Tag Archives: Board

The Dangers of Delays in Board Decision Making

Delays in Board Decision Making

Have you ever been a part of a nonprofit board that has been paralyzed and not able to make decisions? It can be incredibly frustrating as a volunteer and have serious repercussions for those who rely on these organizations. People, animals, and environments end up not getting the services they need. Organizations are often stuck or, in some cases, even shut down because of indecision. There are too many nonprofit boards that have the same discussion month after month because people think slow equals thoughtful.

There are ways for you to be thoughtful and move an agenda forward.

By helping your nonprofit make decisions, you will create impact, drive progress, and achieve your mission. Delays in board decision making prove that indecision is a decision, too.

Standing still does not help in many situations – on or off a board. Countless times we, as nonprofit consultants, have heard about the “almosts.” The almost campaign that was delayed for 10+ years before we were called in (causing additional costs in delayed maintenance or a larger deficit). The almost parking lot next door that wasn’t purchased and is now a medical facility instead of a building extension. The almost amazing nonprofit that closed because the leadership could never find consensus about how to shift in the face of external pressures.

Not surprisingly, we prefer to help celebrate the opening of a new building, witness the new programming that the additional endowment supports, and see people leave an upbeat board meeting on time feeling satisfied for all they have helped achieve.

The biggest concern with delays in board decision making

As soon as we suggest putting a time limit on board conversations we hear, “No way! It limits discussion,” or, “Everyone won’t be heard.” It’s true that not everyone will have a chance to talk for as long as they would like at the board meeting. But many would say that is not always a bad thing.

When everyone feels they can talk as long as they would like, there is often repetition. And people stop paying as much attention when they think they have heard it before and know that there are still hours more of the same conversation. Our attention spans have only become shorter and board leaders need to address this – while still being respectful and having full conversations. It is a balance – but one worth striving for.

What’s the solution?

In-depth discussions can be held in committee meetings. Recommendations and highlights of the conversation can be presented to start the conversation at the board level. While it sounds scary to some, shorter discussions are not a bad thing once you get used to how it works. Interested board members can go to the committee meeting. Or, if they choose not to, they can accept the time limits. The first couple of times may not go smoothly., Change is hard. Over time you will have more effective discussions that allow you to move forward with decisions.

Note: You should have some flexibility when considering a delay in board decision making. Extending the discussion by 15 or 30 minutes may occasionally be required to achieve consensus on a tough topic. And that should not be seen as a defeat. The important element is to have a positive experience and to end with a decision or vote.

Looking for language to help you move forward? Check out our LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram pages next week for 5 days and 5 suggestions.

Looking for help with your board? Schedule a complementary consultation.

Does Losing a Board Member Mean Losing Their Donation?

Last month I wrote about what to do with an under-performing board member. The follow up question that we often hear is “Does losing a board member mean losing their donation?” That depends on why you are losing a board member. The reasons may include because the board member: 

  • stopped showing up to meetings but still tries to contribute via email. 
  • pops in from time to time and tries to be super helpful (read: has thoughts on all the work that every other person has done) and then isn’t seen for a couple of months. And then repeats the cycle. 
  • takes on responsibilities but then never follows through with anything. 
  • rarely responds to anything you send and often leaves email unopened. 
  • is toxic but has a lot of money.  

The first question I would have is, do you want to save the relationship? How much time and energy are you spending on this person? And, what else could you be doing to replace the departing board member’s donation?  

If they answer is that you still value what they offer, be prepared to put in work and be creative.  

Full disclosure: over time their funding may shift as they become involved in another organization that looks good on LinkedIn. Sorry if that is too cynical but we all know those board members.  

Does losing a board member mean losing their donation? There can be any number of ways to retain the relationship, but they all boil down to one point: Keep them engaged.  


  1. Are they willing to sit down and speak with you or the board president? You could ask how they would like to be involved if they don’t have the time or the focus right now. Try to gauge whether they are looking for a once-a-year activity, once a month activity, or are just happy to be listed as a prominent donor or trustee.   
  1. Would they be willing to serve on a committee instead of the board? For example, it could be a committee that meets infrequently. Remember, the idea is to keep them engaged.  
  1. Survey the entire board, which is always a good idea on an annual basis. . The underperforming board member may not be the only person who is questioning the relationship with your organization. And asking advice is always a good way to deepen a connection. Include questions like: 
    • What do you wish you knew about the board before you joined? 
    • Has your board experience improved, stayed the same, or deteriorated over the past 3 years? 
    • Would you be willing to mentor someone new on the board? Why or why not?  
    • Would you encourage a friend to join the board? Why or why not? 
  1. Offer board training. It may sound counter-intuitive to ask this person to spend more time with you, but it may be that they are bored with what they are doing. An educational opportunity might excite, and reengage, them. 
  1. Hire a consultant to assess your board and your organization. Is the underperforming board member the problem? Could it be the board/board president, a staff member, the direction of the nonprofit, pressure from the community to do more, or some other reason your board has become an uncomfortable place to be. And getting rid of the one person may not solve your problems. 

