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For Better or Worse we Train Others How to Treat Us!

Nadia Prescott

In the 24/7 world of social media and the internet where our smart phones constantly ping, we are trained to be like Pavlov’s dogs. As a result, there are many articles written about ways to remove yourself from the “connected” world and reconnect to life and build better relationships at home and work.

But at the end of the day, beneath all these helpful hints, there is you. You and your commitment to make change. Commitment is very different to being compliant with other people’s ideas. There are many great ideas out there, so there must be a deeper reason why more people fail than succeed. Starting with changing a behavior with a new idea you read about in a book, without knowing the deeper reason for the new habits in
my humble opinion is not an effective way to create change. Without a goal, you can never fail, which is why subconsciously many of us do not create goals. Without goals you can also never succeed. How do you want people to treat you at home or at work? The bigger question might be what type of relationships do you want to create in life? With your work colleagues, your family and friends and your relationship with your smart device.

If you don’t make changes, nothing around you will change either in your life, or in the way others treat you. Especially today in our super connected world with the expectation of immediate response. How you respond, dictates how others will both view and treat you. Immediately and over the longer term.

When I first moved to the US in 1996, I was working as VP of Marketing in Silicon Valley. It was an exhausting 24/7 job, characterized by high-energy, high-power, and high expectations. I was known as the person who always got things done. I wore that badge of honor with pride, even though that meant responding to emails at 3 AM. The more I responded, the more work came my way. By 2002, I was out on disability with a repetitive strain injury. I was angry, conflicted and scared. More importantly, I placed all the blame on the company for demanding too much work and being poorly organized.

Unfortunately, I had failed to identify and understand my role in creating the situation. In my zeal to impress, I had successfully trained everyone that I was available at their disposal at all hours of the day and night. The word ‘boundaries’ did not exist in my vocabulary. I finally recognized that I was at least 50% responsible for creating this situation. And as for what did I really want in a career, and in my personal life, I had never even looked at the full picture. I was operating reactively, never taking the time for myself and my aspirations. How much time do you take to think about what you want to proactively create in your life, your vision and goals for the future? I’m guessing not much.

When you complain about other people or your own situation, the first question to ask yourself is “what is your role in creating this?” We often don’t realize how much we contribute to building our reputations in the workplace and how our closest relationships are impacted by our lack of deep commitment in favor of responding to immediate requests. At a much deeper level, this says a lot about our commitment to our nearest and dearest. What is it, that you are truly committed to creating – and changing in your life?

Take time to reflect on the messages you send to your work colleagues, friends and family by virtue of your behavior. You are responsible for creating the impression you want people to have of you. More importantly, try to understand what motivation you have for projecting the image you are creating for yourself. And why.

I needed the guidance of an executive coach to help me determine at the highest level, what my goals were, what I wanted my life to look like. In other words, what was I committed to first, rather than a set of resolutions or behaviors without context. Through this work I could then establish appropriate boundaries. Every time a situation arose that challenged my thinking, I could ask myself a very simple question. Will this give me short term satisfaction or long-term fulfilment. I now know how to say no, but I often still must check in with myself on daily habits to make sure I am doing what is best for me.

It’s a never-ending journey, but as a result, my relationships both at work and on a personal level are much healthier.

If you would like to learn more about how to train those around you or how to set good boundaries, contact us at nadia@emergingexecutive.com.

No is a Complete Answer!

Nadia Prescott

Yet not many of us think that way either in our professional or our personal lives. We are too concerned about how we may be perceived by others. Will we upset or offend the other person? Will they no longer like us? If we are at work, how might this influence my next promotion?

Saying no is one of the most important skills that we can learn. It means that you respect and value yourself first. Remember what they say on the airlines, “put on your oxygen mask first before helping others”. The same applies to life.

The importance of living a life according to your values and setting boundaries cannot be underestimated. If you don’t take care of yourself, your physical and emotional health will bear the consequences. If you consistently say yes, when you really want to say no because you are exhausted or other things are a priority, at some point, you will feel resentful. This will ultimately impact your relationship in a negative way with the other person.

Another reason to say no. We train people how to treat us. If my client knows I will pick up the phone at 9 PM every night, when he or she finally has time to call, I am a part of the problem. I have trained that client that I will pick up the phone whenever she calls. Why then should she make it a priority to call about her business problem when she knows I will pick up after regular
hours? Our words and actions send a powerful message to the people on the receiving end of our communication. What is the message you want to convey? Think carefully because once you have trained someone, it takes a while to break a habit.

