Monday, November 30, 2009

Don't fail to plan... Follow the process!

This is an incredible time right now for my agency. I am leading my team through a strategic planning process. I always include senior management in this process because executive leadership sets the tone for the entire corporation and I want this tone to be one of excitement and enthusiasm about increasing the prosperity of the Oil Region.

We have begun our strategic planning process with a strategic vision or a description of what will be when we have achieved our goals and objectives. The vision is communicated in our strategic plan through our mission and vision statements. It is extremely important to me that the staff clearly understand and believe in our mission and can see the vision. This can only happen if it is communicated and modeled by the senior staff. A highly desirable characteristic of any successful CEO is their ability to clearly see the strategic vision along with an incredible passion for the agency and the ability to excite and influence those around them to dare to believe too!

The next few steps have included sharing of an overall corporate plan and asking our business units – economic development, tourism, heritage preservation, and finance and administration to propose strategic plans for themselves that fit into the overall corporate plan. This includes a complete SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis of each unit. They must carefully look at the internal strengths and weaknesses of the unit to achieve the overall corporate mission and vision and external opportunities and threats for job creation and investment, tourist spending, and heritage preservation.

This is a long and time consuming process because it is the CEO’s responsibility alone to evaluate the unit plans and provide the appropriate feedback. Each unit must justify its proposed objectives, strategies, and programs in terms of how well they satisfy the agency’s overall objectives in light of the available resources. Please share with me your unique experience in strategic planning for your agency!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Is your agency having closed door meetings? Well, they should!

This week I want to discuss the concept of “executive sessions.” Executive sessions are not to be confused with executive committee meetings. An executive committee meeting is a standing committee of the board and an executive session is an exclusive meeting of the whole board behind closed doors. That’s right. It is an exclusive meeting behind closed doors. That means – no staff, no guests, and often no CEO.

Chief executives sometimes feel threatened by closed meetings from which they are excluded. There is no meeting that can create more anxiety, suspicion, and overall sense of secrecy than the executive session! But, every board should use executive sessions. Often, there arises, certain situations where the presence of staff, including the CEO may hinder open deliberations. Every board has the right to meet without outsiders in the room to discuss confidential matters that must be handled in privacy. And, that should not worry, offend, or cause anxiety with anyone, especially not the CEO.

Now, there are very specific rules for how a board should use executive sessions and the organizational by-laws and policies will determine how to proceed. The chair is usually responsible for calling these sessions, but any board member can request one. Executive sessions should always be scheduled appropriately. Executive sessions should not be used for any of the following reasons: to avoid discussing tough issues in an open meeting; to dodge responsibility; to restrict any board member’s access to information or to purposefully create a secret society like atmosphere. The agenda should clearly state the purpose of the session and a regular meeting should always be scheduled immediately following an executive session. The minutes of the regular board meeting should indicate that the board went into executive session; the time they went in and the time they came out. There should also be a record of who was present, and a description of any action that was taken.

Executive sessions should NOT be a source of anxiety for the CEO. Executive sessions are a necessary tool for board governance and should be embraced by the chief executive. A wonderful way to eliminate fear and anxiety is for the chair to meet with the CEO prior to and after an executive session to get professional advice from the CEO about what is going to be discussed and why certain action is going to be taken. This allows the chief executive to be involved without actually attending the meeting. Please share with me your experience with executive sessions and how they made you feel?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Is Your Boardroom Civil?

This week I want to talk about UNDERSTANDING and ACCEPTANCE of others’ opinions. I am not suggesting that you abandon your point of view, but rather that you understand, accept, and respect that other people have their own unique perspective too. In fact, I want to encourage you to adopt the philosophy that differing opinions are something to be treasured, valued, and encouraged.

I know that this can often be hard when you are passionate about your point of view, but you must try to let your peers express their opinions, no matter how different they may seem from yours. I can relate to this personally because I am so passionate about the work that I do that I often allow my emotions to take over and block out others’ opinions which are also equally very important to the mission of the agency.