If it is time to strengthen your board, email me to talk about how MJA can help.  

What Do You Do With An Under-performing Board Member?

under-performing board member from Kolleen Gladden @unsplash

Do you have board members who don’t show up to meetings? Or board members who come to meetings but spend the time on their phone? Maybe they show up but don’t contribute in any substantive way. What do you do with under-performing board members?

Even if they started as amazing volunteers, they may be tired and are no longer helping your organization.

We hear this story a lot. No one wants to “fire” anyone. Even an under-performing board member. It is an uncomfortable conversation. But, if you know it must happen, here are some suggestions to make it a bit easier.

  1. Institute board policies that spell out expectations. Make everything clear, from meeting attendance to term limits, committee participation to fundraising and personal donation expectations.
  2. Be creative with the transition. Is there a different role that might excite them? If you think you can still engage them to help. Do they want to take on a different volunteer role or Advisory Board Member position?
  3. Be direct. “We are creating a governance structure that will include term limits, committee participation, and an attendance policy. I know you are busy this year, do you think you can attend X meetings this year?” “We know you have been a huge supporter of our organization for many years, and we hope that continues for many years to come. But we are looking to have every board member make this one of their top priorities in terms of current volunteering and financial commitments. Is this something you can do?”  “We have noticed that your participation is not what it used to be. While we would appreciate all that you have done, I have to ask, do you still want to be on the board?”
  4. Eliminate “give OR get” from your language. That is a dated mindset that does not work in current nonprofit organizations. Many major donors and grant organizations will ask about board participation. Not every board member can give at the same level, but every single one can give. And ideally it will be one of their top three donations this year. (Read more about this here)
  5. Give it time, but not too much. You want to give board members warning about the changes. But you do not have to give them years. If you are reading this far into this article than you have a problem that needs to be dealt with now. Start having the conversations about the changes. Some of these folks might step down realizing they are not as committed as they once were. If not, then you have a process you can follow if they don’t show up at meetings or donate.

Obviously, you want to try to save the connection, even with an under-performing board member. This person might have been a loyal supporter, donor, and/or advocate. They may have given great counsel over the years. Or brought fresh ideas. And it is always hard to move on from a long-standing relationship.

Here is one last tip: Always have the end in mind when you start these conversations. Know what you can offer to stay in their hearts and minds. And if you run out of ideas, ask them. They may not be able to articulate exactly what they want. But, then again, maybe they will.

Want to know more? Consider reading the follow up article, Does Losing a Board Member mean Losing the Donation?

Governance At Its Best – Strengthening Your Board and Staff

In many nonprofits, there is not a clear divide between board and staff responsibilities. Then you add in long-term volunteers, founders, and advisory boards and things get even muddier. Who should have the final say on a decision? And, should you have that in writing?

Do you know how to go about strengthening your board and staff?

strengthening your board and staff

It’s easy to offer simple recommendations like whether the board should be fundraising (they should be fundraising, starting with themselves), but you also have to have strategies for:

  • Encouraging your board to respect your staff and their opinions
  • Reminding the staff that coaching strategies may change board and volunteer behavior faster than constant reminders
  • Board learning opportunities throughout the year (e.g. understanding a P & L– spend 15 minutes explaining how to read the statement –and how it represents the organizational priorities – for those who don’t work with them every day)
  • Creating change with buy in from staff and the board
  • Knowing a board president’s strengths and weaknesses. And understanding that is not always the same as the last person to hold that role.
  • No one person can be in charge of everything (whether that is staff, a Board President or a Volunteer). Nonprofits are a group effort, intentionally, so spend time determining how to utilize your resources.
  • Running the board like an organization, and not a family business
  • The size of your board – too large or too small will affect whether you are engaging your board members or leaving them to drift off (among other things)
  • Helping board members or staff see their role in creating the solution to the problems you are facing and that they may be causing
  • Overworking your leadership (volunteer and staff) may help you achieve more in the short term. But, in the long term, staff will leave and volunteers will burn out.
  • Moving forward with a decision when consensus was hard to find
  • Innovating change. Nonprofits can no longer rely on the status quo for support, membership or involvement
  • Engaging everyone in fundraising and development when not everyone is willing to ask others for money

This is not an all-encompassing list, and it is not intended to overwhelm you. Instead, it is designed to create a new dialogue around the staff table or at a board meeting about what you want to see change. In other words, help you in strengthening your board and staff. You may want to initiate a strategic plan or a board retreat to help you focus in on your priorities. But don’t let another year go by without growing as individuals and as an organization.