As a baby boomer, I started working in a time of no email or voicemail. Work and messages (taken by a receptionist) were still responded within 24 hours. It’s a boundary that so many of us have lost in our 24/7 world of computers and smartphones. After working in the 24/7 world of Silicon Valley, I constantly have to be conscious and remind myself of boundaries. Time away
from the phone.

Learning to say no in a business context is equally important. Start-up organizations (nonprofits and businesses), typically in my experience, have a big problem saying no. At the start-up stage of an organization when energy and passion are at their highest, there is a willingness to do almost anything to prove that they should exist. But clarity of purpose or business is essential to
success. It’s very easy to sow seeds, but how will you cultivate and maintain all that you reap from those seeds?

In the nonprofit world, how often do we see mission creep in well-meaning organizations looking to help those in need? In my experience, a lot of the time. Funders are a good example of an entity that says no. Probably more frequently than many in the nonprofit world would like to see! But they understand they cannot fund every program and they say no to organizations that fall outside of their funding guidelines. Even if you fall within the guidelines, they want to see a business plan and other support as well as financial commitment from within the organization before they will support the idea. Employing a tool like a strategy screen with preset criteria on whether is key to determine whether to say yes or no to an idea. Top of the list of the strategy screen: mission fit and financial viability.

Often when individuals move from the corporate world to a more entrepreneurial setting, there is a tendency to accept any potential project to secure income. And to work constantly. Sometimes around-the-clock. One of the benefits of working for yourself is that you can set your own hours and take care of your health and spend more time with your friends and family. It’s one of the reasons so many of us move into an entrepreneurial role. But then we forget. Before answering any requests, ask yourself: if I say yes to this, what am I saying no to? There is always something!

And remember, a request is just that. It’s a request. This response can be yes or no. If you find yourself upset at the response that you get, circle back and ask yourself was this really a request? Or was I “demanding” that person did what I asked? There is a big distinction between a request and a demand.

Saying no can mean what I call a “qualified no”. No, I can’t look after your child tomorrow until 7 PM but I can look after him until 4 PM. Why might you say that? That way you can help your associate or friend, and still honor your value of working out at the gym or meeting a project deadline for example.

Hearing the word “no” from a business associate or even a friend or partner can be disconcerting. Very often the receiver of the word “no”, can get upset because they assume it is something personal about themselves that has made the other person say no. It could simply be because the other person is too busy! Do we ever think about that? Perhaps they have better boundaries than
we do! And if you have any concerns, you can always ask a follow-up question to clarify.

What are the boundaries you need to set to ensure that your business is successful and sustainable? And what or who do you need to say “no” to?

If you want to learn more about how executive coaching can help you learn to say no, contact nadia@emergingexecutive.com

Should Staff Contact with the Board be Restricted?

Nadia Prescott

That is assuming you are an organization with a staff! When there is staff, what is appropriate communication is always a thorny topic, outside of the accepted relationship between the executive director and the board.

A board’s responsibility is as a group is to govern and be fiscally responsible for the organization. As an individual, each board member has a role to support the organization.

If we take this basic concept, then logically, there must be communication between board and staff members. It is both necessary and appropriate. Board members may want and need more contact. For example, the board treasurer may need to meet periodically with the financial controller to finalize financial reports or audits. If your organization hosts a major fundraising event, you want board members engaged as individuals. And you need their oversight as a board.

I’ve often attended board meetings where the appropriate senior staff person attends the relevant part of a board meeting to provide specific information on a new initiative, updated program data or fundraising.

But here’s where it gets tricky. The executive director might feel their authority is undermined or concerned that misleading information will be shared. Restricting access can also lead to suspicion on the part of the board. Yet that said there are simply not enough hours in the day for an Executive Director to attend every meeting with individual board members or every committee, so appropriate communication helps an executive director be more productive.

