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The Top 10 Reasons You Should NOT Serve on a Nonprofit Board

Nonprofit Board service is a serious privilege and honor – it shouldn’t be taken lightly.  When you decide to serve on a Board of Directors please consider your motivating driving force.  Ask yourself, “Why am I serving on this Board?” “Why is this worth my time, talent, and treasure?”  “Why am I willing to make this a priority in my life?”   Hopefully your answers have something to with service beyond self, a noble worthy cause, or greater common good.

Over the years we’ve discovered some other reasons that people serve on Boards – reasons that often result in turmoil, dysfunction, and unhealthy conflict for the individual Board member and the Board as a body.   We consider these the Top 10 Reasons NOT to serve on a Nonprofit Board:

  1. Because the Executive Director is my friend.
  2. Because I feel sorry for their clients.
  3. Because I don’t have any power in any other area of my life and I need a place to exert my influence.
  4. Because my ego needs some stroking.
  5. My resume needs updating.
  6. Because I used to work here as an employee and now I’m coming back as a Board member to repay the Executive Director for all the mess he put me through.
  7. Because my family member needs the services provided and I want to make sure I’m in position to steer resources their way.
  8. Because I’m the founder of the organization and I have to ensure they keep doing it the way I’ve always done it.
  9. Because it’s a charity and their expectations won’t be that demanding on me.
  10. Because we get to go on annual retreats to some really nice places.


There are many inspiring and noteworthy reasons for Board service.  Spend some time self-reflecting and ask yourself – “Why am I really here?”  – The answer will usually explain our actions or lack thereof.   Nonprofits need motivated, engaged, committed Board members who serve for selfless reasons, not selfish.  Serve for the right reasons and your service will make a difference.

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What do CEO’s Expect from Nonprofit Board Members???

Recently we facilitated a conversation on Great Governance.  Nothing unusual about the topic, but there was something unusual about the audience.  The audience wasn’t filled with Board members.  It was filled with Executive Directors, CEO’s, or other Executive Management team members of nonprofits.

One the questions we explored centered on their definition of Great Governance and how that definition shaped what they expect from their Board members.  Here are a few of their responses:

What are some characteristics of Great Governance? How does this shape what you expect from your Board?
Accountability We expect Board members to be accountable for what they say they’re going to do.Uphold their own standards and hold each other accountable.

Also hold me accountable as well.  How can they hold me accountable if they won’t even complete my annual evaluation?


Stewardship They’re stewards of the public’s resources.I expect them to honor that stewardship and take their jobs seriously.


Engagement Don’t just attend meetings.Be engaged and participate. Provide feedback and input.

Question the status quo.


Financial Support Give at a sacrificial level.Get others to give. Lead the way and pave the path for others to give.


Advocate Speak for those that don’t have a “voice”.Promote and advance the message and cause of the agency in all of their circles of influence.


What Great Governance characteristics would you add to this list?  Remember Great Governance is evident by the performance of the Board.  Here are some questions for you and your Board to consider:

  1. How do we define performance for individual board members?
  2. How do we define performance for the Board collectively?
  3. Are we (individually and collectively) performing at a Great Governance level?
  4. What will we do to ensure we’re continually improving our performance?

Hope this helps improve the performance for you and your Board.


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Marion Mann’s Takeaways from ACE Leadership Symposium

The best blog post we can share today comes from our friend @MMANN47 – Marion Mann – with the Greenville Chamber. Her summary of the ACE Leadership Symposium is awesome.  If you’re not intrigued by the topics of diversity, inclusion, and “minority” leadership; you will be after reading this. Thanks for capturing the essence of the day Marion!!!

ACE Leadership Symposium Takeaways

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Why Do You Serve on this Board?

“I believe in the mission.”

“I’ll do anything for the kids.”

“I love kids.” (multiple Board members stated this)

“I’m an advocate for children.”

“I want to learn how I can better help children.”

“I want to provide information for families in the community.”

“I just want to help.”

Imagine a nonprofit Board of Directors (Governing Board Members) that provide the above responses when asked the question, “What’s your motivation for serving on this Board?”

What wonderful and heart-warming responses – no one can argue or dispute that these motivations aren’t noble and worthy – surely they are.   There’s only one problem, I’m not sure if these self-proclaimed noble and worthy motivations are enough.

Now, imagine this is a Board that has an expectation of raising money, attending events, and being advocates for the organization.  The vast majority are not fulfilling the minimum expectations.  So what does this really mean about their motivations??

  • I believe in the mission, but not enough to raise money to support it.
  • I’ll do anything for the kids except attend events and serve as a “voice” for the “voiceless”.
  • I just want to help, as long as it’s in my comfort zone.
  • I want to learn how I can better help children, as long as helping them doesn’t include work on my behalf.

Of course I’m being facetious because I, nor you, can speak to another person’s motivation.  I believe they care and I believe they’re concerned.   I can only observe their actions, and that causes me to question their commitment.  So my advice to this and all the other imaginary Boards that may have this challenge is simply this, “Your displayed actions speak louder than your proclaimed motivations.”  Board service requires more than talking the talk – we have to walk the walk.  Here’s a truism regarding “real” Board service:  Some care enough to talk about it, some are concerned enough to think about it, but few are committed enough to do it.  We need you to do it.  Why do you serve on this Board????