Spirited debate is healthy because it is a way to ensure that decisions are being made through the evaluation of ALL the information available to help make that decision. However, it becomes unhealthy for an organization when the emotions are directed at a person rather than an issue. This type of private wrangling can divert the focus away from the mission. The chair should be very careful to look for signs that the discussion may be getting out of hand and take the proper steps to regain control. Improper language and verbal insults should be stopped immediately. Disagreeing with someone’s comments is perfectly normal, but inappropriate behavior should not be accepted.

Lastly, I have never experienced this, but racist and other comments, intolerance of others’ personal convictions, and impugning the motives of others is also unacceptable. Whether the comments are intentional or out of ignorance they should be addressed immediately and the board, at this point, may want to consider diversity training.

Here are some suggested tips on keeping the meetings civil:
1. Arrive on time
2. Come prepared
3. Know the ground rules of the meeting
4. Don’t be judgmental
5. Talk about issues, not people
6. Allow other people to speak too
7. Ask questions
8. Talk about issues at the meeting not in the parking lot after
9. Disclose any conflict of interest

Remember these tips and be respectful of others and you will become a valuable resource for a nonprofit organization in need of your expertise. Please share with me your thoughts on boardroom civility?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Are you making your volunteer board work too hard?

This week’s blog is a salute to the superstar volunteers of the board that serve as committee members or members of a special task force.

The real work of the board is done through committees and/or through special task forces. Committees and task forces are made up of talented people that collect, analyze, and study data and information on issues and opportunities and then report their findings along with their recommendations to the board for a specific action. This process could be quite detailed and rather daunting and time consuming. But, without committees and task forces board meetings would take many hours and volunteers would be severely overworked. The truth of the matter is that every board meeting needs to be carefully conducted to where every minute is spent on the approval of actions that advance the mission of the organization and if committee work had to be done in the board room no action would ever be taken!

Therefore, do your board a favor and help them govern better by empowering committees and task forces to perform all of the legwork required for a board to be truly effective. Your board meetings will be more productive because more decisions will be made and less time will be spent sitting at the board table because the committees and task forces will have done the homework and provided the board with all of the necessary information to make the right decisions.

So, how do you get started? First, it is important to know the difference between a committee and a task force. So, here they are:

• Committees, sometimes called standing committees, are a permanent part of the board structure and generally are stipulated and formed through the authority of the agency’s bylaws (i.e. Executive Committee, Budget & Finance Committee, etc.).

• A task force is usually temporary and is only formed on an as-needed basis often to research a particular issue for later recommendation and possible debate by the board. This allows greater flexibility in the work that the board must do to govern.

Just like full board meetings, committees and task force groups work best if the chair or facilitator is experienced. There are no legal requirements to determine how a committee or task force should function so the chair will often decide how formal these meetings need to be. Obviously the chair should be well trained and experienced enough to ensure that there is enough involvement by all members so that they can produce positive results. In addition, these meetings don’t necessarily require that any formal minutes be taken but at the very least someone should make note of the agenda topics and important group decisions made along the way.

The main goal and objective of a committee or task force is to research, analyze, and study a topic or issue with the intent to make a full recommendation to the board of directors. This process should be taken seriously and the committee or task force should be given adequate time to come to a conclusion. This may require the use of professionals or other organizations specially trained to help. Once complete, the committee or task force will provide the board, normally through a written or oral report, enough relevant information to make an intelligent decision and to take action that will bind the agency. The board must, therefore, trust that the committee or task force has studied all of the necessary details and their report is a comprehensive account of the results.

So, to all of you volunteer committee and task force members out there… Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to the mission of the nonprofit agency you so faithfully serve. It is your hard work and due diligence that allows the agency, through its board of directors to make the necessary decisions that help them to govern so well.

Are you using your committees and task forces? Or, are you overworking your board? Please share with me your experience with committee and task force work and how you use them to advance your mission?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Who is really running your board meetings?

This week I want to focus on the role of the board chair and the importance of this position, particularly in relation to productive and successful board meetings. Obviously, the board chair plays a major role in leading the strategic direction and governance of a nonprofit agency. However, I am going to limit my discussion to the role that the board chair plays as the designated facilitator or leader of board meetings.