What this comes down to, in my experience, is having agreed-upon boundaries and guidelines that are approved by the Board and the Executive Director and reviewed or updated as necessary, for example, when a new board member joins the organization. Things to consider include:

  • The Board of Directors collectively in its governing capacity may provide direction to the executive director
  • The executive director should be copied on any correspondence between a board member and a staff member. If a board member makes a request via phone for a meeting with a staff member, as a common courtesy that staff member should advise the executive director about the meeting and give a brief summary to the board member and executive director at the end of the meeting.
  • Information that already exists, such as a financial statement or client evaluation report, can be requested by board members. Requests for new information that will take staff away from their existing roles must be discussed with the executive director.
  • There must always be a whistleblower policy in place. This is important to comply with federal law. If you are a nonprofit that has completed your Giving Common Profile, you will see one of the questions asked is whether this in place.
  • Personal grievances should be addressed through whatever policy is specified in the staff manual.
  • Make sure your board meetings have executive sessions. This gives the board a way to address any staff issues without the staff present. Even the executive director. Having this set up is an established process is much better than setting this up when an issue arises!

You want to strive to create an open and respectful culture with the necessary boundaries that will avert issues that can undermine the very important relationship between the executive director and the board. Setting up these guidelines will also ensure that staff knows they can communicate with board members and how to engage.

Finally, it is also important for staff to know who to turn to if they feel there is an issue the board needs to be aware of. Especially if that involves executive staff. Obviously, this will be different depending on the organization size. For a lean grassroots organization, the go-to person might be the board chair who will decide to bring the issue to the Executive Director, or to the executive session for discussion and agreement on how to move forward. In a larger organization, this might be the human resources department.

If the role of the board is to hold the organization accountable to the public, then important information must be shared. It is your role as a governing body to create the guidelines and the safe environment to ensure the necessary communication happens in a respectful way.

If you need more advice on helping your board communicate more effectively, please contact us at nadia@emergingexecutive.com

How Aligned is Your Career with Your Values

Nadia Prescott

At some point, each of us begins to evaluate how we make a living, and whether or not our career choices are at odds, or in harmony with, our morals.

Early career choices are led by ambition and financial necessity. Once we reach middle age and have accumulated life experiences, we begin to recognize the value of love and friendship, and question how we spend our time.  Are we in alignment with our values and if we aren’t, how do focus on what’s really important?

As a first step, you need to identify your values:

  1. Brainstorm a list of words that best describe you and your values.  Words like integrity, learning, freedom, or nature may come to mind. Be sure to clarify what these words mean to you by defining them.
  2. Think about a time in your childhood when you were really happy.  What were you doing? What values were you honoring?
  3. Think about an unhappy time in your childhood, or some time more recent.  What values were you ignoring? We can learn just as much from negative experiences as we can from the positive.

With your list of values complete, ask yourself how are you honoring them today?  To help you with this exercise, you can use a tool such as the wheel of life (click here to download).  If you score less than 5/10, it’s probably time to reconsider how you can bring your life back into alignment.

Re-aligning your career with your values doesn’t necessarily mean taking a financial hit just so you can do the work you really want.  Initially, while you figure out your longer-term vision and strategy, focus on how you create space and time in your life for more of what fulfills you.  This might, for example, mean bringing more art into your life. One of my former coaching clients who was earning a six-figure salary in the corporate world found fulfillment by taking classes and nonprofit volunteering before embarking on a career change. She is now a full-time, successful artist. You can rely on available resources along the way, like executive coaches, that help you through insightful questions and accountability.

Achieving a “second career” that brings you a more fulfilled life can take more time and planning than a traditional path, but you can definitely continue to make a living while honoring your values.  

 

How do you keep the Momentum Going During Turbulent Economic Times?

Ten Tips for Nonprofit Organizations Moving Forward

Nadia Prescott

It’s the start of a New Year. A lot has changed in the environment. Perhaps it’s time to address organization sustainability and succession planning for real this year?  Maybe you are considering a move into a different direction, such as developing earned income initiative. Maybe it’s a merger or shared services with another organization. Whatever the big issue, you know the hard work begins now.

So how do you keep your board and staff motivated, inspired and on track, particularly if you are a startup organization?  The following are a few easy but very effective strategies to keep the momentum going and ensure your organization achieves its goals and more importantly engages in strategic thinking:

Identifying Your Lifecycle Stage

There are five lifecycle stages (idea, start up, growth, mature, decline/ turnaround and terminal).  Identifying your organization’s particular lifecycle stage will provide you with a valuable starting point for planning and capacity building. There are lifecycle assessment tools available to help you determine where to start.  This information will help you set realistic expectations, or SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time sensitive). We talk more about the strategic importance of SMART goals later in this article, and they can be very effective in helping you understand what lifecycle stage your organization is in and how that information is useful in planning for the future. As one of my client’s recently stated following an organizational analysis, “Understanding the fundamentals for capacity building supersede strategic planning. If we don’t succeed here, we will never be in the right place to build a successful strategic plan”.  

