feedback.

What lessons have you learned about titles, in the workplace, that may be of help to others?  Please share.