The board chair has a great burden to carry because the rest of the board expects the chair to be articulate, decisive, and in total control of board meetings at all times. The role of the board chair is to make sure that the agenda fits the meeting and that the meeting runs smoothly. This includes making sure, ahead of time, that board members come to meetings prepared and that they take their role, as board member, very seriously. The chair is also expected to have completed the necessary preparations for addressing the big issues of the meeting and has the skill to engage every member in the discussion. This may include taming the “wild ones” or encouraging the "quiet ones." The chair facilitates the proceedings, discussions, and is very careful to guard each person’s dignity should a debate arise. This skill demands a basic understanding of parliamentary procedure, even if the board does not always adhere to this structure strictly.

The chair’s primary function is to ensure that the objectives of the agenda are achieved. The chair is a master of flexibility and a great judge of whether discussion should continue or if it is best to keep to the schedule and send complex issues to committee for further study. In the event that all of the information has been presented and discussed the chair must be able to decide when it is time to vote. Or, if it is impossible to reach a consensus, the chair must decide to table an issue until additional data becomes available. In this case, the chair’s decisiveness and good judgment allows the meeting to proceed.

In conclusion, board meetings can be more productive if the board chair followed some basic principles:

• Own the agenda
• Get to know the personal attributes of individual board members
• Explain the personal philosophy of how meetings will be run
• Engage every board member during board meetings
• Control the domineering characters and bring the best out of difficult colleagues
• Remain objective and fair
• Become familiar with parliamentary procedures
• Earn the respect of peers
• Lighten up and use humor in the board room

The board meeting is a continuous cycle that keeps the board chair quite busy. The job of the board chair does not end with the adjournment of the meeting. It involves regular follow-up and planning with the CEO and a special commitment to the other members of the board and the job itself. Please share with me extraordinary stories about your dynamic board chair?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Are you hosting board meetings alone? Where are your board members?

This week we will continue to explore the dynamics of productive and successful board meetings.

A situation that plagues nonprofit boards from time to time is absenteeism. This is a troublesome problem that needs the CEO’s attention because if not addressed it could disrupt the business of governing the agency. The business of the agency requires a majority vote. If board members are constantly and consistently absent, you can see how this would cause quite a problem.

In order to be a contributing board member, it is important that you come to meetings prepared, but it is equally important that you also attend as many board meetings as humanly possible. The ideal situation is to not miss a single meeting. However; in a perfect world, business and life obligations make this nearly impossible, and that is definitely understandable! That is why most agency by-laws address absenteeism and allow for a certain number of excused absences. But; what do you do when a board member consistently exceeds the allowable number of excused absences?

Well, the first thing to do is determine whether you are dealing with a personal dilemma or whether a change in the meeting structure or logistics can help. The latter is difficult because a change in structure or meeting logistics may cause others to develop a problem with absenteeism too. Remember that every board member has value and it would be counterproductive to lump all excessively absent board members into the same proverbial basket. So; by addressing the origin of each individual situation, you can try to bring change. This is often best done by the Chair of the board.

Here are some ideas for eliminating absenteeism at your board meetings:

1. Address absenteeism during the new board member orientation and explain that attendance is obligatory
2. Spend board meeting time on issues that matter!
3. Give board members roles that are important
4. Listen to board members when obstacles for attendance appear
5. Have a formal policy outlining removal if absenteeism becomes a problem

Each board member has value and as the CEO of the agency it is your responsibility to see that you are maximizing each board member’s talents. If a board member is absent from more than three meetings it is important to listen to your board member’s reasons for missing those meetings and to help that board member remove obstacles that keep them from attending. Please share with me the unique ways that you have dealt with excessive board absenteeism?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Want to organize more productive board meetings? Read to find out how!

How long are your board meetings? Are they under an hour or over an hour? Do you get right down to business? Or, do you allow time for personal interaction?

The goal and objective of every board meeting should be to maximize the use of every one's valuable time. So, how do you find a balance between getting business done; personal interaction, and getting the meeting done in under an hour?