A lifecycle assessment will help you understand stage-based development needs, depersonalize organizational management weaknesses and help you focus on moving forward in a productive and realistic manner.  As you can imagine, organizational needs vary by lifecycle stage. A start-up board, by necessity, is a hard-working board that typically focuses on the transition towards more governance and oversight responsibility.  Conversely, a mature board concentrates on policy, is direction oriented, develops community impact measurement s and rotates terms of office for board members.

When it comes to program planning and execution, the needs of an organization also vary by lifecycle stage. The mature organization has clearly defined, replicable programs, whereas the start-up organization often delivers programs with more breadth and depth.  In fact, one of the key challenges for the start-up organization is to learn how to differentiate general services or activities into identifiable, sustainable programs.

The 50/50 Split

The biggest challenge that boards typically face is time management. How do you get everything you need accomplished? Especially if you are taking on new initiatives or adopting a new strategy.  Effective time management is often the biggest obstacle for a start-up working board.

Ensure your board meetings are proactive and productive. Focus on those issues that are key to future success. Agree to spend 50% or more time at each board meeting focusing on your new strategic initiative(s). This will help keep you on track while still allowing discussion on the most important ongoing activities.

Set up a process to make sure board members know the most important and relevant information on current operations, as well as any new initiatives. And stick to that process! Ensure that each committee head issues reports well in advance of board meetings, to help members prepare. Committee heads should check in with the Board President prior to each board meeting to identify any critical issues that should be addressed. This strategy will help you make the most of each meeting and allow plenty of time for added discussion regarding other topics.

Start with the Outcome in Mind

How many board meetings have you attended where most of the time is spent discussing or reviewing activities that have already happened? Too often, time is wasted in a board meetings listening to out dated reports from committees. You need to shift this dynamic to make your meetings more productive and enjoyable for your board members.  

(see http://www.compasspoint.org/boardcafe/details.php?id=43).  

When preparing the agenda, think about the outcome you want from the discussion. For example, maybe you have to decide which fee-for-service option is best for your organization or perhaps you are at the beginning of your research period about fee structures. Think about setting up a team to explore different options and make recommendations to the rest of the board at the next meeting. Encourage people to work together towards a common goal. This will help foster buy-in and strengthen relationships among board members. And as mentioned above, make sure that an agenda and other pertinent information is distributed in advance of each meeting. Your board members should understand what is expected of them prior to each meeting.

It’s Not Just What You Do, It’s How You Communicate!

Essential to the successful operation of your organization is good communication! Clearly articulating expectations is critical and the words you use matter. For example, take the word “urgent”.  For someone working in the high tech or medical field, ‘urgent’ usually means do it NOW or at least by end of day. In the nonprofit arena, where most board members have full time jobs, “urgent” may take on a different meaning.

To make sure your team is all on the same page, take the time among to agree on common language definitions and intent. Solicit input for everyone. For example, have the group define and interpret how to respond to typical email subject lines, such as  “Urgent”, Need Response”, or “Information Only”. This strategy will help your board members meet your needs while allowing them some flexibility in determining how they respond.

Similarly, think about how you can structure committee and executive director reports to maximize their impact. Simple uniform changes in format can really make a difference. Consider using the following three headings:  what’s been done in the past month, what will be done next month, and most importantly (and perhaps highlighted in red!), what help will you need to meet your goals. This approach will help your board focus on what’s most important – action when it’s required!

Context, Context, Context

Providing context for agenda items will lead to more productive conversations, often leading to cost-effective and strategic solutions.  It will also foster buy-in from board members.

Let me give you an example. A client recently made a decision to adopt a service-based model for their organization moving forward. At their next board meeting, one of the topics for discussion was a whether or not to attend a conference as an exhibitor. The discussion quickly became tactical, following the usual pattern for a startup board: how much would it cost, how would they find the funds and who could attend from the organization.

Because the context for attending the conference was not discussed first, the discussion was entirely tactical vs strategic. There was never an opportunity to ask the real questions that needed to be answered, such as: What are the services we are promoting, how much do they cost, what is the goal of attending the conference, and will our systems and staff be in place to follow-up with prospects?  The board never had the chance to discuss the strategic implication of launching a new initiative, and deciding if a service-based model was the best organizational move. As a result, the plan for attending the conference to promote the organization was shelved for a year – delaying the implementation of the new initiative.

