In the spirit of the holiday season and as 2012 draws to a close, I began to reflect on some of the things for which I am thankful, particularly in light of so much sadness and violence around the world.
I am thankful for living in a stable democratic country.
I am thankful for being engaged in interesting and meaningful work.
I am thankful for the love and support of my family and friends.
I am thankful for the loyalty of my clients and the confidence they continually show me.
I am thankful for living in a community where I feel a sense of belonging.
I am thankful for the camaraderie and strong relationships with my work colleagues.
I am thankful for the love, understanding, and support from my life and business partner.
I am thankful for being me. I am a very lucky and fortunate person.
This reflection has led me to think about some of the things that I am less thankful for, such as living in a world where violence has become the evening news; where children are killed en masse by a crazed murderer; where the environment is taken for granted and we continue to dump toxins and garbage into our oceans, our air and our ground; where abuse of women and children continues seemingly unabated; where education and equality for girls and women is still an enormous challenge in many countries; where people who are ‘different’ in our country are bullied and marginalized; where animals are considered disposable; and where people are hungry and starving in our city, one of the most prosperous cities in the world.
There is so much to be thankful for and yet, at the same time, so much that is unacceptable and simply outrageous in the 21st century. This Christmas, we should all be thinking about how we can each make a difference, even in a small way to change the world. Margaret Mead, the great American anthropologist of the 20th century said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world”.
Witness Jenny Benson from Halifax, who is changing the world of one Ugandan girl at a time through her Aninga Project, an educational initiative that pays school fees for girls who would otherwise never receive an education (www.aningaproject.org). Or Riet Koetsier, who passed away just last month; she was the longest living volunteer at the Bide Awhile Animal Shelter, started by a small group of dedicated people in 1969, who couldn’t stand to see strayed and homeless cats starving to death on the streets (www.bideawhile.org). Or, Norman Greenberg who in the early 1990’s started Affirmative Ventures to help people with mental health and other disabilities gain economic independence www.affirmativeindustries.com), and now is leading the charge to bring a full-service grocery store back to the North End of Halifax (www.communitycarrot.coop).
There is much that needs changing and if you consider yourself as fortunate as I consider myself, then there should be nothing that stops any of us from grabbing hold of one thing that has the potential to change the world for even one person. How will you change the world in 2013?
Our management consulting practice includes a significant number of not-for-profit and charitable organizations that vary in size, mandate, composition, and geography; and that have a range of funding sources including government, membership fees, foundations, fee for service offerings and donors. What they all have in common is that they are governed by a voluntary board of directors.
The CEOs / Executive Directors who are successful leaders have a vision for and a passion about their organizations, and they know how to recruit, inspire and engage their volunteer board members.
We have one client who is the CEO of a national organization that when she took over 10 years ago, it was a demoralized organisation in a deficit position with 6 employees. She now leads a 100 person organization with nine offices across the country; she has built up a significant reserve fund and is the leader in that sector. The composition of this board is diverse in terms of geography; they come from across the country but they are all interested in the cause and affiliated with it in some way in their professional lives. They are all busy professionals with important positions in their ‘day jobs’. Yet she is able to consistently attract high-calibre and committed board members to her organization and prevails upon them for their insights and their knowledge.
We have another client who started up a not-for profit in NS with a commitment to wean the organization off government funding over a four-year period. Not only has she been successful in doing so, she too has a reserve fund and has opened a second office internationally. Her board comes from a very specific and defined group of members and her challenge is that these board members are not the heads of their organizations. Therefore, she needs to ensure that she knows not just how to motivate the board members but also knows the priorities of their organizations and their leaders. Her’s is in many ways a more complex challenge in that she needs to maintain two sets of relationships. Without the decision-makers sitting at her board table, she must ensure the board members, who are in fact the influencers, are communicating a persuasive and supportive message to their organizational heads.
Both of these leaders have had very different struggles, but what has sustained them both, is that they have had a very clear and compelling vision of where they want to take their organization, a strategic plan to guide them and the wisdom to manage and lead their boards in a manner that supports their organization and ensures board members feel their contribution is making a difference.
Strong, visionary CEOs know how to bond with their volunteer board members. Board engagement is hard work and takes a certain amount of charm combined with hard-nosed business sense. It is one of the critical attributes of the successful not-for-profit CEO. An effective board with existing high-calibre members attracts new high-calibre board members and also attracts funders, clients, employees and sometimes, the public and media.
One of the most successful charitable organizations we have seen is a small community-based organization whose Executive Director has a fervour for his job and his casue that is truly contagious. Over the 20 years he has served in his role, he has led from behind. But make no mistake; he is the leader of his organization. He works closely with his board chair, keeps his board informed and excited about the work of the organization, and paints a clear picture of where the organization is headed. He has more than one year operating expenses in his reserve fund, a new building fully paid for through a successful capital campaign, and a new venture in the planning stages. His board comes from the community and the public-at-large which presents a whole other set of challenges. But their motivation is uniform and consistent. These board members are driven by the cause so his success is dependent on tapping into the passion of his board members.
