Defining the Board’s Role in Strategic Planning

As we work with nonprofit organizations around the country, we are reminded again and again that the people sitting around the board table have the capacity to be the sail that helps drive an organization forward, or the anchor that holds it back. The manner in which the board of directors engages in the strategic planning process has significant implications for how the organization moves into the future. The question, of course, is how to steer individual board members, the board as a whole, and ultimately the organization, in the right direction?

The consulting team at iBossWell is deeply engaged in the Nonprofit Center for Excellence (NPCE), a community of practice sponsored by the Association for Strategic Planning. Denise McNerney is an ASP board member and NPCE chair. Lynne Brown plans, promotes, and has facilitated First Mondays, the monthly “community conversation” hosted by the Nonprofit Center. Each month, nonprofit strategy leaders and managers from around the world log into an open forum and take on a different topic about strategy creation and implementation in the nonprofit sector.

On May 1st, 4:00-5:00 pm US Eastern Time, the group will be exploring the board engagement conundrum. What is the appropriate role of the board in nonprofit strategic planning, and what are some effective practices for guiding that engagement?

Among the questions we’ll be discussing:

• The Carver Model of board governance suggests that boards are responsible for setting the strategic direction of a nonprofit organization, and staff is responsible for implementing that direction. Do you agree? Should staff have a role in defining this direction? Why or why not? What do you do if board and staff have differing visions of the future and how the organization should get there?

• In his book, “The Strategic Board” one of the “realities” author Mark Light points out is the limited amount of time most board members have to devote to their board work (20 hours/year vs. 2080 hours/year a full-time staff member spends.) Given this reality, what is the best use of the board’s time in relation to strategic planning? How have you engaged board members in the planning process?

• Many nonprofits, and many nonprofit board members, have no or limited experience with strategic planning. What should they consider before starting the process? What resources or tools might be helpful to them?

We invite you to add your voice to the discussion. First Mondays forums are open to all. Participation is free, but registration is required to attend. Learn more about the Nonprofit Center for Excellence and the First Mondays events here.

Who Are We? The Nonprofit vs. Community Benefit Organization Debate

As we work with clients on the development of strategic plans, or toward building stronger, more effective leaders, teams and boards, we are constantly reminded of the impact language has on how an organizations’ purpose and intention are perceived. Lately we’ve been wondering, if this is true for our clients, is it also true for the sector we work in? What implications does the term “nonprofit” have on how the clients we serve, and the work they do, is perceived?

Maybe it’s time for a change.

Focusing on Finance Not Mission?
It’s the end of the year and your nonprofit organization has finished with a surplus on the books. When you report the good news at the board meeting one of the board members pipes up, “Wait, we’re a nonprofit! We can’t have a surplus!” And thus begins another round of the age-old conversation about what a nonprofit is, what it does, and lastly, how it is financed. While we might roll our eyes, let’s be fair, you really can’t blame the board member. For a lot of people, the term “nonprofit” is confusing.

That reality is why a growing number of people advocate for changing what we call the nonprofit sector in general and charitable organizations in particular. Search online and you’ll find thoughtful and well-reasoned arguments for changing the phrase nonprofit sector to delta sector, (a reference to the Greek word for change), social sector, third sector, independent sector, even humanity sector. The discussion seems to have gained the greatest traction, however, around defining a new term for describing the organizations that make up this sector. An expanding chorus of voices suggests rather than focusing on the financial structure of these organizations—nonprofit—a better, more accurate description would express what these organizations do and why they exist—to deliver community benefit.

Change the Name, Clarify the Purpose
Hildy Gottlieb, a social scientist and co-founder of Creating the Future (an organization dedicated to engaging people around the world in asking questions that inspire catalytic thinking) has been an eloquent advocate for making this change in terminology. In a blog post first published in 2009, articles in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and in numerous speeches delivered around the country, Gottlieb has articulated six clear and thought-provoking reasons to make the switch from nonprofit to Community Benefit Organization:

1. Community Benefit says what these organizations are and why they exist. What’s more important? The financial means that allows organizations to do the work, or, the work they actually do?

2. The meaning of Community Benefit Organization is clear and straight-forward. There’s no question what a Community Benefit Organization is about: to make a positive impact on the life and well-being of the community.

3. The term Community Benefit Organization creates a strong, powerful self-image. Gottlieb suggests the term nonprofit puts organizations on the defensive. It creates a perception these organizations aren’t “really” businesses and can lead people to overlook the fact charitable organizations possess knowledge and skills critical to addressing issues and meeting need in their communities. The term Community Benefit Organization is an empowering message for staff and volunteers, and a potent reminder of the unique and valuable work they do in the community.

4. Community Benefit Organization is inclusive. The term nonprofit suggests that only those organizations with tax-exempt status do good for the world. That discounts the growing number of for profit businesses that are incorporating nonprofit components into their work. Community Benefit invites all organizations to the table to join the effort to build better, stronger communities.

5. Community Benefit Organization provides direct marching orders to the Board: Focus on providing benefit! The essence of the board’s role is to be the eyes and ears of the community, to ensure that the organization’s programs are relevant and impactful, and that the mission is being fulfilled. Identifying as a Community Benefit Organization keeps everyone’s “eyes on the prize.”

6. The phrase Community Benefit is a promise. Gottlieb asks: “What is the highest priority outcome of the work these organizations do? Is it a vow to never make a profit? Or, is it a promise to provide benefit to their communities, now and into the future?” For her, the answer is clear. If that’s your promise, it should be your name.

