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ISAE Blog

1 + 1 = 3: Helping Your Board with Its Fiduciary Responsibility

Posted by Kathy Finley, CAE on Feb 28, 2018 8:00:00 AM

When most board members see an organization’s financial statements, their eyes glaze over. However, one of the major duties of a board is a fiduciary one. According to Jeremy Barlow in his blog, “Non-Profit Legal Responsibilities,” on Board Effect (August 12, 2016), a “non-profit board oversees the organization’s assets and makes sure that the non-profit is on sound financial footing.” This is part of the board’s duty of care, and should not be taken lightly.

How many times have we heard that an organization has been defrauded because the leaders are unaware of the finances of the organization, or that the organization is close to closing because it doesn’t have enough funds to operate (a situation probably ongoing for years)?

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Topics: Association Management, Association Executives, tips, strategy, Nonprofit Boards, Leadership, Board of Directors, Finance

Stanford Survey: The Good, Bad and Ugly of Nonprofit Boards

Posted by Leslie Murphy, FASAE, CAE on Jul 29, 2015 12:00:00 PM

As someone who has collaborated and consulted with hundreds of nonprofit board members over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working with some truly great ones.

But I’ve also encountered some who had trouble hitting their stride. It wasn’t that they didn’t care about their organization’s mission or their obligations as a board member—rather, they simply didn’t have access to the needed skills or experience to truly make an impact.

The Stanford University Graduate School of Business recently released its 2015 report summarizing survey data from 924 directors of nonprofit organizations. What does the data reveal? Most boards could make substantial improvements. Here are two key takeaways.

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Topics: Board of Directors, Leadership, Nonprofit Boards

What's in Your Leadership Toolbox?

Posted by Jay Dziwlik, MBA, CAE on Mar 25, 2015 12:00:00 PM

Years ago, as I was working through my MBA program, in each class I took I found one great takeaway or tool to put away. If you visited my office today you would see a binder on my shelf labeled “MBA Toolbox.” In my not-for-profit association world, I use and add to it regularly. I really need to get around to relabeling it as my “Leadership Toolbox.” Here are some of my favorite tools I have gathered over the years.

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Topics: Board of Directors, Leadership, Association Executives

Board Onboard

Posted by Jay Dziwlik, MBA, CAE on Mar 18, 2015 12:00:00 PM

Wait for it, wait for it…there it is—new leadership. Leader changeover is ongoing but if your organization is anything like mine, the number and type of new leaders is growing as social demographic changes naturally occur. As long time current baby boomer leaders move out, the need for orienting and onboarding new leaders becomes critical. This week instead of my musings I thought it better to ask our peers for one piece of advice: “What is the one tip you suggest to onboard new board members and officers?”

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Topics: Board of Directors, Leadership, Association Executives

Ask the Exec: 5 Questions for Mark McSweeney, CAE

Posted by Shelly Pfenninger on Apr 16, 2014 4:30:00 PM

The association world is full of talented professionals, of which many hold years of experience managing associations. Over the next few weeks, you will see a blog series titled “ask the exec” where we ask executive directors questions about what they’ve learned throughout their careers and where they see the future of association management. 

To start us off, we had five questions answered by Mark McSweeney, CAE, an association professional with over 20 years experience.

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Topics: blog, Board of Directors, Success, Leadership

Evolving the Strategic Plan Process: Part 1 – Assemble the Right People to Design the Purpose that Inspires Your Plan

Posted by Tim Reuter on May 22, 2013 11:12:00 AM

Earlier this year, I organized and led a visioning retreat that included about 30 stakeholders and association leaders across an industry.  Our objective was clear – determine the optimal state for the industry movement, a vision for the future, and three to five aspirations to inform stakeholders at all levels about how they can contribute to a better future.  Simple, right?

Halfway through our retreat, someone asked, “Will you define or clarify what you mean by the movement? I don’t understand what it is.  This makes it difficult to envision its future, much less think about the aspirations that support it.”  This led to a wonderfully generative dialogue; however, the initial question about defining the movement has challenged my thinking about the strategic planning process ever since.