Let's explore some of the things that impact the length of a board meeting:

First, there is the agenda. The agenda is the key tool that will determine the length of the meeting. If you limit the agenda items, you will limit the length of your meeting.

Next, what is the meeting's purpose? The purpose of the meeting will also have an impact on time. For example, regularly scheduled board meetings may follow a regular pattern and may be over in an hour, where special meetings, depending on the issues discussed, could be quite long. Retreats and annual meetings can last a whole day or even an entire weekend.

Another factor that impacts the length of a board meeting is the skill and experience of the board chair. The chair must be skilled at keeping the discussion focused and at following the agenda, but is also responsible for getting everyone engaged. There must be a balance of shared ideas and productive conclusions. If there is too little participation the meeting may seem like a presentation from the board chair and if it becomes a lengthy session of endless comments it will appear like the chair has lost control.

Is staff getting the board materials to board members well before the meeting? Do board members come to the meetings well prepared? These are also factors that impact the length of your board meeting. When board members familiarize themselves with the agenda and supporting material ahead of time, meetings are faster and more productive.

Lastly, put your committees to work! Most of the legwork of the board should be done by committees and task forces. This allows the board to focus on what it does best: analyzing recommendations and determining the directives for critical issues.

Thank you to all of the volunteers of the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism! Volunteers are the backbone of every non profit agency. Help your board members help you by making their job easy. Place a very high value on their time and get them back to their office as quickly as possible!

Help me to organize better meetings. What techniques are you using to make your meetings more productive? Please share them with me?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why do you have weak relationships? It could be that you talk too much and listen too little!

Relationships are important in business and in life. The sale of a product or service, support from stakeholders, the launching of a new program, productivity from employees, pricing from vendors, understanding from a spouse, good behavior from a child - all of these situations, and more, require strong working relationships. And, it seems like the harder you work at building those relationships the better the intended outcome will be.

So, how do you develop stronger relationships with those people that are important to you? Well, the first way, and probably the most important way, is through communication. You see, what you communicate and how you communicate can affect your ability to deal with life's situations. Poor communication may lead to misunderstandings, distrust, and poor outcomes.

Many experts believe that there is a direct correlation between the quality of communication and the quality of the relationship. Communication is quite complex. You communicate with every movement and action, often without even knowing it. Remember, even silence can be a form of communication. You also should be mindful of tone, remembering that a hostile tone could damage a relationship.

To avoid poor communication always discuss matters with those involved even if you think it is not important. Husbands are always making decisions that affect the entire family without discussing the matter with their wives' - Big mistake! The boss is always making decisions that affect the whole company without discussing the matter with their employees' - Big Mistake! Companies are always making changes to products without discussing it with their customers' - Big Mistake! So, discuss the small stuff.

Also avoid, at all costs, communicating in only one direction. In other words avoid communication where you are just telling people something. Sometimes you talk so much that you discourage the other side from listening - Big mistake! For communication to be effective it must be two-way. Listening is essential to communication.

And, avoid sending mixed messages. Quality communication should be consistent. Sometimes what you tell one person might be different from what you tell the next person - Big mistake! Sometimes what you tell one customer about price or delivery time may be different from what you tell another customer about price and delivery time for the same product. Big mistake! Be consistent.

In conclusion, if you desire a stronger relationship, begin with communication. This is done best when you accept the other person as part of your team or family; have quality talk with them often and frequently; talk WITH them and not ABOUT them; listen intently and consult them often on decisions that you are going to make. And, if you remember this advice, your relationships will strengthen and your probability for success will increase significantly. Please share with me your ideas for building stronger relationships?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

And tell me... What do values have to do with business?

Visionary leaders and effective CEO's understand how important it is to establish and model good core values. These core values will ultimately help staff when they are faced with the challenge of making difficult decisions. For example, I have adopted the following 3 core values at the Oil Region Alliance of Business Industry & Tourism:

1. Integrity - "Say what you do." And, "do what you say!"

2. Honesty - Always tell the truth - Always!

3. Accountability - Be accountable for your actions - Admit when you're wrong!

So, for example, if you: "say what do" and then: "do what you say" you will maintain your integrity. If you always tell the truth, no matter how hard that may be, you will be known for your honesty. And, if you are accountable for your actions, and are willing to admit when you are wrong, then you will truly be accountable to the people you serve.