The Team Based Approach

How often do you bemoan the fact that you don’t have the time to attract new board members and volunteers?  You can solve this common problem with some out-of-the-box thinking. Most people are reluctant to join a board because they are worried about the long term investment of time needed for involvement. Why not promote short term involvement? More people will be interested in helping if they know the obligation is time limited. Consider the use of expert, short term teams to achieve well defined goals.

Let’s take marketing as an example. Good marketing and a stellar social media presence is increasingly important to nonprofit organizations. If you don’t project a good image, you won’t be able to attract donors, and people served by your programs will not know your organization exists. Perhaps you need to rebrand your organization by developing a new logo and a new website.  Find a marketing expert and invite them to join your board or even for a short-term project taskforce to revamp your marketing and social media. Ask them to work with you and your team to help develop SMART goals for branding, particularly your website and social media presence. You might add a graphic designer or a web designer to the team. This focused approach will be time efficient too, since it’s easier for smaller groups of people to find mutually convenient times to get together.  And speaking of getting together, be sure and take advantage of technologies such as WEBEX, FreeConferencecall.com, and free file-sharing on Google.

Accountability and Oversight

Developing SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time sensitive) is important.  Why, because without a goal, you can never fail! But how many of us really set goals and then use them?

SMART goals ensure accountability and oversight.  If you plan to launch a new initiative and no goals or timeline exist for the project, success will be hard to come by. You need to clearly define a timeline, roles and responsibilities and milestones for measuring progress. Without a well-defined process with built in- accountability, your team may have a great time working together but at the end of the process, you may have nothing to show for it.  

Feed your Board Members Information

Not every board member is well educated about what is required to manage an organization, especially when it comes to financials and fundraising. And no one wants to admit in public they don’t understand the documents you have put in front of them.  Why not level the playing field and provide an educational session for board members at a quarterly meeting? You can choose a different topic each time and dedicate 30 minutes on the agenda for education. You might even want to ask other Board members to help you by facilitating a session in an area of their expertise.  Your Board members will thank you for helping them look smart!

The Strategic Board Agenda  

It’s a secret that no one wants to talk about.  Most Board Meetings are boring. They focus on looking in the rearview mirror, and let’s be honest, reviewing committee reports and listening to the Executive Director report can be tedious.  Nothing is more frustrating to a Board Member than investing time at a meeting with an agenda that contains nothing substantial. Why not try a new approach? For example:

  • Agree on a process that requires committee chairs to distribute reports via email in advance of board meetings. This allows members the chance to prepare their thoughts in advance and be ready participants at the meeting. They will feel more committed and energized!
  • Suggest that committee chairs inform the Board chair and Executive Director of topics to be discussed at a board meeting where a decision or input is required by the full board. Make sure the required outcomes are clearly identified.

There are many strategies you can use to make your Board meetings more fun, informative and exciting.  Just think what that will say about your organization!

10) Real-Time Strategic Planning

We live in a rapidly changing world where you must be ready to address the next opportunity or challenge.  Traditional strategic planning, while valuable, is a marathon typically with a three-year timeline that tends to be more focused around programs and goals. To be more effective, engage in real-time strategic planning where you and your leadership team are continuously in a cycle of thinking and action. Your strategy must change when it is no longer the best way to advance your mission, regardless of timing.

To find out more about the four documents that will help you engage in a high level, and a more flexible strategic approaching to planning, contact us.

For more tips and information on lifecycle assessments or consulting, contact nadia@emergingexecutive.com

 

The Frustrated Volunteer!

Nadia Prescott

I recently read this question in the Boston Globe about volunteering. “I want to find a volunteering opportunity and start doing something good for the world, but it seems like every organization makes it a hassle to volunteer”.

Nonprofit organization depend on volunteers. Your board is volunteer, and if you are a smaller organization, you likely rely heavily on volunteers to get many things done. Some organizations might even be all volunteer groups.

In desperation to find volunteers, requests are posted online or through word-of-mouth on an as needs basis with a lack of strategic thinking around volunteers. Hence the problems noted by the Boston Globe reader.

An eager new volunteer turns up ready willing and able to work for the organization. And there’s nobody there to support him or her. They show up a few times, do “stuff” where they do not see the bigger picture of what has to be done and why. The disorganization and lack of appreciation inevitably turns them away for the long term.

