What Do Nonprofits Need to Succeed?

Here’s some daunting news from a new survey of more than 3000 nonprofit leaders, staff, board members and donors:  Almost 80% of nonprofits struggle with leadership and management issues. Even worse, only 11% are prepared for growth and optimal impact.

William F. Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker conducted the study, “The Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Nonprofit Sector,” to serve as the basis of their new book Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector, which will be released this month. The survey was conducted in collaboration with the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil SocietyStanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), GuideStar, and BoardSource.

Meehan and Jonker’s research on successful organizations suggest that there are seven essential components of strategic leadership that are needed for maximum impact:

·        Mission – a focused, defined statement of purpose;

·        Strategy – a strategic framework based on mission;

·        Impact Evaluation – a way to measure impact;

·        Insight and Courage – a commitment to considered and fearless decisionmaking;

·        Organization and Talent – the right people to move the organization forward;

·        Funding – the ability to build diverse and sustainable revenue relationships with the right donors; and,

·        Board Governance – a strong and effective board to provide direction.

Organizations that aspire to be high-impact need to develop strength in all seven of these areas, Meehan and Jonker said, and a deficiency in any one area can prevent an organization from achieving its goals.

According to the survey, the most common challenges for organizations are:

  • Over 50% struggle with fundraising and another 50% struggle with impact evaluation;
  • More than half struggle with weak board governance;
  • 27% demonstrate “weakness in strategic management,” such as, organization and talent, funding, or board governance, despite exhibiting strength in other areas

Further complications come from leadership and staff indicating that they don’t think their organization sets clear expectations for performance, rewards high performance appropriately, or provides consistent feedback on performance.

To read the complete study results, visit

Board Size: Does It Matter?

A new report from BoardSource, "Leading With Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices" includes findings on board size, which has declined steadily over the past 20 years.

The size of a board affects how its work is conducted, and different sizes work for different organizations. However, BoardSource believes it's possible for a board to be either too small or too large.

In general, it recommends that there be at least 5 board members, regardless of what an organization's bylaws require. Otherwise, the organization may not have enough skills and expertise to draw upon when making decisions. In addition, a board that's too small may have difficulty supporting and overseeing the CEO. And, finally, a too-small board might not have enough reach to create a strong fundraising network.

A board that is too big may find it challenging to have fruitful conversations utilizing all of its members. In this situation, many important organizational issues may get shifted to the executive committee, which can create a disconnect. Board members can end up feeling as if their participation is not values, and- even worse-  the board's ability to govern may be adversely affected.

The bottom line from BoardSource is that every organization has its own particular needs for governance, so board size needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis. And of course, organizational needs change with growth, so board size needs to be a topic that gets discussed and planned for.

Please be in touch with me to discuss your board needs!


Is Your Board Playing Nice in the Sandbox?

I'm recommending a very entertaining blog post by Liz Wooten Reschke on the BoardSource site- "A Child's View of Nonprofit Board Culture"- relating parental lessons to the ways we consultants try to improve the boards we work with. There are some great questions here to get your boards to open up about their culture (or lack thereof), how they interact with each other, and how they approach governance. Happy reading!

We've Got (Board) Trouble, My Friends

As Dennis Miller used to say (before he went off the rails), “I don’t want to go off on a rant here…” but we have a big problem with nonprofit boards. Nonprofit board members are falling short in their skills, knowledge, and experience, and are ill-equipped to meet the needs of the organizations they serve, according to a study conducted by the Stanford Graduate School of Business, in collaboration with BoardSource and GuideStar.

The 2015 Survey on Board of Directors of Nonprofit Organizations, which surveyed almost 1000 directors, found that 27% of respondents don’t think their board members have a good understanding of the organization’s mission and strategy; 65% don’t think their fellow board members are experienced enough in governance, and almost half (47%) do not fully understand the role and responsibilities of a director.

In addition to their personal financial commitment, a board members’ main contribution is to provide governance and leadership in key areas: establishing and maintaining financial integrity; developing specific and measurable performance objectives for the organization and its leadership; evaluating the CEO; creating board leadership succession plans; and planning for strategic growth of the organization.

People join boards because they want to have an impact in their community and contribute their energy to an organization’s mission. It’s concerning when they do so without a clear understanding of what that commitment entails.  It is important that the organization recruit committed and (ideally) experienced board members, but it is equally important that those board members be educated about what it means to be productive and how to fulfill their obligations as a board member.  Organizations can contribute to this process by establishing clear strategies and goals, and by developing performance and evaluation metrics.

Let’s have a discussion about your organization and your board, and how you can find your best path!