Therefore, organizations and their staff that adopt these core values can communicate without hesitation; can do what is right regardless of the circumstances, with no hidden agendas, no political games, and no regrets; never have to rationalize a situation as being an "isolated one-time event," because they know where their integrity boundaries exit; they never let results become more important than the means of obtaining those results and they know that how they win is just as important as the act of winning itself.

Adopting values is one of the most important choices that a CEO and an organization can make because these values, not only guide your actions, but they keep you on the path to long-term success. There is never, I repeat never, a good reason to sacrifice your values. In business, as well as life, people might forgive an error in judgment, but they will never trust an unscrupulous act. So, no matter what, choose to do the right thing, and guard your values as if they were precious gems. Please share with me your organizational or personal core values?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Want to gain true knowledge and achieve great success? Try failing for a change!

In our society the words fail, failing, or failure have become dirty nasty words that are only spoken in times of great ridicule and admonishment of ourselves or others. They are words that we try extremely hard to never use and rarely even to think about. As children we learn early on that failing is an unacceptable action or behavior. In business, the CEO may set new goals and objectives for the year and may state that "Failure is not an option!" In fact, we have become so conditioned to the fear of failure that we try to avoid new challenges at all costs just to avoid the possibility of failing.

So, why is it then, that success usually follows failure? Well, most successful people are the result of persisting beyond the limits of failure, and usually not one failure, but several. Thomas Edison failed at inventing the light bulb over 10,000 times before finally making it work. It is often through failures that we discover the route to success. So, the next time you fail, embrace that failure and rejoice about what you can learn and where it can take you! Hug your children and show them that through failure comes true knowledge. Tell me about your failures and where they have lead you?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Do you want to succeed in business and in life? Learn to execute!

Question: Three kids are sitting up in a tree. One decides to jump down. How many kids remain in the tree?

Answer: If you said two, then you’re WRONG! The answer is three.

You see, the decision to jump down, and the actual act of jumping down, are two completely different things.

A decision without execution equals failure. And, just like the kids in the tree, we often make decisions but fail to execute or follow through. Great decisions are made every day but unless the decision is followed by an action the decision is useless.

There are many excuses for not taking action, but the main cause is often linked to procrastination. We have seen this so many times in our own lives. You decide that you are going to do something, and then for whatever reason, you never do it. Often it is because you feel that you don’t have the time or the skill to accomplish the task, but most times it is just plain fear, fear of failure that causes you to procrastinate (PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THAT THE DECISION NOT TO ACT ON A DECISION, IS IN AND OF ITSELF, FAILURE!).

How many times, just this past week alone, have YOU decided to do something and then didn’t follow through with it? Losing weight…, creating a blog…, joining a gym…, these are all common activities that if not executed can cause great regret in your life.

But, what about when others rely on you as part of a team? People that procrastinate can also negatively impact an entire organization. I have seen many nonprofit organizations suffer from the failure to execute. The board of directors, community leaders, business leaders, stakeholders and staff spend hours and sometimes days conducting SWOT analysis and brainstorming sessions where tremendous ideas are generated. Sometimes consultants are hired to prepare expensive feasibility studies and business plans. During this process, decisions are made, but without execution the plans often end up on a shelf gathering dust.

Do you procrastinate or execute? Please share with me your ideas and experience with this issue? How do you keep people motivated and executing?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Secret to Success - READ to Find Out!

Have you ever wondered what separates middle management from the CEO position? Well, its simple, most people in business quit investing in learning. They think that their learning is complete once they have their diploma. But, the long-term successful CEO is the one that has the discipline to continue to learn and improve. You see, the more you learn, the more you earn! Career success demands that you increase your knowledge. Many top executives will read 5-10 books per month, while the average worker is lucky to have read 5-10 books in their lifetime.