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Vision, Mission, Values: Are They Really That Important???

“You must have a 30 second elevator speech.”

“Your people must know WHY they do what they do.”

“We need clarity and direction to really move forward.”

“Our purpose must be communicated and owned by the entire team.”

“Every organization needs a road map, some direction.”

“It’s not just what we do, it’s why we do it.”.

“What noble worthy cause are we here to serve.”.

These are just a few of the statements I’ve heard and read (and to be honest, I’ve said) over the years from leaders and managers from every sector.

All of these statements were part of some conversation related to vision, mission, and values, or some variation thereof.

I’ve always assumed that vision, mission, and values must be important because there’s so much literature and dialogue dedicated to them.  And after all, they’re on the wall of almost every nonprofit, small business, corporation and government agency you walk in.  Now I’m questioning this assumption because of something that has happened repeatedly over the years, as recent as yesterday.

I find myself standing before a group, a team, a tribe, a board, a leader, or a follower and I’ll ask a series of questions:

Question 1: Got a Vision Statement?

Answer: “Yes”

Question 2: What is it?

Answer: “Not sure” or  “I don’t know” or “I think it’s something like __________” or “It’s on the website”

Question 3: Got a Mission Statement?

Answer: “Yes”

Question 4: What is it?

Answer: “Not Sure” or  “I don’t” or “I think it’s something like_________” or “It’s on the website”

Question 5: Have any organizational or corporate values?

Answer: “Yes”

Question 6: What are they?

Answer: “Not sure” or “I don’t know” or “I think they’re something like ________” or “They’re on the website”

For some reason these answers are troubling to me. I don’t expect everyone to know the vision, mission, and values verbatim, but I would hope they would know the “essence” of them.  So here are a few questions I’m now considering:

1. Have we over-stated the importance of vision, mission, and values statements?

2. What does it mean, if anything, if key people don’t know the vision, mission, and values?

3. Do people need to “know” the vision, mission, and values in order to fulfill their roles, responsibilities and expectations?

4. Does presenting & viewing vision, mission, and values as “statements” create any challenges?

I have other questions, but I’m starting here.  Do me a favor, share your feedback regarding the questions above.  Any answers or insights are greatly appreciated, because I want to know if Vision, Mission and Values are Really That Important.




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Obstacle or Danger???

A healthy dose of perspective & insight  can help successful, high-performing leaders with their decision-making.  The ability to “see things for what they are” is a good thing.  The ability to “see things for what they are not” is even better.

There will be times during your leadership journey when you will face obstacles that will challenge you.  Overcoming these obstacles will prove to be moments of growth and create confidence for facing even greater obstacles in the future.

There will also be times during your leadership journey when you will face danger that needs to be avoided.  There will be warnings (sometimes subtle) like signs on the side of the highway to help you avoid dangerous situations and predicaments. When dealing with danger, the goal is not to overcome it, the goal is to prevent and/or avoid it.

Some leaders confuse obstacles & challenges with warnings of danger; resulting in their team and organizations being placed in a perilous situation because they didn’t know the difference between the two.

Perspective and insight will help the Teachable leader discern the difference between an obstacle to be overcome and a danger to be avoided.

In our next post we’ll begin to explore how to tell the difference between an obstacle and danger.  Have you had any obstacle vs. danger confusion along your leadership journey?? – Please share.

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Coalition Building Do’s and Don’ts

Coalition Do’s and Don’ts

Here are a few do’s and don’ts I’d suggest your community coalition consider.  Hope this is helpful.


  • Be inclusive – don’t limit the types of organizations and individuals to approach for membership, based upon your personal interests.  If it’s a “community” coalition, invite the community stakeholders, even those who have a different opinion than you.
  • Develop relationships beyond your comfort zone.
  • Define coalition purpose, structure, and processes.
  • Use technology (i.e. Social Media) to your benefit.
  • Understand the needs and concerns of each prospective members and organizations. Make sure everyone understands what the coalition is trying to accomplish and how you think they can help. Larger organizations usually need time to plan and include coalition activities within their current work. Be patient — this seems to be a recurring theme, but a necessary one.
  • Be very clear about the roles and responsibilities of the coalition. People need to understand what is expected of them. They can help develop a work plan, but that should be included in their roles and responsibilities. Ambiguity only leads to confusion and this can cause people to drop out of the coalition.
  • Develop specific activities for members to accomplish. The best way to keep people involved and motivated is to give them responsibilities to fulfill and make sure their tasks are short and sweet.
  • Ask for ideas, suggestions, and help. When asking for help and assistance, the organizer or leader needs to be a facilitator, not a speaker. That individual also needs to make sure all coalition members offer their views, and that people who might be shy are called upon to give their opinions.
  • Keeping track of every suggestion. Make sure that everyone’s opinion and view is counted.
  • Listen to the community.  Let people know their opinions are valued and their contribution is important.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.  Consistently keep your members informed and up-to-date.