I see this all too often. The overriding need for help overrides the logical thought process and action steps you would take if this were for a permanent job. Take time to think about your volunteer strategy and volunteer management. What is the role or roles that are required?

How much time each week? Is this something that can be done remotely? What skills are needed? Who is going to manage the person and the project they are involved with and to ensure that course corrective action can be taken if needed? How will you make the volunteer feel appreciated and feel part of something important?

If you have a good volunteer you want to make sure you keep them engaged with the organization if this is only a short-term need. That points to another important consideration. Is this a short-term or a long-term need? Answer this questions, put a process in a place and you will recruit and most importantly retain excellent volunteers. And make it easy for those who volunteer with you!

Should We Have an Advisory Board?

Nadia Prescott

Every nonprofit organization must have a Board of Directors who is financially and legally responsible for the entity. But should you have an advisory council? There are a few reasons why some organizations may choose to do this:

  • For periodic input on program ideas. This might be a group of individuals who might not otherwise be willing or able to be on the board because they cannot contribute financially for example low income clients. Or there may be a conflict of interest with known experts in a particular field.
  • Fundraising: an advisory council might constitute individuals who only do fundraising. Hard as though it might be for many of you to believe, some individuals are fundraising powerhouses and only want to be involved raising money. They don’t want the legal or financial responsibilities or time commitment that comes with being a board member. Yet they are well-connected and willing to support your calls. Your job is to understand how you can engage these individuals to the benefit of your organization.
  • Keeping board members engaged: another reason you might consider an advisory board is for board members who have completed their terms of office according to your bylaws. Having an advisory Council might be a way of keeping them involved with the organization.
  • Finally, if you work under the fiscal sponsorship of another organization, the advisory board will perform many of the same duties as a board – without legal responsibilities. If the organization decides to apply for its own 501©(3) status, the advisory board usually becomes the Board of Directors

If you’re considering setting up an advisory board make sure you commit the time to set up the Council correctly and prepare for meetings to ensure this is an effective group and those members feel their time is well used. Consider the following:

  • Clear about the role and responsibilities that distinguish the advisory Council from the Board of Directors
  • Understand the main purpose of the Council and the people you ask to join the Council. You want a complementary mix of skill sets so the Council is as productive in its mission as it can be. While you may want to engage some people, the advisory Council may not be the right place depending on their time commitment and what they offer.
  • If the role for your Council is fundraising, consider calling it something like “Friends of the…..”
  • Distinguish the relationship between the board and the advisory Council and know how the two will liaise and how often they will communicate.
  • Know who is responsible for making sure the advisory Council meetings happen
    and are productive.

Making Magic Happen with Appreciative Inquiry

by Heidi Holtz
Stillwork Consulting Group

“I wish I had a magic wand.” How many times do you or others say that, especially if you work in the nonprofit sector? The truth, however, is that we’re really all Muggles, not Harrys or Hermiones. But there is a way that even Muggles can explore transformation. A strengths-based approach to change can unlock organizational as well as individual potential in magical ways.

Only a few times in my life have I been fortunate to have one of those head-smacking, magical moments where a process blends seamlessly with a philosophy. You know the feeling – you talk the talk, and you even walk the walk – but how do you help others to “get it?” That moment emerged when I was fortunate enough to receive training in Appreciative Inquiry Facilitation. Now as a private consultant I am reminded again and again how valuable this technique can be in all stages of engagement. This article is adapted from one written two years ago, which was a summary of the approach. I have updated it with examples of successful application.

Simply put, Appreciative Inquiry (or AI) is a strengths-based approach predicated upon the idea that organizations thrive when they continually ask themselves about, and focus on, their own existing success. It explores what works in an organization or situation rather than what is not working. Positively framed inquiries and interviews help discover times and conditions when the organization or individual felt most successful, valued and fruitful.

My clients, whether nonprofit organizational leaders, board members, or individuals I am coaching, often struggle to articulate their needs. They know something’s not working well, or could work much better, but even when they can pin it down, they often dwell on the mistakes and who to blame. In my meetings I help them reframe and get “unstuck” by asking a couple of very simple questions: “Think of a time when you and/or your organization were at your most successful and impactful. What was the specific situation? Tell me the story of a moment during that time.” Most become immediately silent as they ponder something they’ve never even considered. Others wince and find the question almost too hard to answer.