Have you ever visited the home of a successful CEO? The bigger the home, the bigger the library. Why is that? Well, there is a direct correlation between the books you read and the success you achieve. I have an area in my home that I call "The Man Cave" which is essentially my den. It is my reading sanctuary and library where I house every book that I have ever read or am about to read. Who needs a corporate ladder when you can stand on every book you have ever read. Remember, a ladder has its limit, while your book stack is infinite!

Books will mold your philosophies and values and can teach you or inform you about any subject that you may be interested in. So, don't go another day without reading - it may change your life! Tell me what interesting books you have read lately to enhance your knowledge within your career?

Friday, September 4, 2009


I have a secret that I want to share. But, you MUST promise to share it with everyone. Will you do that? Good! Here it is...

There are always going to be enemies in your life! I had a mentor that taught me a very valuable lesson and I want to share it with all of you today. There are always going to be people in this world, in your life, that are not going to like you. It won't necessarily be because of something that you have done, but, for whatever reason, they just don't like you. It might be because of the way you walk or talk; it may be that other people don't like you; it may be you're popular and well liked. Some people just aren't going to like you, because your hair is too short or too long. It might be because you can do your job better than they can do theirs. This behavior is just human nature.

Jim Rohn once said, "There are only about 10 or so really miserable people in the whole wide world. The problem is- they move around a lot." The simple fact of the matter is that there are going to be enemies in your life, so you can't invest your self-worth in what other people think about you. If you did, you would never achieve success. You have to stay focused on your mission and work to achieve your goals and objectives. Focus on fighting with, or getting rid of the enemy, and you WILL get distracted and fail.

In the book, 12 Choices... That Lead to Your Success by David Cottrell he states that "Enemies are a by-product of success" (Cottrell, 2005, p. 34). You see, the more successful you are, the more enemies that you are going to have.

So, here is the secret: Welcome them! The Bible says "Love Thy Enemies." As we succeed, we want to be accepted, respected and loved. But, the truth of the matter is, As Abraham Lincoln stated "You can please all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all the time."

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

CEOs Should Twitter

Do you want to become a more effective leader? Are you cut off from your most important constituencies; looking for a better way to communicate with employees, suppliers, and stakeholders or customers? Well, look no further. Savvy CEO's are embracing social media/networking and Web 2.0 platforms as an effective way to build customer-centric organizations that not only communicate, but also listen and learn from the interaction.

Today's modern CEO can clearly see how social networking can increase brand recognition and enhance their own credibility by communicating directly with key stakeholders. For example, I use this blog so that I can engage with you and have authentic, interactive conversations. Actively participating with informative blogs or listening to feedback from Twitter is a very cost effective way to find out what your customers or stakeholders think about your organization. A CEO can use Web 2.0 platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Blogs or any combination thereof to become a more effective leader by gathering information and instigating action based on real customer/stakeholder feedback.

Maxine Clark, Chief Executive Bear and Founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop is an active Twitter and Blog user and is a fine example of how to use social media to connect with your stakeholder/customer. In 2007, Maxine wrote her first book entitled "The Bear Necessities of Business: Building A Company with Heart." It is a fascinating book about how she built her company on the simple premise of making kids smile. I highly suggest that you go out and get it and read it!

Maxine's example of how a great CEO's use of social media to connect with customers is gaining loyalty and excitement. It certainly is with me! Maxine has 655 followers and Build-A-Bear Workshop has over 3,000 followers. Maxine makes it a point and tries real hard to respond to every follower post and every email. I sent a post about my daughters upcoming birthday this month at Build-A-Bear Workshop and Maxine immediately replied with a direct message offering any help she can provide to make my daughter's birthday a "PAWSOME" party. And, she thanked me "BEARY Much" for the post.

This is only one example but I am sure you can see the value. I will be a life-long fan of Build-A-Bear Workshop and I will tell this story to all that will listen. So, raise your effectiveness and adopt social media as part of your ongoing marketing plan. Learn from Maxine's shining example. Please share with me how you are using social networking/media to grow your business relationships?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Social Entrepreneurship

As I evaluate our current budget and program of work and look to the future, especially in these tough economic times, the idea of social entrepreneurship keeps entering into the equation. According to the Nonprofit Board Answer Book II social entrepreneurship refers to a philosophy of self-sufficiency (BoardSource, 2002, p. 70). It is the idea that nonprofit agencies should find alternative sources of revenue to further it's mission. In other words, nonprofits should work towards becoming self-sufficient.