  • Allow funding to de-rail your coalition efforts and cause mission drift.
  • Expect everybody to drop everything to join your coalition.
  • Trick people into serving on your coalition.  Tell them the Good, the Bad and the Ugly up front.
  • Be demanding – you can’t make anyone do anything. Patience is a virtue in Coalition building.
  • Violate the trust of members and/or the community at large.
  • Confuse people — state plans clearly and concisely.
  • Lecture — you are not in a classroom. If you’re facilitating this effort, you need to listen more than you talk.
  • Waste time — people are too busy.
  • Forget reminders – when sending out a meeting notice, follow-up with a phone call the day before the meeting to remind people.
  • Meet just to meet.


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Eliminating Mediocrity

I was reading Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” and came across the story of George Cain when he became the CEO of Abbott Laboratories.  It’s noted in the book that Cain could not tolerate any form of mediocrity and that he, “set out to destroy one of the key causes of Abbott’s mediocrity: nepotism.”

The part of this story that draws my attention is the fact that he attacked the cause – nepotism.  Often times leaders and managers treat symptoms, we very rarely take the time or have the insight to find the underlying problem and even deeper root cause.  In my opinion the problem, symptom, cause framework for Abbott Laboratories looked like this:

Symptom = Abbott Laboratories wasn’t performing.  They were sitting at the bottom quartile in the pharmaceutical industry.

Problem = Mediocrity

Cause = Nepotism

By attacking and eliminating the cause, Cain turned things around.

The lesson we all can learn from Cain is you don’t eliminate mediocrity by attacking mediocrity. If mediocrity is a problem in your organization, you have to identify the symptoms and then attack and eliminate the root cause.

Here’s a brief list of some Causes of Mediocrity we’ve witnessed:

  1. Leaders who stay in position beyond their “time”.
  2. Lack of accountability among Board members, managers, and staff.
  3. Unwillingness to set and enforce performance expectations.
  4. Fear of conflict.
  5. Culture of Excuses.
  6. Lack of commitment to the core business.  Good at too many things, but great at none.
  7. Unwillingness to measure and report results.

Have you witnessed other causes of mediocrity?  Please add to the list.


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Why Can’t We Be Friends??

We like to be liked.  I don’t know the science behind this and I must admit I don’t have any evidence-based empirical data to support my assumption – I just know what I know from watching people, interacting with people, and oh by the way, being a person myself.  We like to be liked – I don’t think many people would dispute this.

Though it may seem harmless, “liking to be liked” can cause some challenges on the job.  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a person say one of the following I’d have a lot of nickels:

“They don’t like me.”

“What can I do to make her like me?”

“I just want to be friends.”

“Why can’t we be friends?”

I wish we could all like each other – but that’s probably not going to happen.

I wish all of your employees liked you – but that’s probably not going to happen.

The fact of the matter is this – you and I have to learn to work with, grow with, achieve with, and live with people we may not like and who may not like us.

Organizational performance, productivity, and results are the priority.  Being liked by everyone is not the priority.  If you’re objective is to be liked by everyone, you’ll compromise the mission and compromise your values to please people who will never like you anyway.

Here are three quick considerations for you and your team:

  1. Our individual petty differences and issues pale in comparison to achieving our mission.
  2. I don’t have to like you to work with you and you don’t have to like me – But we must respect each other.
  3. Just because a person isn’t social on the job, that doesn’t mean they don’t like you.  That could mean that’s not their focus.  Some people go to work, to work – they purposely choose to separate their social life from their professional life.

Bottom Line: We can be friends, but if we can’t, we can still work together.

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Talk To Everybody or Talk to Nobody

“They don’t talk to me, I don’t talk to them.”

“He speaks to her and asks her about her day, he’s never asked about mine.”

“She’ll walk right past me, speak to him, and keep moving.”

“He’s looked me right in the eyes and didn’t even acknowledge me.”

“She only speaks to ones she likes.”

“He only talks to the white people.”

“She only talks to the black people.”

“He only talks to the attractive ones.”

“I don’t know why he doesn’t talk to me.  I don’t care,  I don’t have time to worry about it.”

 Is the setting for these quotes the typical Middle School cafeteria during lunch time — NO!!!!

These quotes come from professional men and women in the workplace.  They’re talking about their Executive Director, CEO, Supervisor, or Manager.

True or not, right or not, agree or not.  This is the perception of some in the workplace.  Maybe even your workplace.

As a leader you can’t solve another person’s personal problems or issues and you surely can’t be responsible to meet all of their social and relational needs.  However; there is one thing you can do.  You can talk to them.  Talk to everybody. Speak to everybody.  Acknowledge everybody.

Believe it or not, there are some people who would improve their performance today, if you just acknowledged their existence.  And yes, leaders, talking to people IS part of your job.

So talk to everybody or talk to nobody.

Hey, if you talk to nobody, at least they can’t say you have a favorite (You know this part is for humor, right?? Don’t pick this option.)


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