Tag Archives: Committees

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.  

We All Want To Know Why Nonprofit Strategic Planning Is Sexy

Nonprofit Strategic Planning Is SexyNonprofit strategic planning is sexy in the same way nonprofit governance, feasibility study reports and finding the perfect candidate is sexy. Oh wait, I didn’t mean sexy. I meant amazing for my nonprofit or energizing for my organization.

The title of this piece was offered by Portent’s Content Idea Generator.  And I’m pretty sure it shatters the notion that, “there are no bad ideas.”


Your nonprofit may be finding something similar when you are brainstorming for ideas. Whether it is annual appeal letter suggestions from a donor (whom you thought would be helpful), gala ideas from a board member(s), or elements of a case for giving from staff, not all ideas should carry the same weight. Of course, donors (including board members), volunteers as well as staff need to be treated respectfully – whether their ideas are used or not.

Hopefully your nonprofit has criteria to evaluate some ideas.

Establish a:

  • Mission, vision and values statement(s) as an outcome of a strategic planning process. Nonprofit strategic planning may not be sexy but it is a great guide for determining new projects or whether to continue old ones.
  • Theme for your fundraising for the year or season. e. community achievements, the impact of music, the teachers at our core, etc.…
  • Call for ideas in specific areas. Focus in on areas that need suggestions, ways for people to provide their thoughts and an understanding of what you are looking for. This is a great way to see what people are thinking and can be used as a stewardship opportunity.
  • Provide suggestion guidelines. If you are asking for thoughts, a list of general, or specific “rules” the organization follows will eliminate some of the ideas you have to shut down immediately.
  • A committee to make decisions. We don’t want you to create committees ad nauseum. But at times, an ad hoc committee can take the decision making away from an individual. And, help eliminate prickly conversations that can feel personal.

And this isn’t even venturing into the pressure nonprofits feel from donors referenced in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy Article. From sexual harassment issues to donor suggestions that are clearly off-mission but will provide the donor a benefit, nonprofits are finally realizing that not every idea is a good idea.

Look for a less sexy, but more thoughtful, strategic planning piece in the near future.

Preventing The Glazed Over Eyes Syndrome during Finance Committee Reports

5 Nonprofit Finance Committee Responsibilities

finance committee

As you can imagine, in my work consulting to a wide variety of nonprofits worldwide, I have attended more than my share of board meetings. Recently, I observed the treasurer of a client organization make the monthly financial report.  As the finance committee chair presented his well-illustrated PowerPoint, I watched as most board members’ eyes glazed over.  Clearly, these people had no understanding of the cash flow analysis, the report of actuals against budget or the fully-allocated, program-by-program statement of projected revenues and expenses for the balance of the year. Or why it was essential to understand these reports.

These reports should provide the members of the board with visibility into the financial management of the agency and the knowledge that is needed to make strategic decisions for the future of the organization’s programs and the people who benefit from them.

How do you prevent the surge of discomfort? Educate every board member in basic financial literacy. This will assure that all board members can function effectively in their fiduciary role to ensure the fiscal health of the enterprise. And, if board members understand what they are seeing, they are less likely to allow their attention, and eyes, to drift during these essential reports..

What are the five responsibilities of the finance committee:

    1. Assure the maintenance of accurate, complete timely and meaningful financial records and statements
      • Monitor income and expenditures against projections
      • Review and recommend financial policies to the board, including ensuring adequate internal controls and maintaining financial records in accordance with standard accounting practices
    2. Direct budget preparation and financial planning
      • Propose for board approval a budget that reflects the organization’s goals and board policies
      • Ensure that the budget accurately reflects the needs, expenses, and revenue of the organization
    3. Safeguard the organization’s assets
      • Review proposed new funding for ongoing financial implications, recommending approval or disapproval to the board
      • Ensure that the organization has the proper risk-management provisions in place
    4. Ensure compliance with federal, state, and other requirements related to the organization’s finances
      • Ensure that organization maintains adequate insurance coverage
      • Ensure that the IRS Form 990, other forms, and employment and other taxes required by government are filed completely, correctly, and on time
    5. And, above all, help the full board understand the organization’s financial affairs
      • Ensure that board members are well informed about the organization’s finances
      • Educate the board to enhance each members financial literacy

That last point, “educate the board members,” is the key to it all.  Not everyone who serves on a board has the same financial acumen.  For the board to function well, serve the organization it leads and provide the financial oversight required, the finance committee must be sure that all members of the board see clearly and understand the finances of the agency.  Providing brief educational segments to develop board members skills at every board meeting about key aspects—including financial management—of the organization’s operation should be standard operating procedure for the well-run, well-funded nonprofit.