Coincidentally at this time, I was reading Change by Design by Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO.  His wonderful thinking and insight further challenged my thoughts following the retreat.  This, combined with a lot of other thinking and literature out there, helped inform some ideas on how to (re)approach the strategic planning experience.  The trick is to not only re-think how we design the process (and its purpose), but also, and more importantly, who is involved.

Simply put, we need to engage the right team of individuals to design the purpose that will inspire the strategic plan.  How do we go about (re)designing purpose, and who might be involved?

In his book, Tim Brown talks about the importance of “interdisciplinary teams” that have “T-Shaped people with diverse backgrounds and a multiplicity of disciplines.”   Since we are examining purpose design as part one of a strategic planning process, an interdisciplinary team could look like this (if they are T-Shaped people):

  • One or two staff members,  including the Association Executive (organization expert and believer)
  • One board member or committee chair (content expert and organization believer)
  • One or two informed stakeholders who are passionate about the industry/organization (environment experts and industry believer)
  • One or two “design thinkers” who could be from the outside but are passionate about contributing to new ways of thinking (innovative thinking experts and purpose believer)
  • One consultant to facilitate the creative process (process expert and purpose/organization believer)

The above make-up of multifaceted individuals creates an interdisciplinary team whose sole purpose is to explore what compels us to go somewhere (motivation) and design who or what the organization aspires to become (purpose).  This group does not create the strategic plan or even begin to focus on what objectives will bring it to life; they simply collaborate to design and articulate the organization’s vision

for what it could/should be.  It is also more realistic to accomplish this agenda with five to eight people, as opposed to 30 (especially if you get into defining gray areas, like “what movement means”).

Once this process is complete, the leadership has something to share with the full board, staff, members, stakeholders, volunteers, etc. for feedback.  Building the momentum through stakeholders is especially important for member and relationship-based organizations.  Momentum is not enough, which is why the nature of velocity – the speed at which the organization is moving forward, creating and operationalizing its plan, and achieving its aspirations – comes into play.

We will explore velocity and a new approach for the strategic planning process in Part 2 of this blog series.  First, though, we need to assemble the right people to design your purpose.

About Tim Reuter

Tim is a learning experience and organizational success architect. He is passionately committed to the process of lasting change and transforming individuals and organizations through intentional learning and innovative strategy. After the better part of a decade fueling his passion in the nonprofit sector, Tim jumped at the chance to impact people and organizations on a broader scale and co-founded Growth Guiders. His proactive, collaborative, and “design with the end in mind” approach is informed by his background in nonprofit management, curriculum design, governance, organizational change, experiential learning, collaborative design thinking, and research/assessment. Tim volunteers on center and association boards and committees in the areas of higher education, fraternal organizations, and training/development. Tim’s nonprofit experience includes nine years at an international nonprofit, where he led the design, implementation and administration of its organizational change initiative. Tim led the creation of more than a dozen member development, leadership and training programs for organization members and volunteers at the local, regional, and international levels. Almost all of these programs are still in use today. Additionally, he led research and assessment efforts to measure the impact of the initiative at the individual member and organizational levels. Through his research, Tim empirically proved that a values-based member experience, combined with a developmental learning model, can positively impact the psychological maturation of college men, reduce the frequency of alcohol-related incidents, and increase organizational performance in the areas of member recruitment, retention, involvement, and academic performance. His article “A Values-Based Learning Model to Impact Maturational Change: The College Fraternity as Developmental Crucible” was recently published in Oracle, a peer-review journal. Tim has worked with more than 8,500 college students and student affairs professionals on more than 130 college campuses. He has also led training programs for national associations and collaboratively designed and led organizational development strategies for professional organizations. Tim’s experiences have afforded him the opportunity to lead strategy sessions and training programs for groups as small as five and presentations for audiences as large as 1,000. His system-level thinking always returns to how we can help the organization (sum of parts) succeed through the education, training, alignment and development of its stakeholders. Tim received his Bachelor’s degree from Simpson College (IA) and a Master of Public Affairs from Indiana University’s School for Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA-IUPUI). While in SPEA, he was granted a specialized concentration in Governance & Organizational Change and received certificates in public management and negotiation and dispute resolution. As a result of his professional experience and work within SPEA, he was asked to collaborate on an evaluation of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission’s (OSHRC) dispute resolution processes. He co-authored the report recently accepted and published by OSHRC that makes several policy recommendations to improve the efficiency and efficacy of various dispute resolution programs at the agency.
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Topics: Association, Board of Directors