If you think your nonprofit would benefit from our facilitating this process, email me at abigail@merskyjaffe.com today.

If you would like to work on improving your board without counsel, you can purchase one of our books by clicking here

Originally published in 2017

In A World That Feels Out Of Control – What Can You Control?

What can you control?

What you cannot control:

  1. Board and leadership decisions
  2. Your donors’ income or asset changes
  3. Other people’s fears
  4. Unavoidable organizational changes
  5. General economic instability
  6. Deadlines
  7. The Pandemic
  8. Child-care/school situations
  9. Shifts in funding priorities

What can you control?

  1. How you spend each day
  2. If you are making decisions strategically vs. – reactively
  3. How you prioritize your responsibilities
  4. Whether you obtain approvals before you move forward to make sure things are in line
  5. If you ask for help from fellow staff, board members or volunteers
  6. Your fears (this does take a bit of work)
  7. Whether you are currently fundraising and stewarding donors
  8. If you are looking for creative solutions to the myriad problems that arise each day
  9. Your television

Nonprofit organizations who are standing still, afraid of fundraising, and/or think they can put off planning until things settle down will go out of business. It is a harsh reality, but that does not make it any less true. I do not know of any nonprofits who can hold off fundraising for a year and hope to come back with any stable footing.

Major donors will not carry your organization for years just because they believe in your mission statement. They want to sustain organizations which are working to fulfill their mission and achieve their vision. Even now. So, what can you control? Figure it out fast. And get out there and fundraise!

As always, if you want help with any part of the process – from prioritization to creative solutions, set up a time to speak with one of us at Mersky, Jaffe & Associates. 

Things I Like / Don’t Like / Want To Do At My Job

my job as a nonprofit consultant - teaching to fish

The new school year is another time of year I use as a check in point. Summer is over – did I binge watch too much? Yes, but I am catching up on This Is Us, so I have a good excuse. Did I spend too much time with friends? There is no such thing. Did I do all of the busy work I hoped to achieve in slow months? No, but I did have time to assess and look forward. So, here is what I thought about most recently:

Things I like about my job as a nonprofit consultant. I get to:

  1. Help nonprofits achieve their vision and mission
  2. Teach people to (proverbially) fish. You are not hiring me (and Mersky, Jaffe & Associates) to do your fundraising. You are hiring me to teach you, your staff, and board to participate
  3. Let board and staff members see that giving can be an amazing feeling for a donor
  4. Show how asking for money does not have to be a horrible, scary, gut-wrenching process.

Things I do not like about my job as a nonprofit consultant:

  1. Certain people (you know who you are) give me dirty looks when I suggest they fundraise or donate.
  2. Individuals who would be so great at fundraising won’t get past their fear.
  3. Board members who assume others should do all the fundraising
  4. When organizations don’t achieve their goals because of their fears.

Things I want to do this year:

  1. Train more people to raise more money.
  2. Help individuals and organization’s change their mindset on fundraising.
  3. Explain ways that board members can raise money without having to ask their friends (although I am not opposed to helping those who do want to ask their friends.)
  4. Consider new ways to encourage accountability of fundraising in a campaign. Maybe working with new interim deadlines to utilize the science behind urgency as a motivator.

If you would like to help me accomplish my goal, of teaching you to fish, email me today.

If you have other ideas of things I should accomplish this year, connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

If you just want to say hi, I would welcome that too.

I hope your fall is filled with many achievements.

Can Nonprofits Turn Previous Failures Into Future Success?

Can Nonprofits Turn Previous Failures Into Future Success?Listen to any conference speaker, self-help guru or tech entrepreneur and you are sure to hear about their failures. Of course, they are speaking because they turned their failures into lessons that helped them succeed. Can you imagine going to a funder and telling them that you had to close down your last nonprofit due to lack of money but this time you knew how to handle their 7-figure gift? Can nonprofits turn previous failures into future success? Of course, saying you have changed the way you run your organization is not enough.  You need to “walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”

  • Show that you now have a strong case for giving and are only approaching the right people at the right time.
  • Prove you have learned your lesson by talking about your new and detailed focus on acknowledgements.
  • Demonstrate that you understand stewardship for each and every donor and each and every gift.