Our agency is no exception. The Oil Region Alliance, the lead economic development and tourist promotion agency for all of Venango County; part of northern Crawford County and located in northwest PA, for example, is an organization that relies heavily on membership dues and municipal contributions to further it's mission. And, these funds are highly correlated to the economy. In good economic times membership dues and municipal contributions go up and in bad economic times membership dues and municipal contributions go down. So, the idea of social entrepreneurship, or the evolution to self-sufficiency by creating an alternate revenue source makes sense for the longevity of our agency and the long-term success of it's mission.

There are obviously pros and cons. According to the Nonprofit Board Answer Book II (BoardSource, 2002, pp. 76 & 77) social entrepreneurship can help your nonprofit:
  • Generate new sources of revenue to help pay for administrative and overhead costs that traditional funds can't.
  • Diversify income sources and reduce reliance on signature fund drives.
  • Raise visibility in the community and create new ways for people to become connected to the agency.
  • Build upon the mission and create new jobs in the community.

On the other hand, there are these drawbacks:

  • Failure. Every entrepreneur understands there are risks to new ventures.
  • The organizational structure may be too bureaucratic to accommodate a profit-oriented venture.
  • Unfavorable publicity may come your way when you compete with for-profit competitors.
  • Stakeholders may become confused about the mission.

So, as you can see, there are many variables to consider when building social entrepreneurship into your nonprofit business model. It is the proverbial "catch 22" where the agency wants to further it's mission but resources are dwindling. The community needs and often expects the nonprofit to function, but is not willing to fund the effort. Therefore, the agency has to get creative in order to survive. Please let me know your thoughts on social entrepreneurship?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Salute to Mentors

Most organizational leaders need mentoring from time to time. A mentor can be a great objective advisor for group development, conflict resolution, and often, change management, just to name a few. Mentors are usually experienced, trusted industry leaders who can offer sound advice, ideas, and objective feedback. Mentors could be people that you admire; have special skills relevant to your industry or agency and provide you with honest, objective, and sincere advice. How do I know if I need a mentor? Well, look closely at areas where you personally could use some help or could benefit from outside counsel and the answer may become quite clear. Please share with me times when you needed a mentor to take your organization to the next level or share with me a time when you acted as a mentor to someone else?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Budget Trends

There is a trend blossoming in and among nonprofit and profit firms alike where the firm is getting innovative and creative when building and establishing budgets during this economic downturn. In order to make intelligent management decisions, savvy CEOs and CFOs are building quarterly budgets that position the firm to make quick, positive and decisive changes that are counter to economic conditions. Quarterly budgets mean more work for staff and board members, but the firm is better able to quickly change course before any real damage is realized. The benefits seem to far outweigh the inconvenience allowing staff to remain productive and the firm to remain mission driven. I really love the idea and concept of quarterly budgets, especially tied right to a performance based program of work, but wonder what the downside is, if any. Help me to see the other side. Tell me why I should NOT go to quarterly budgets or tell me if you agree with the idea of quarterly budgets.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Special Thank You to My Staff

Economic development is simply a variation of sales. Let's face it, economic developers are selling a community to prospective companies that are in an expansion mode. The expanding company has very specific needs that are being addressed by the economic developer through the use of specific community assets (industrial parks, infrastructure, human capital, transportation routes, etc.). They are, indeed, selling the community. Now, it becomes much more complex than this, obviously, because expanding companies must look at the community's cost of doing business (labor costs, taxes, worker's comp rates, utility costs, etc.), location, availability of labor, proximity to markets, etc. So, the sales process must be enhanced with "tools." The "tools" that I refer to are, in the business, called "incentives." All things being equal - labor, location, taxes, etc. it often boils down to "incentives." The community with the best tools often wins. And, by wins, I mean gets the jobs and the investment. So, it stands to reason that the community that equips their economic development sales team with the proper tools - wins! Well, in PA, we are not so well equipped. In fact, we have NO "tools" to speak of. This is not to say that the State of PA has no tools, because they do, this is to say that "we" (locally) as sales people have no tools. And, this is an oddity in economic development circles. How do you not equip your sales team to sell? So, there must be economic development reform at the state level in order for individual communities to get their fair share of jobs and prosperity (but, that is for another day :-).