Once a pattern of positive moments emerges, participants can begin to dream – to imaginatively envision what their organization or situation might look like were the defined discoveries always present and even enhanced.

The possibilities are brought to life with specific commitments and actions. Innovation and initiative are encouraged, as is the idea that the action steps be owned by the individual or those in the room. The entire process celebrates diverse opinions, self-awareness, vision and actions.

Appreciative Inquiry is also invaluable in helping individuals make choices, whether professional or personal. A good friend was weighing two nonprofit job offers: a senior staff position at an established and well-known organization that required a commute to the city, or an executive director position at a small but struggling grassroots organization in her community. Both jobs paid the same and meant working with engaging professionals but the work and responsibility differed. I asked her to describe situations or times in her past where she felt happiest in her work, digging deeper with questions to illuminate circumstances, location, etc.

Her story was long and detailed. I pointed out that it was all about her kids, her community and taking risks. She realized that the local, grassroots organization was where her passion and future lay.

“Dude,” she exclaimed. “That’s magic!!”

Yes indeed, my friend. Also known as Appreciative Inquiry.

Help! Some of my Board Members Don’t Do Anything.

Nadia Prescott

As a consultant I hear these words many times! One of the first things I always ask is do your board members know the expectations of the role and responsibilities of the board member in your organization. The onus is initially on you….the board chair or any of the board officers whose responsibility include intervening with board members as necessary.

Sometimes you might have board members who are joining a board for the first time. Others may be more seasoned board members and those of the boards maybe different to yours.

Perhaps they have more staff and there are less requirements for support from board members on a day-to-day basis.

So first things first. Check your board job description and update if necessary. Let’s say all of that is in order. Whose responsibility is it “to do something” about board members who are undependable? After all, there’s nothing worse than attending board meetings and finding out your colleagues are not reliable, and not contributing to the well-being of the organization, and of their volunteer teammates.
Some suggestions:

  • Hold a board meeting where the focus is only on the board. Give yourselves a self-assessment. How did we do last year? What are our goals for the coming year as a team? What are our expectations for each board member? What backup and support systems – particularly around communication and visibility – would make your role easier?
  • Ensure you as the Board Chair meet or talk with board members regularly. Not email or WhatsApp! This way you build trust and communication. You will know if there are issues that prevent your board member from being more active if you know them. If necessary it is also easier to ask the “Do you still want to be on this board” and have the needed conversation.
  • Feed your board members! Not just with food but with education. How many of your board members truly understand financials. And would be willing to say so in front of their peers? How many know how to make a fundraising ask Discussions and actions like these can lead to insights such as the day or even duration board meetings that might make it easier for board members to attend.
  • Sometimes you’ll find board members just need a little check-in and a reminder to be more present and diligent with their duties. Other times it might require more action. It is up to you to find out which situation applies to your organization.

Budgeting for Diversity

Nadia Prescott

When formulating your diversity strategy, you must consider your budget. Yes, your budget. In the corporate world, where money is not a barrier, companies like SAP and Microsoft have created Autism at Work programs. SAP alone has committed to a goal of employing 650 Autistic team members. (Click here to see a video on diversity and inclusion from SAP).

These initiatives are expensive. In the nonprofit world, achieving your diversity goals will impact your financial plans. For example, I have worked with groups with ties to the Deaf community, where boards are required to have a certain percentage of deaf members. As a result, these organizations need to budget for interpreters and regular training for all staff members.

Other organizations may have board or staff members who come from disparate locations. It can be expensive to cover the costs for attending meetings, whether in-person or via technology.

A frank discussion about budget constraints should be part of a larger diversity strategy. Some general points to consider:

  • What is your current diversity policy? If it needs to change, why, and is this the right
    time? Ensure you have team discussions to answer these questions.
  • Be clear on the business reason for diversification. For example, are you expanding
    your network to increase awareness of your mission? Or would you like your
    organization to be more representative of the community you serve?
  • Write your diversification policy and goals into your bylaws. Be ready to adapt this
    as your best business practice.
  • Will your current culture support diversifying your organization? If not, what needs
    to change?
  • Strategically examine the skills gap in your organization at the board and staff level.
    Reach out only to qualified individuals with these skill sets. It’s a mistake to reach
    out to candidates only because they represent communities or demographics you seek.
    Build a team that is culturally competent by ensuring everyone possesses the right
    skills, adds real value, and fully supports your cause.
  • Understand any budget implications.