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?

Lessons Learned While Prepping for a Strategic Planning Board Retreat

Strategic Planning Board Retreat Exercise

I recently offered to help a friend, Jen, plan her nonprofit’s retreat. We met for coffee and she explained that she had decided to start off her term as board president by holding a 3-hour strategic planning board retreat (replacing the second board meeting of the year).  The executive director suggested she wait until the spring (Lesson 1), but she wanted to start her term with board-wide, consistent organizational priorities and had everyone reserve an upcoming Sunday afternoon.

Right away, she wanted to talk about what she wanted to include as content (Lesson 2) and how she should present it. But the more she explained, the more I realized she also had to focus on:

  • How to get people excited about where they were headed – even if they were not convinced this was the right path forward (Lesson 3).
  • The importance of engaging board members without conflicting with committee work (Lesson 4).
  • How to incorporate different learning styles (Lesson 5).

What follows are the six lessons that can help you plan your next Retreat (Lesson 6).

Lessons Learned:

Lesson 1: It is easy to feel like you can take on the world when you are starting a leadership role. But, don’t let the excitement of taking on a new position, trump the reality of a situation. If an executive director suggests you hold off, hold off. They will understand the dynamics from an organizational standpoint, much better than anyone else. For the record, she has told me that she regrets not listening to the ED.

Lesson 2: As it turned out, she didn’t really need help with content. Jen needed help in structuring the retreat. She needed help figuring out how to talk about the topics she had already highlighted. Planning a retreat was not in her wheelhouse, so she didn’t realize what she needed to feel confident was a plan of how to engage and excite the board. And, a few nonprofit board retreat techniques.

Lesson 3: Major decisions – capital campaigns, shifts in focus, new membership strategies will excite some board members and anger others. Your job, as a volunteer leader, is to encourage everyone to find their way past their personal reluctance and back towards helping the organization move forward.

Lesson 4: Committees do not want to feel pointless, and that is what happens when board time is used to rehash committee work. To avoid this, use board time to highlight their decisions and bring recommendations up for a vote. If board members have strong opinions about the committee decisions, encourage them to join the committee.

Lesson 5: The differences among us provide balance on a nonprofit board. So, remember that not everyone will vocalize their opinion in a large group.  Some people are visual thinkers and others auditory ones.  Leadership and good ideas come through many different paths. A retreat is the time to value differences by using alternate strategies to bring out the best, innovative, useful ideas from everyone. Think creatively and strategically about how you can do this.

Lesson 6: Calling this a strategic planning board retreat was a mistake. A strategic planning board retreat is used when you are trying to determine the direction of the organization for the next 3 or 5 years. Every board retreat has a different purpose, so try not to confuse people by picking the wrong name.

Click here to read more about Mersky, Jaffe & Associates’ Strategic Planning

Email me to learn how we can help you with your next Board Retreat

A Stronger Fundraising and Development Committee

Chapter 2: What would help your nonprofit raise more money this year? A stronger fundraising and development committee.

The results of my survey are in, and the schedule is set for a year of articles focused on what would help your nonprofit raise more money in 2017.  This month, I will focus on how to build a stronger fundraising and development committee.

You may remember a series I wrote a couple of years ago on my experience as the chair of a development committee (and if not you can read it by clicking here). I didn’t speak to the challenges of strengthening the committee, but looking back, I should I have.  I was like other development volunteers that lead a committee, I sometimes found it easier to do it myself and then was surprised when people didn’t feel like it was a “real” committee. What would I have done differently? What can you do?

