Saturday, January 4, 2020

2020: Commit to Change


How many of us recycle our New Year’s resolutions from years past?  Work smarter, be healthier, pay it forward……All worthy goals. 
But what if instead we created a sense of urgency for change?  Not just individually but collectively.  Inequities based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation will no longer be accepted.  Hatred of others because of personal beliefs will end. 
In a recent editorial post, the NPQ staff propose the following:
“This is no time to sit on high and peer into a crystal ball, but a time to create new alliances, make braver choices, and act… We must actively reshape the narratives that inform our work,  creating a new set of standards for our shared future.”
For Clarity Transitions, we are committed to partnering with you for this brighter and more just future. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Does your nonprofit need a better board?


The internet is littered with “5 Tips” and “8 Ways” to build a better board.   But what does “better” mean?  Can standardized definitions even begin to be relevant for the huge variety of nonprofit structures and sizes?  And might some of these standardized definitions cause more harm than good?

As consultants, we have opportunities to work with many boards in many different organizations. We don’t have a standard for “better,” but we do encourage current and prospective board members as well as staff members to apply critical questioning to the unique role of the board for their organization.  

We offer some questions for your board to consider – and know that not all questions may apply to your organization.  When you consider these questions, ask how they might be answered by someone you serve, someone outside of your organization, or by a Millennial / Gen Z.

What do you really mean by “diversity?”
BoardSource’s Leading with Intent reported in 2017 that Executive Directors and Board Chairs were largely dissatisfied with their board’s diversity and yet don’t have diversity as a high priority in board recruitment.  We need to ask ourselves some hard questions on “diversity.”   Would including diverse board members -- with different perspectives and experience -- push us to more effectively deliver our mission? Are we willing to truly welcome different perspectives?  Do we put our own discomfort before the mission?

Does your board have substantive discussion?
Board members are busy people.  They’re volunteers.  The easy answer is to provide a report-out meeting with a consent agenda – all of which have their appropriate uses.  But we need to find ways for our boards to be critical thinkers, learners, and participants in the mission work.  Are board members asking for input from different perspectives?  Are board members willing to be vulnerable and learn?

Do all your board members understand your financial statements?
No one wants to admit that they’re not really sure what the financial statements mean.  Yet we have seen (multiple) organizations where the board has either willfully ignored the financials or can’t interpret them.   Can your board members articulate your greatest financial risk area? Do your board members understand which programs are fully funded and which are subsidized by other means? Do they know how long your organization can run if it loses a key funding source?

Is raising funds a board responsibility? 
Many swear that this is fundamental.  Yet, we don’t think we’ve ever met an ED who’s not wringing their hands about the board’s failure in this area.  Board fund raising comes up repeatedly, everyone gets the hangdog look, a new plan is made, and …. little happens.  What if organizations changed this expectation?  Would you recruit different board members? Would you use that time for different purposes? Could you modify your internal structure to accommodate this shift?

Regardless of your organization’s age, size, or mission focus, keep asking the critical questions.  They’ll be different every year.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Two Heads are Better Than One

When a nonprofit CEO departs an organization, it’s not uncommon for the Board Chair to step into the interim role as a way to address the leadership vacuum. Ideally, when this happens, he/she relinquishes the Board Chair role and another board member steps in to lead, either as the new or temporary Board Chair, depending upon the length of time it takes to find a new CEO.  

Unfortunately, too often, boards do not understand the role of the Interim CEO. They tend to think of this person as simply a placeholder. With the best of intentions, boards see this as an opportunity to save money during the search by recruiting a volunteer to serve as Interim. They also want to believe that the search won’t take too long and they don’t anticipate any major disruption to services because their staff is very competent and capable. These are all potentially risky assumptions.   

An executive transition is a very challenging time. Change threatens stability and confidence. To keep an organization strong while a new leader is being identified, recruited and onboarded, it is critical to manage this process carefully. Board and staff members need a clear understanding of who’s in charge, everyone’s roles and responsibilities during this time, and how it all fits together for continuity and sustainability. Having two different individuals serving in the roles of Board Chair and Interim CEO during this period is an important first step.  

You might ask “why?” First and foremost, each role requires significant time and focused attention. Trying to manage both dilutes effectiveness.  

Other reasons to keep these two roles separate and distinct include: 
  • The Board hires the CEO and holds him/her accountable. The Chair leads this effort. This becomes problematic when Chair and Interim CEO are one.  
  • While the Board hires the CEO, the CEO hires and manages staff. This clear line of accountability helps protect staff from micromanagement by Board members. When both roles are held by one person, confusion and distrust can arise.  
  • The Chair leads the board as it pursues governance and high-level strategic thinking while the CEO is focused on working with staff to pursue processes, plans, action steps and outcomes. These each require time, attention and clear thinking.  

To help you think about this, here is a link to a BoardSource article that helps delineate the differences.  https://boardsource.org/board-chair-chief-executive-partnership/ 

Together, this partnership of Board Chair and Interim CEO is fundamental to keeping the organization’s mission on track. In this case, two heads are better than one! 

Friday, October 11, 2019

What does it mean to hire for "cultural fit?"


The vast majority of employers want to create work environments that are welcoming to diverse groups of staff and clients.  (And I’m guessing that our readers share our desire to one day be able to begin that sentence with ALL employers).  So given that it’s what most of us desire, why is true diversity not as commonplace as we’d like?

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, here’s one contributing factor: While we crave diversity and inclusion, we are all also committed to our corporate cultures.   We want to hire to perpetuate what we experience as a positive, healthy work environment.  However, it’s essential to be clear on what builds and perpetuates culture. Human Resources Consultant Patty McCord proposes that “What most people mean by culture fit is hiring people they’d like to have a beer with.”  What appears on the surface to be good business practice may in fact be a barrier to our end goal.