Not so Fast! Embrace the Nonprofit Label
While Gottlieb advocates for change, Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, champions the opposite position: We should embrace the word nonprofit, not change it. In a blog post on the Center for Effective Philanthropy website, Buchanan argues that the very “nonprofitness” of nonprofits is what enables them to play the essential role they do in transforming lives and communities. Society needs, and benefits from, organizations that pursue a mission, not a profit. Nonprofitness, Buchanan says, matters, and it is time the sector stopped apologizing and started wearing the nonprofit label proudly.

What do you think? Nonprofit or Community Benefit Organization?
Is it time for a change or should we stick with the tried and true? Should we embrace the nonprofit name or encourage a switch to the term Community Benefit Organization? We’re interested in hearing your opinion on the subject. Follow this link to cast your vote for “Nonprofit” or “Community Benefit Organization.” You’ll be able to see immediate results to learn how other readers see this issue. We’ll report the results in a future post.

There’s Still Time! High Impact Board Workshops

Every nonprofit leader, and every board chair and member, wants to serve on or be supported by a board that is passionate about the mission and impactful in its work. The question is how do you create one? You begin by attending one of the High Impact Board Workshops the iBossWell team is presenting in conjunction with Nonprofit Connect in Kansas City. There are a few seats available for our session with staff leaders on April 6. We’ll be presenting a repeat session targeted to board leaders on April 27. Visit the Nonprofit Connect website for details and to register.

GuideStar’s New Nonprofit Reporting. Game = Changed.

GuideStar just changed the game on nonprofit outcome/results reporting with the introduction of a new format for organization profiles. The profiles continue to include basic summary information about an organization, now though, the 7 million users who go to the GuideStar site annually will also have the opportunity to review three additional categories of information: Programs & Results, Operations and Finances. Note what comes first.

Read the article we authored for The Strategic Edge, the monthly e-newsletter published by the Association for Strategic Planning, to learn more about what has changed and what it mean for your organization.

The Impact of Results Reporting on NP Fund Development

Results reporting is no longer something nonprofits can just talk about. If Charity Navigator, Board Source, and other leading voices in the sector are successful, charitable giving will increasingly be directed to those organizations that can demonstrate they are having a meaningful impact on the communities and people they serve. Read more about it in my article in the September Issue of The Strategic Edge.

Congratulations JCHED Accredited

Congratulations JCHED Accredited

We are delighted to congratulate Johnson County Health & Environment Department (JCHED) for gaining national accreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB). Receiving PHAB Accreditation is fantastic! PHAB reports that “44 public health departments have achieved national accreditation as of June 18, 2014…” and that is out of the thousands of HD’s across the country. We are proud to have played a piece of the support role in serving as JCHED’s consultant in strategic plan & implementation development and ongoing implementation tracking. The following is a direct quote from their site visit report:

“JCDHE in some ways may have a model performance management system. Based on its strategic plan, performance measures were developed, a monitoring system was created, and a structural system for reviewing the data and discussions for improvement occurs.”

This was referring to both the WePlanWell® system as well as their ongoing policy and practice of quarterly plan assessment reviews and reporting.
As you can imagine, we were all pretty excited about this! To read more on JCHED news, click here.

(Koff, Koff) A WePlanWell Humblebrag

(Koff, Koff) A WePlanWell Humblebrag

We love it when the work we do with clients results in them receiving positive recognition. The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, based in Olathe, Kansas recently received high praise from the national Public Health Accreditation Board’s Site Visit Team. These intensive site visits, conducted by experts in the public health field, are an essential step in the accreditation process and, let’s be honest, they’re a little nerve-wracking. So, a positive report is a good thing. One that hands out compliments is even better! Here’s what the team said:

“JCDHE in some ways may have a model performance management system. Based on its strategic plan, performance measures were developed, a monitoring system was created, and a structural system for reviewing the data and discussions for improvement occurs.”

Well! And what is the plan monitoring system JCDHE is using? Yes, it is indeed WePlanWell® and the routine periodic assessment and reporting process they have implemented for ongoing plan oversight.

We couldn’t agree more. WePlanWell® is a model for a simple, yet effective method of assessing and reporting on strategic plan progress, not just for health departments, but for nonprofit and government organizations of all sizes.

What model are you using? Let us show you how WePlanWell® can help you take your organization to new levels of strategic plan success. Visit www.weplanwell.com to learn more.

Join us at ASP on 5/13 for Program Assessment: Preparing for Strategic Decision Making and Direction Setting

Join us at ASP on 5/13 for Program Assessment: Preparing for Strategic Decision Making and Direction Setting

Join us for “Program Assessment: Preparing for Strategic Decision-Making and Direction Setting” Tuesday, May 13, 2:15pm PDT, at the Association for Strategic Planning national conference – Long Beach, CA – there’s still time to register! In this conversation we will review practices regarding program assessment that successful NPOs across the country use to prepare for strategic planning and will introduce two high impact program assessment tools.

Learn more about how the work you do to prepare for strategic planning can dictate how successful both plan development AND implementation will be. The key to strategic decision-making and direction-setting is considering and comparing sustainability of all programs, including which ones to expand, reduce, stop and/or start.

Strategic Planning Matters. Here’s the Proof.

Strategic Planning Matters. Here’s the Proof.

The Association for Strategic Planning suggests there’s a reason successful organizations are successful–it has little to do with size and EVERYTHING to do with how well they create, and even more importantly implement, a strategic plan.

In a nutshell, the survey suggests there’s a reason successful organizations are successful–it has little to do with size and EVERYTHING to do with how well they create, and even more importantly implement, a strategic plan.

Strategic Planning Practices Result in Higher Performing Nonprofits

Sponsored by Association for Strategic Planning and the University of Arkansas, Department of Political Science. Presented by Denise McNerney (iBossWell, Inc.), Dominic Perri (Essential Conversations Group) and Margaret Reid (University of Arkansas) at Annual Meeting of the Association for Strategic Planning – Atlanta GA April 23, 2013. Full Survey

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