Now, to the point of today's blog. I want to thank my economic development staff for the incredible job that they do to create jobs and prosperity for the Oil Region. They have been able to attract, on average, 3 new companies to the Oil Region since 2005. In addition, they have been able to help over 2 dozen local companies to expand and become more modern and efficient, and they have been able to secure enough funding to increase the skills of over 1,000 incumbent workers. This is incredible considering the obstacles that are placed in front of them as they work to succeed for the community.

And, if you really want to be amazed, you need to examine what is required to get around these obstacles just to land 1 company. You have to sell the customer; you have to sell the state and convince them to use "their" tools to help your customer; you need local "buy-in" and support from the local elected officials; you have to rally the utility companies and workforce investment groups; you have to properly inform the local planning commission, and any and all state departments that might have to play a role in providing the "tools" needed to land this company (please keep in mind that this is not typical - usually one group is EMPOWERED and TRUSTED to speak for all of these entities). This process could take 3 months or longer. So, as you can see, many committed, talented, and caring people are involved to make this happen. The success is not of, or by, the Oil Region Alliance alone. This is a community effort. The Oil Region Alliance could not possibly get over such near impossible hurdles without the help of many fantastic people in the community. And, we thank all of the "partners in progress" for helping us do our job! Remember, this is what is required to land 1 company. Imagine juggling 3 projects like this!

So, thank you to John Phillips, Senior VP of Economic Development, and his staff Deb Lutz, Local Industry Manager and Deb McNerney, New Industry Manager for all of your hard work! Despite the odds!

I have other departments like tourism and heritage preservation and the staff of these departments work very hard as well. They do a tremendous job of working to make this community a special place to work, live, and play. Thank you for all you do! I will save their story for another day. please let me know your thoughts?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In or Out!

There is no bigger distraction to the mission of an organization than a difficult and negative individual. It has been said that 1 negative person can take down an entire 1,000 person company. How sad! And, I have witnessed this way too many times in my career. They come in many different "wrappers" but they all have the same self righteous justification for their idiocy. Look, if you are not part of the solution you are the problem! Everyone should be mission driven, period. I don't care how you try to justify your actions. You're either "in" or you're "out." Give me an idea of how you handle your difficult and negative individuals?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Board Development Plan

It is rare for a nonprofit agency's board development strategy to be in writing. Boards will perform bits and pieces of the elements that make up a full board development strategy, such as board orientation for new members, but elements for board member selection, member training, and board motivation are often skipped. A written strategy for board development will help put focus on these important elements. In addition, according to "Nonprofit Board Answer Book" (BoardSource 2002) added elements like a board reference book, a board mentoring program, an annual board retreat, and periodic self assessments will go a long way to ensuring that board members know what their roles and responsibilities are, as well as, the mission and vision of the agency. What can we do to ensure that enough emphasis is put on board development? please give me some ideas.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Board Development

The Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism is a 501c(3) dedicated to the mission of increasing the prosperity and population of the Oil Region. This is done through economic development initiatives (new industry recruitment, local industry retention/expansion, workforce development, and international trade), tourism intiatives (eco-tourism and outdoor recreation - hiking and biking, hunting and fishing, and "Geo-Caching"), and heritage preservation (preserving and enhancing local assets related to the the oil industry). The agency is governed by a 25 member board of directors and is funded through membership dues, municipal contributions, state and federal grant money, and revenue generated from agency owned property. Our operations budget and the economic development marketing budget is primarily funded through our membership dues. Membership dues are down because of (membership response) a weak national economy. The 25 member board does not feel that increasing membership dues is their responsibility. Give me ideas on how to help a nonprofit board take an active interest and role in raising membership money for the agency?