These CEOs are successful because they are not only passionate about their organization’s mission and tireless about pursuing their vision but they also know how to connect, engage and collaborate with their volunteer board members to keep them excited. These are also the CEOs who work with their boards to renew their vision, develop a strategic plan every three to five years, and hold themselves and their boards accountable for delivery of the plan. The value for the organization is that these CEOs usually attract creative, enthusiastic and committed board members who often go beyond the call of duty to support them in running highly successful organizations.
Volunteer board members are motivated by their desire to give back and / or make a difference and CEOs of NFP organizations need to tap into those philanthropic, big-hearted genes. They need to know why their board members are there and what they require in return to ensure their ongoing contribution of time and talent. That special insight combined with some good old-fashioned TLC makes all the difference and keeps volunteer board members engaged, involved and enthusiastic about the organization.
In summary, successful engagement of volunteer board members in not-for-profit organizations is an essential part of the CEO’s job. It involves:
- Strategic recruitment to ensure the board has the right combination of skills, talent and commitment of time;
- Generating passion and enthusiasm for the vision and the mission of the organization;
- Holding the board and the organization accountable for organizational performance and delivery of the strategic plan; and
- Understanding what motivates each board member and tapping into their good-will and altruistic disposition.
The Canada Games, the largest sporting event in the history of Halifax is upon us. We’re very proud to be part of this historic moment in our community. We’re especially proud of the contribution that Ruth Blades, a member of our team, has made over the past 18 months.
Ruth recognized that this is “one of those events that come around once in a lifetime” and she wanted to be part of it. As a project manager in her professional life, she knew she had skills that could contribute to the success of the Games. Many months ago, she submitted her name and was asked to take on the co-project manager’s role with the Sport Division of the Games. I asked Ruth a few questions about her involvement and experience and here’s what she shared with me:
Q: What was involved in your role as Co-Project Manager of the Sport Division?
A: We developed the project plan, including project charters, work breakdown structures, risk assessments, issues tracking, reporting mechanisms and status reporting for the Project Management Office. That meant that we worked with the 21 Sport Organizing Committees, the Sport Management Group and other divisions to ensure that the field of play was set for all the participating sports. That includes all manner of things to make certain the events run smoothly such as: having equipment in the right place at the right time; officials in place and trained; competition and practice schedules developed down to the last detail; and a results system that is operational. In other words, our job was to make sure the Committees that were responsible for the execution of these activities knew what they had to do when and we kept them on track by checking in through regular status meetings.
Q: How much time have you committed to the Games?
A: So far I have spent about 250 hours over 18 months and I’m scheduled to work another 80 hours or so over the next two weeks. As we moved from planning into execution, I was asked to take on the role of Sport Division representative on the Arrival and Departures team. This group has developed plans and processes to ensure the athletes and their baggage arrive at the appropriate destinations. During the Games I will also be working as a Major Officials Information Desk Host, providing assistance to Major Officials and Technical Representatives.
Q: In total, you will have spent the equivalent of almost two working months on this volunteer effort. What have you learned?
A: I learned a lot about sport, especially the complexity of hosting 23 national championships at the same time. I also had a unique opportunity to learn about working within a large, complex and very public project that involves many stakeholders and participants. At Halifax Global, our projects tend to be much smaller in scale and are generally of interest only to our clients, their immediate stakeholders and us. The Canada Games are very public and the impact is huge.
Q: What is the single most important learning you will take away from this experience, the Games aside?
A: Well, I have absolutely enjoyed working with my colleagues on this project. It exposed me to a whole new group of people and a subject area I didn’t know much about. Probably the biggest learning for me is how important it is to communicate clearly and concisely in complex environments. We always talk about the importance of communication but to see it actually work in a project of this size and complexity was a valuable lesson for me.
Q: Why do you think the Games are important for Nova Scotia?
A: There are many reasons why the Games are important to us as Nova Scotians. They promote sport and a healthy life style, they allow the Province to demonstrate leadership in the delivery of sporting events, they will bring in additional revenue to the Province but I think the single biggest impact will be from the residual effects they leave behind. They will leave a fabulous legacy including the Canada Games Centre, significantly improved infrastructure at sport facilities, the training of major and minor officials, and sport equipment which will be used to train emerging and future athletes.
Q: What will you take away personally from your involvement with the Games?
A: The personal satisfaction of knowing that I helped, in a small way, to bring about these wonderful games. This is a big accomplishment for Halifax and I am proud to be one of the thousands of volunteers that made it happen.
All of us at Halifax Global are proud of Ruth and her contribution to the Games and we look forward to cheering on our athletes over the next couple of weeks. Well done, Ruth!