What are other areas that nonprofits ignore that can be turned around to prove success?

To some this list may seem overwhelming. To others, it will highlight areas on which to focus or tweak in the coming year. Either way, turning previously missed opportunities into growth and prosperity will sustain your nonprofit. And, it will be something positive to talk about to current and prospective funders. Showing that you are learning and growing is something everyone can get excited about.   Please let us know if we can help you improve your nonprofit by emailing Abigail Harmon.

How Many Donors Does Your Nonprofit Need? Look at Your Solicitor Pool

Solicitor Pool

If you are considering how many solicitors you need, you probably don’t have enough. You are probably relying on the Executive Director, a development staff member or two, and/or a few key board members. And, maybe that has worked for the past few years – Executive Directors can be incredibly effective fundraisers. But you may be only one resignation away from a dramatic decline. It is time to increase your solicitor pool.

In the same way you don’t want to be over-reliant on a few major donors, you don’t want to put all of your solicitations in too few hands.

How do you expand your solicitor pool?

  1. Look at your staff. Who would you trust to represent you in a meeting? Not sure if Jennifer is ready? Bring her along as a second solicitor during a few meetings with longtime donors. Make it clear, ahead of time, the role she will play and where she can strategically add to the conversation. Please don’t have her sitting and observing the whole time – that will not test her skills, it make everyone feel uncomfortable, and leave the donor(s) wondering why Jennifer was there at all.
  2. Ask your board members if they will help. Ask them one-on-one, not in a group setting. Don’t assume they will say no. And encourage people to get involved at any level that will be helpful to you.
    1. Some people might be willing to solicit, if trained.
    2. Others might be willing to help you set up appointments (often time consuming for the solicitor) and join in if someone else will make the ask. Overtime, that might change, but for the moment you will have someone helping you with the initial, time-consuming piece of an ask.
    3. Another few might be willing to ask at a small group event. Encourage your board to get involved with fundraising any way they choose.
  3. Invite committee members to participate. Obviously, the first place to start is the development committee. But, someone who understands the finances might be willing to help with a fact driven ask. And a person who is focused on funding for a particular program might be willing to ask individuals to support it. *
  4. Talk to your donors. Longtime supporters might be willing to ask others to join them with their own gift – especially if they already know them. Those cocktail party conversations might provide more connections and donations than you expected.

*Only encourage funding for a program that is an organizational priority. Creating a program because you received funding is a slippery slope that often leaves you in debt. Get in touch if you want to learn more about how I learned this the hard way.

Want to read more about increasing your donor base?

Effectively Recruit New Board Members

Begging a board imageLet’s imagine that you are planning on increasing your board size. You know someone who has attended a few of your organization’s events and donated on a regular basis. How do you know if she will be a good board member? Will the chemistry be right—will this new person be a good fit? Will he be willing to help with time as well as money? Can you count on her to recruit friends to events? Will he solicit their financial support? Will they serve as a strong advocate for the organization? Do you know how to effectively recruit new board members?

Congratulations. You are on the right track by asking these questions, and those like them, before you offer anyone a position on your board.

All too often, organizations are disappointed with a new board member’s involvement and for good reason – they asked the person to join before determining the organization’s needs, the prospective board member’s strengths, and/or before creating roles and responsibilities to guide everyone through the process.

Where should you start when you want to effectively recruit new board members? You may already have a nominating committee or a committee of trustees. But if you are like most organizations, that committee comes into being in an ad hoc way about eight weeks before the annual meeting, tries to fill a slate of officers and board members and then goes out of existence once it has rendered its report. But, best practices are that a nominating committee should be a standing committee of the board and function year-round.

The first task for this newly organized committee would be to develop a position description for every officer and one for a board member. Then, create an agreement, in contract form, between the individual and the organization that outlines mutual expectations.

A reasonable set of responsibilities for individual board members—indeed, for the board as a whole, might be:

  • determining mission and strategic direction
  • overseeing organizational resources
  • evaluating the performance of the executive director
  • being accountable to the community constituents—members and funders
  • building relationships on behalf of the nonprofit to promote its mission
  • fundraising
  • donating to the organization
  • advocacy

In other words, the Board is responsible to look out, watch over, reach out, and engage.

Inventory of Current Board Profiles
Now it is time to evaluate who you currently have in the room and who you need. An essential step to effectively recruit new board members. The easiest way to do this is to use a Board Profile Worksheet (Mersky, Jaffe & Associates has one that can be provided to clients and friends upon request). With such a form, you can examine your current and prospective board’s demographics, expertise and skills. Once you have completed this form, you will be clear as to what you need in terms of skills and experience–whether simply financial supporters or hands-on volunteers, advocates or fundraising solicitors.

