I am in the process of building a framework that builds on this article. I am reposting because of its continued relevancy. More to come.

Advisor to Superheroes

At the first board meeting I ever attended, the only person who spoke was my boss, the executive director. Driving back to the office, she asked me what I thought of the meeting. I told her the board was not very engaged. She agreed and said, “I just don’t know how to change that.” I held my tongue thinking to myself, “You can start by shutting up and letting them talk to each other.”

When it was my turn to be an executive director, I humbly admit that I suffered from the same problem—sitting in board meetings, yammering on, and trying to ignite a new level of board engagement through the brilliance I was spewing forth. Now as a board member, I am sympathetic to the executive directors, who cannot stand the excruciating silence and feel the need to share everything in their brain, and my fellow board members who…

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Is 5:30 pm the best time for a board meeting? Really?

I was sitting in a board meeting this evening asking myself this question and at the same time my brain went click. Off it went. I just nodded my head for the rest of the meeting wondering if I had drool coming out of the side of my mouth.

I know there is no such thing as the “perfect” time that gets good participation, a time when everyone can meet. I do wonder if we should put less emphasis on when everyone can get there and more on when everyone’s brains are fresh and able to engage in deep discussion about the organization. I’m more partial to the early morning meeting… 7:30 am anyone?

What do you think is the optimal time of day a board should meet? Please share.

Defining Your Mission Statement

Here are three key ingredients to create an effective mission statement.

View these previous Sixty-Second Strategy segments…

Framing a Compelling Message

Defining Your Organization’s Value

Kick Start Your Story

Overcoming a Disconnect with the Mission

Several year’s ago I was facilitating a meeting when the president of the organization said… “We are not who we are.” That odd statement codified what everyone was feeling in the room—lost. Somewhere along the organization’s journey it got detoured and ended up in a place it never intended to go, serving the community not as effectively as it could, and focused on daily issues that seemed deeply disconnected from its mission.

This is not an uncommon story. Nonprofit organizations face many twists and turns in pursuit of mission. Sometimes a much sought after grant goes from becoming a necessary resource to the organization’s central focus, or a succession of bad hires leads the organization away from the cause. Choices were made where the mission was never really adhered to or considered. Worse yet, the mission was never really relevant or meaningful to those leading the organization and led to arbitrary and unfocused decision making.

Organizations are at risk when mission is only a statement; a device used as a reference point, or a special decoder that offers a hidden answer. Above all, mission is a feeling. An organization’s leadership may capture it in a carefully worded statement, but before that happens a sense of being emerges from a milieu of diverse passions. Mission is about a group of people imagining the change they can create and exploring these possibilities together. Through their collective action, they discover something in common within one another, a shared sense of purpose. This feeling is so great that it deserves to be written down.

Beyond an organization’s capacity to manage day-to-day challenges or align action to mission, is the greater capability to keep a feeling or sense of mission alive. To do so, leadership must regularly reconnect to four domains:

People – Knowing and understanding whom we wish to actively affect and why; this needs to be viewed through an inclusive lens, considering all potential stakeholders.

Passion – Getting to the heart of what collectively moves board, staff, and volunteers to action; answering why we as a group are motivated to act together.

Promise – Defining the specific meaningful value we promise to create and deliver; articulating the impact we will strive to bring into the world.

Principles – Deciding on the best way to act that upholds what we believe in; allowing the organization to live in a principled way.

Together, these four domains form a prism that helps leadership reflect on how the mission is advancing and maturing. If there is one capability board and staff should share is the ability to look at each domain on a daily basis through every interaction and, on special occasions, bring these domains together and discuss what is learned.

Before writing or re-writing a mission statement, leadership must feel the mission, intuitively understanding why it has emerged, why it is meaningful, and why they wish to be a part of it.

Procrastination… my name is board member

Without telling anyone I decided to take the summer off from the blog. Unfortunately, I took the summer off from being a board member too. I didn’t tell anyone about this either.

It was not my intention to stop being a decent board member, it just happened. I got wrapped up in my consulting work, trying to run a 5K in under 30 minutes, and writing a book… on board engagement by the way. So here I am at the end of the summer and there is a bunch of overdue items that I said I would do, but have not delivered on them… like making donor calls, working on the organization’s strategic plan, and being present for the outgoing CEO.

One of the hardest parts of board membership is being engaged when you do not feel engaged. I could blame this on the organization, the cause, or (worse) my fellow board members and the staff I work with, but the reality is my engagement is my responsibility. I have had a list of items in my to do box and I chose to ignore it.

When I was an executive director, I hated board members who procrastinated. They put me in the unenviable position of having to call on them and ask if they did their work. I used to think… “What am I, their mother?” I promised myself I would never do that when I was a board member. Oops! I just did.

Sometimes work is just work. It has to get done. We have to inch our way forward to the next opportunity. Board leadership, like any other job, requires a focus on getting things done even when it doesn’t inspire you that very moment. But like most good things, all those little steps that are taken both individually and with your colleagues, comes together into something wonderful, meaningful, and engaging.

Now, where is that list?

Has Social Media and Social Causes Together Achieved a “Citizen Kane” Moment?

This post is off-the-beaten path of what I usually write about, but I have been curious about this for sometime.

Many consider Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane to be the greatest American movie ever made. Premiering in 1941, it follows the first movie, The Horse in Motion, by 63 years and follows the first talkie, The Jazz Singer, by 14 years. It is consider a masterpiece because it took the conventions of moviemaking and transformed them. Welles and his collaborators made something vastly different from what others had done before, thus creating a new form in and of itself.

I am wondering if social media and social causes together have achieved such a moment. Or, are we still out there searching for these new forms? What do you think?

Flip Your Mission: Framing a Compelling Message

This installment of the Sixty-Second Strategy challenges board and staff to frame a compelling message by transforming how they talk about their organization.

Visit previous strategies…

Kick Start Your Meeting

Defining Your Value