The article’s author Sue Shellenbarger poses the following question: “How can bosses make sure they are hiring for meaningful shared values rather than superficial sameness?”  Here’s how she differentiates:

Cultural Fit
What it is:
  • Shared enthusiasm about a company’s mission or purpose
  • A common approach to working, together or individually
  • A mutual understanding of how to make decisions and assess risk


What it’s not:
  • A common educational, cultural or career background
  • A sense of comfort and familiarity with co-workers
  • Shared enjoyment of such perks as ping pong and craft beer


While those of us whose careers have been primarily in the nonprofit sector may not have experienced those kinds of “perks,” we may have unwittingly leaned towards hiring those we’d could see hanging out with after work or at a charitable event.  Clear delineation of the work-based values that define our desired culture – and checking ourselves to ensure that they support inclusion instead of exclusion – is a great start to ensuring a welcoming, diverse environment. 



Saturday, August 24, 2019

Hey board member – your ED is leaving!


A board member’s most dreaded phone call may be the one saying that the ED is leaving.

Wouldn’t you like to immediately have the confidence to know that:
  • A temporary leader has been designated for day-to-day operations, they’re prepared for that role, and they know how their regular work will be covered.
  • A prioritized communication ladder is ready to go so that people served, staff, and funders know that the change is being handled well.
  • The board knows the steps and roles to begin a thoughtful transition process that focuses first on the best way to deliver the mission and then on finding the next best leader.
  • The temporary leader and board have access to organized, critical organizational information.
  • Organizational leadership is ready – cross-trained with skills and competencies linked to mission.


Succession planning gives you this confidence.   Succession planning strengthens an organization by proactively preparing people & policies for a transition that will occur at some future point -whether on your watch or another.  Succession planning is simply good governance.

Overall, succession planning is not hard or expensive. A board and ED can develop an Emergency Succession Plan and Succession Policies in a short series of taskforce meetings.  Once plans and policies are in place, any operational issues related to succession can be addressed.  At a minimum, healthy succession includes ongoing development for staff and board.

Are you ready for succession?  Download our free Readiness Assessment to see where you stand.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Can it be cruel to be kind?


Nick Lowe and Hamlet think so.  But rocker and poetic license aside, is there some truth in this well-worn phrase?

In working with a diverse group of nonprofit organizations in Florida, we repeatedly hear the desire for open and direct communication.  One of the most respected attributes in a leader is someone who uses clear and concise communication to build an atmosphere of trust.  So while no one is asking to be treated cruelly, there is a clear preference for honest feedback delivered in a timely manner over being handled so gently that the message is prolonged and perhaps never truly heard. 

When you are sharing praise or constructive criticism, be specific and to the point.  Your employees and those to whom you report want to know what you think and how they can bring their best game to the organization.  Let them know that your input is part of your investment in and commitment to the value they add to your mission work.

Feedback should be provided all year long, and no employee should hear recommendations to improve performance for the first time during their evaluation.   The evaluation process is a time of increased vulnerability, and your team members will absorb your overall assessment in a more constructive way if it’s used to reinforce ongoing feedback.

So don’t be cruel and do be kind – but don’t let your message get lost in the process. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Onboarding your new CEO


What a relief it is for a nonprofit Search Committee to finally hire a new CEO! After many months of meetings and interviews, the end is in sight and soon things can get “back to normal”. Or so you think. However, there is still important work to be done to assure that the new leader is successful. And that starts with an “onboarding plan” to help this person get up to speed fairly quickly.

What is onboarding?
It is the education and assimilation of a person into a new role.  It includes providing:
  • Information
  • Introductions
  • Education/training/insight sharing
  • Office set-up

How does one prepare for onboarding?
It starts by aggregating and organizing information about the organization – the who, what, when, where, why and how – both internal and external, regarding operations, board governance, community relations, etc. This information includes materials like:
  • The CEO’s job description (ideally with details about specific daily/weekly/monthly/annual activities)
  • The CEO checklist (see our Succession Planning Toolkit, www.claritytransitions.net) which identifies where all key information is stored (e.g. legal documents, personnel files, passwords, contracts)
  • Lists of staff, board members, donors and stakeholders with details about their relationships with the organization
  • Calendar of important dates (e.g. staff, board and committee meetings, fundraisers, “friend-raisers”, networking groups)
  • Board materials (e.g. bylaws, policies and procedures, committees, minutes)
  • Financials
  • Strategic Plan with progress report
  • Marketing materials
  • And anything else that will help him/her be successful!


Onboarding also involves introductions to staff, board and key stakeholders according to a very thoughtful, prioritized plan that likely includes one-on-one meetings, small and large gatherings. And there should be a thoughtful and strategic communications plan to inform all stakeholders (e.g. letters, emails, phone calls, website, press releases) about the new CEO.

It is also important to get the new CEO’s office set-up BEFORE DAY ONE. You want him to be ready and able to focus his attention on meeting people and listening to them on that first day. So, prior to his official start, it is important to set up email, phone and passwords, arrange furniture, etc.

Who prepares, plans and implements this onboarding?
Typically, a Transition Committee will develop and implement this plan with help from the outgoing CEO (if relationship is good) or the Interim (if there is one), the Board Chair and a designated staff member. The committee enlists others too – staff and board members as appropriate - to collect and share information, provide background/education/training, develop and implement the communications plan and make introductions.

Much of this preparation can be done while the search is underway so that the Search Committee CAN breathe a sigh of relief when the new CEO is hired! In fact, you never know when your CEO might leave, so maybe you should start now?