And, while we all search for those ideal candidates who can supply time, money, connections, creativity and business sensibility, remember that they are few and far between. Appreciate those who offer their willingness to give—whether it is time around the office or warm leads on contacts for you to follow up.

Roles and Responsibilities
Plan to play up individual strengths. Classify the Adamant Advocator, the Central Nonprofit Liaison, or Master Steward of Donors as what they are. Ask them to join committees that could benefit from their expertise without over-taxing their precious time.

Follow progress carefully – with your future needs in mind as well. Before long you will be looking for a new head for the development or finance committee and it will be nice to know who is prepared to take over.

The Ask
You have this fabulous person that has been involved in your organization and you have done your research well enough to know they will be a good fit. Now it’s time to ask. Pick up the phone and make an appointment to see the person. Seriously, stop reading and make the call. Your procrastination may allow this person to fill up their schedule with other commitments or feel under-appreciated. And on that note, we have a few calls to make of our own to effectively recruit new board members, so until next time…

Originally published in February 2005.

Dealing With Disruptive Board Member(s)

The Disruptive Board Member EffectTwo organizations with which we have been working have very similar concerns.  At each nonprofit, there is at least one board member who is disruptive to meetings. And both have leadership that want that to change.

The Disruptive Board Member(s)

Based on a board member’s personal approach—often rooted in personality—there is at least one person who:

  • Likes to point out problems but has no time or willingness to help with solutions
  • Insists that their solutions are the only way to find a successful path forward
  • Cannot get past a specific issue resolved in a way they did not support so that now they are having trouble supporting anything
  • Tries to dominate the meeting (or specific agenda items)
  • Believes the cohort they represent needs more attention or resources
  • Is invested and wants to understand the details of decisions but doesn’t have enough time to participate in committee work. (Which often translates into someone who wants to revisit every committee recommendation in a deep dive at board meetings)

How does the rest of the board feel?

The result is that one bad apple can upset the cart. Or, in this case make the board meeting uncomfortable for everyone.

Not everyone is going to raise their hand and tell you they don’t enjoy volunteering for your nonprofit. Instead, they may step off the board at the first opportunity, make less of an effort to be at meetings and make your nonprofit less of a priority in their lives. And once a volunteer has shifted focus to other nonprofits or life-priorities, it’s not easy to bring them back.

What can be done?

If this has been going on for some time, one meeting will not change how everyone feels. Like stewardship or altering a donor’s perception of your organization, it will take consistent proof that change is happening. But you can start showing your intentions by:

  • Moving the agenda along. Keep time and limit conversations to predetermined timeframes. There will be some conversations that need to be extended, but not every conversation falls into this category. You probably already know who a good timekeeper will be. Asking that person for help will show that you understand the strengths and weaknesses of individual board members and you are trying to make change.
  • Having a private one-on-one conversation, outside of the board meeting, can help the person(s) in question feel heard.
    • Express to the board member that, to you, it feels as if they want a deeper understanding of the development/finance/program decisions. If this is true, suggest they join the committee where the discussions can go deeper on certain issues- when they have an hour or more to consider the issue. If they cannot/will not join the committee – ask them for suggestions as to how they can participate without diminishing the committee’s work prior to the meeting.
    • Explaining that as board-chair you are having trouble getting through the agenda in a timely way – and ask if they have suggestions. Be open to the responses. It may be that many members want fewer agenda items with deeper discussion or that allowing a deeper dive on one pre-determined issue would feel more meaningful.
    • Repair damage by making it less personal. We can assume that everyone is at the board table because they care, but just as in any for-profit business, decisions often have to be made for the good of the organization and not necessarily the good of the individual board members. We all have to get past our personal issues and focus on the larger organizational goals.
  • Training sessions reminding board members of:
    • Their responsibilities to the nonprofit
    • The value of introverts. Allowing the loudest board members to have the most impact is dismissing the importance of an introvert’s value to your board.
    • Basic skills that when absent can derail board meetings. (Think about how many people at the table understand how to read a P&L vs. asking questions that are obvious to those in the know)
  • Holding a retreat to regain consensus. Sometimes, people have to be reminded of the positive energy that can happen within the group. Using ice breakers, small group exercises that acknowledge different learning styles (pictures help some people think outside of the box and oral stories help others.

And, of course, if you would like help with your specific board’s governance issue or your nonprofit’s next retreat, email me by clicking here.