  1. When encouraging fellow board members to join the fundraising and development committee clearly explain that asking others for a donation is part of the committee, but helping do the work to get to that point is equally important if it allows the solicitor to do more asks.Working with volunteers has its challenges and time constraints–jobs, family life, hobbies, and other board commitments all compete.  You can divide the work of prospect research, prioritizing prospects for the year, collecting relevant information on each prospect, the solicitation, and stewardship.  The solicitor will still have to make the calls, find a time and place, have the meeting and make the ask, but that is just one piece of the development committee’s work.
  2. Follow through by asking each member of the fundraising and development committee to participate on a regular basis. If you stop asking for help, each member will spend their time elsewhere and be too busy by the time you get around to calling them.At the next meeting ask everyone to list what they have done for the committee in the past (if anything), what they hope to work on, and what they would like to avoid. Then, strategize to use each person effectively.  If one person doesn’t like to come to meetings but will do research from home, he/she can still be valuable to the committee.
  3. Hold regular meetings. It will ensure that everyone knows they are still on the committee, that they have a responsibility to do their work by a deadline, and that the chair is not taking the work on by themselves.
  4. Have clearly defined goals that are achievable. That means choosing whether you are going to focus on new donors, donor retention, increased giving from current donors, events, etc… Don’t try to do it all so that you won’t lose focus and fail at most of it.
  5. Stay optimistic. Donors and committee members both respond to optimism.  If you don’t feel it, fake it until you make it.

The good thing about committees is that every year is a new opportunity to be stronger and better.  Make 2017 the start that you were looking for.

Read Chapter 1: How do you improve your solicitation, acknowledgement, and stewardship systems?

Read how this series started by clicking here

Read Chapter 3: Additional Staff Support






What Your Pop-Up Nonprofit Nominating and Governance Committee Will Miss

Or, turning that around, why YOU need a standing nonprofit nominating and governance committee

nominating and governance committeeMany nonprofits create pop-up/ adhoc nominating (or nominating and governance committees) committees a month or two before they have their annual meeting to determine new board members. And while this is a common practice – this is NOT Best Practice. In fact, it’s bare minimum practice.

Best Practice is to create a combined a standing committee that focuses on nominations, governance, and leadership development. A group that will focus on finding and recommending potential board members as well as overseeing and evaluating the board and its efficacy.

What are the roles and responsibilities of a year-round Nominating and Governance Committee (often called a Governance and Leadership Development Committee)?

  1. Help identify prospective board members.
  2. Research, assess and recommend ideal candidates
  3. Oversee the board and its committees’ assessment of the:
    1. composition,
    2. size,
    3. structure,
    4. effectiveness, and
    5. performance.
  4. Oversee an annual self-evaluation process to determine whether:
    1. The organization is fulfilling its mission
    2. The mission and vision are still representative of the organization and the space in which the organization works.
    3. Collect suggestions and recommendations of board members and consider which ideas should be acted upon.
  5. Provide regular updates to the board
  6. Consider whether the organization is serving its purpose according to the by-laws.

This is, of course, the briefest of overviews, but it shows the elements that are crucial to ensuring a nonprofit fulfills its mission and vision – with a strong set of board members – each and every year.

Interested in more information on Nonprofit Committees?  Consider reading:

Assuring the Best in Nonprofit Management: The Committee on Governance and Leadership Development
The Fundraising Committee Experience

To learn more how Mersky, Jaffe & Associates can help your nonprofit’s nominating and governance committee or Board? Click here

For a more personalized assessment of your nonprofit and how Mersky, Jaffe & Associates can strengthen your board and its committees – call us at 800.361.8689 or email us by clicking here

New Donors vs. SYBUNTs

Abigail Harmon - Head of the Fundraising Committee

The Fundraising Committee Experience, Month 2

Last month I started a series entitled, “The Fundraising Committee Experience.” I gave an overview of my new role as head of the fundraising committee for my town’s education foundation, NEF. Most of the feedback I received was positive, but I did hear a few questions about why we chose to focus on new donors vs. SYBUNTs or LYBUNTs. In fact, I had to defend our decision to my boss.