Choosing the Next Executive- Preview Blog

Posted by Sarah Rosenberger on Apr 19, 2013 11:03:00 AM

Choosing an association’s next executive is one of the most important decisions that a Board of Directors will make. If you are the outgoing executive, you may not (and probably should not) have a say in who will be the next executive. However, you can make it easier for your board to hire the next executive if you develop a succession plan. Recently, Mark Graham of CEO Update has noted that CEO turnover is accelerating. The recession is slowly lifting and some executives are retiring after delaying the process for a few years. Given that more executives may now be leaving their jobs, an organization needs to be prepared to hire a new executive.

A good succession plan will outline a process for choosing a new executive. It will outline who will serve as interim, whether that interim is internal or external, whether a search firm will be employed to help with the search and who among the board members will serve on the search committee. If an outside interim or search firm is the method by which a new executive will be chosen, then some suggestions for names of firms will be outlined in the document. Also, the manual should really be an operations guide for the organization and include information and time lines on various aspects of the association.

Especially with the loss of a long-term executive, it is important that the organization take time to re-evaluate or update its strategic plan and look strategically at what type of leader is needed for the organization given the phase of the organization. For example, is the organization in a period of restructuring and does it need someone who is able to be a turnaround specialist? Or has the organization been doing well but needs a new bold direction and therefore is looking for a visionary? Hiring a new executive should be viewed as an opportunity to move the organization forward and in a new direction.

Here are some suggestions for having a more successful search:

  1. Don’t rush the search. This is the most important decision an organization will make and if the wrong leader is chosen it can be the most costly mistake that an organization can make. Not only will there be costs associated with redoing a search, but there are also many opportunity costs.
  2. It is best to hire an outside interim so the organization can take time to re-evaluate its strategic plan and determine the best type of leader for the organization. Hiring an internal interim for any more than a few months can be extremely detrimental even if that person chooses not to be considered for the job. When a new executive comes in, you may lose a very good staff member. Or if the internal interim applies for the executive director position and does not get it, he or she may leave.
  3. Try and avoid hiring someone in the industry, profession and field. Hire someone with association management experience. It is a bonus if someone knows the industry and is an association executive but there is plenty of expertise about the industry, profession or field on the board and among other volunteers. Encourage the board to search for someone with a CAE.
  4. It may be beneficial to hire a search firm to conduct the search. They can, however, help the search committee navigate many human resource issues and can be invaluable in helping interview candidates and determine if the candidates really are qualified to do the tasks at hand. However, interview the search firms carefully and make sure the one you choose is the right fit for the organization and understands the nonprofit sector. Avoid search firms that use their list of possible candidates for the position without advertising for it. There are plenty of places to advertise the position including in CEO Opportunities, with the local association executive society (like ISAE) and with ASAE.
  5. A search firm can also help you develop an employment agreement for the new CEO.
  6. Avoid hiring either a clone of the current executive or the exact opposite. Again, take stock of where the organization is and what is needed in that point of the organization’s history.
  7. Re-examine the job description for the executive director and determine if it needs to be changed. Determine what skills are most important and hire accordingly.
  8. After hiring the new executive, you might think about hiring a coach or having the interim stay on for a month or so the new executive becomes acquainted with the staff and all the organization’s procedures and programs. Also, it is helpful to have a committee of the board work with the executive to better understand the culture and various relationships of the organization.

For further reading:

Allison M. Into the fire: boards and executive transition. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, (12(4), 2002), 341-51.

Cook, J. Where to find your next executive. Associations Now (November 2011).

Elder-Van Hook, J. How to welcome your new executive. Associations Now (April 2011).

Finley, K. M. What’s wrong with executive succession in associations? Journal of Association Leadership (Spring 2009), 50-73.

Hinden, D. R. and Hull, P. Executive leadership transition: what we know. The Nonprofit Quarterly (Winter 2002), 24-29.

Johnson, E.M., Five musts for employment agreements. Associations Now (December 2012).

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Topics: Association, Board of Directors

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