This month, I will explain a bit about how we came to that conclusion.

In 9 out of 10, if not 96 out of a 100 cases, raising additional funds should focus on donors who have previously given to your organization but have not yet reinvested– the LYBUNTs and SYBUNTs. From stewarding donors into larger, more meaningful gifts to assessing why donors have not renewed the gifts – the field is ripe with fruit waiting to be noticed and picked. It is the logical place to start.

But, what if there has not been a multi-step plan to attract new donors for some time? We are an organization that organically touches more than 400 new students each year (I read that as 400 students with families whose lives are going to be enriched for the next 13+ years by the organization). But, there is limited awareness of the organization and its value to the community and its schools. Our future depends on increasing our donor base – now and on a continual basis. So, we think our education foundation may be the exception, and not the rule.
That is not to say we will be eliminating stewardship of current donors. Stewardship should always, always, always be a part of a nonprofit’s fundraising effort. But, it is just not one of our three new areas of focus for this year.

But, each nonprofit has to consider their own fundraising circumstances. We (those of us at Mersky, Jaffe & Associates) may have years and years of experience, but each consultation is unique. There is no cookie cutter approach to increase donations, just a bit of analyzing and a lot of hard work. Now, we will have to determine the best ways to attract new donors to NEF.

Read The Fundraising Committee Experience

Read other articles on committees

Read other articles about fundraising

The Fundraising Committee Experience

Abigail Harmon - head of the fundraising committeeLast week I took the helm as the head of the fundraising committee of a nonprofit board on which I serve. That makes it sound like a much bigger deal than it is, but as I sat down last week with 4 of the 5 committee members and 1 staff person, I thought that this was the start of a new chapter for me. And, with permission from the co-presidents of the board, perhaps, you could learn along with me.

The Board

I have served as one of 39 board members on the Needham Education Foundation for one year. The organization is celebrating 25 years this winter and that translates to 25 years of providing our town with additional resources for the school system. Funding ranges from author visits, performance art and iPad pilot programs to a new technology lab and an innovative interdisciplinary learning initiative in the high school.

But enough bragging. From a fundraising point of view, it means we have to continue to raise money in order to continue granting out money at the same pace. And did I mention fundraising has been down slightly in the past couple of years?

Our First Steps

I am lucky to have other development professionals (as well as successful volunteer fundraisers) on the committee. We started by looking at our current practices. Even a long-standing, strong organization can let best practices fall away over time.

  • Set a fundraising goal. Study after study has shown that writing down goals helps us achieve those goals (this is not a just in fundraising). Instead of using previous years as a vague ideal, we wrote down a goal (close to the fundraising high of 2011-2012) and then listed ideas on how we would get there.
  • 100% board participation. This may not get us much closer to our fundraising goal but it seems an obvious place to start. I think this was probably overlooked because we never applied to other foundations for funding; money was raised through individual and corporate giving, a large spelling bee fundraiser and strong financial investments. It is a working board that includes teacher representatives – should teachers have to give? We don’t know how they, or many of the board members, feel about donating because we never asked them. Bottom line? Best practices say that if the board doesn’t feel like this is a good investment of their own money – why would anyone else?
  • Find New Donors. Residents with public school children can personally reap the benefits of the organization for all thirteen years of each child’s experience in the school system. But, as a group of 6, we realized that even we were unaware of how many dynamic elements of the current curriculum were started as NEF grants. Will a brochure mailed to the town help us reach more families? What else would help us gain exposure?     *** Please note that in 90% (or more) of nonprofits, the best place to start is with current and former donors. Look for more details of why we made this choice in a future article.

First steps, are, just that. We brainstormed a lot of ideas but these are the first we are acting upon. Stay tuned for future updates.

Thank you to the NEF for allowing me to share this with the MJA learning community. If you would like to learn more about the NEF including how to donate, please visit us at http://www.nefneedham.org

For more learning on nonprofit committees consider reading one of these articles:
Assuring the Best in Nonprofit Management: The Committee on Governance and Leadership Development
Assessing the Current Makeup of Your Nonprofit Board
Nonprofit Finance Committee 101