While Board meetings are adequate for conducting routine business, they are not the place to address matters needing sustained attention, such as: fashioning organizational values, vision, and mission statements; setting strategic direction and goals; identifying and selecting strategic issues; rethinking board leadership structure and process. These complex, high-stakes topics require a different framework. The best way to deal with them is to hold a board-staff retreat.
A retreat usually takes place off-site. It involves spending at least one day - often two days - in intensive deliberations. Retreats are effective tools for may reasons: they provide enough time to tackle complex issues; they encourage participants to suspend the ruses to deal with sensitive or controversial issues; they offer a creative way to involve staff members who do not normally attend board meetings; they satisfy the demands of the new breed of nonprofit board member.
Based on retreat experience, here are guidelines for nonprofits gearing up for a board-staff retreat:
Source: Nonprofit World, Vol. 12, No. 6, November/December, 1994, p. 27, 6314 Odana Rd., Suite 1, Madison, WI 53719.
I've been with the Michigan Women's Foundation since a year after it opened its doors in 1987. For a while, I was the only paid employee. We added a clerical position first, and it was a great relief to have someone to look after the word processing and the filing and the correspondence, but I still was handling almost everything of substance, from bookkeeping to program development to fundraising to our grant cycle. The addition of a second professional position helped; the Project Director became responsible for our grants distribution, the production of our newsletter, (including this one) and miscellaneous other projects, including our research reports.
As in many relatively young organizations, money was not abundant and our salaries were (and are) not extravagant. Among other things, this led me to feel guilty about overburdening staff. The fact that there was always something more to do combined with this guilt led me to try (not always successfully) not to pile too much on other staffers - and almost never to give them independent responsibility for anything. If you like control - and I do - this situation has some advantages. It's often easier to do things yourself; the extra hours are one price you pay, but there are other, less obvious costs to hoarding responsibility, which is more or less what I was doing.
Then I got sick. (not from overwork; it was something different) I got sick enough that I had absolutely no choice but to let go of some of the responsibilities I had been hoarding. I had to acknowledge that I couldn't do it all and I had to ask my staff, underpaid or not, to take on additional tasks and to operate with as much independence as possible.
What I learned, of course, was that they rose to the new challenges magnificently. It was always a kind of arrogance, if well- intentioned, on my part to think that I had a monopoly on dedication to our organization. Hadn't I, after all, hired the best people I could find?
The staff was filled with ideas and enthusiasm and truly imaginative ways of making things better - ways no one person could come up with by herself. Your staff probably is, too, and, with all the zeal of a new convert, I urge you to give them the chance to show you what they can do.
The Michigan Women's Foundation was always intended to be a partnership of staff, Board and volunteers. It took getting sick to remind me that this is more than a nice idea - it's the best way to achieve our mission. I believe this is true of any organization, and I believe that learning to let go and delegate is one of the hardest things many of us will face in our careers. But the rewards are great - and I promise you that you don't have to get sick to enjoy them.
We only think we know what our staff members (or even our volunteers) are thinking a lot of the time - or what great things they can do when they know that the responsibility - and the credit - will truly be theirs. Give it a try; try an inventory of projects and tasks you are keeping to yourself because you don't think it's fair to delegate them. then talk to your staff and see what they want - you may be very pleasantly surprised.
To help strengthen nonprofit organizations serving women and girls, the University of Michigan's Center of the Education of Women, in partnership with the Michigan Women's Leadership Project, "Leadership for Social Change." This project addresses issues women's and girls' organizations commonly face through a yearlong process of group forums and on-site consultation.
The Project is designed to increase the influence they have in their communities, enhance the leadership and management skill of directors and boards, and build strong networks of leaders. Three, three-day weekend seminars will foster interactive group learning, pooling of resources and the building of supportive networks. In addition to the seminars, 32 hours of individualized on-site consultation help translate ideas generated during the sessions into action planning. We emphasize individual, organizational and community-wide leadership that creates lasting social change.
Participants in the 1994-95 sessions are: Maria Diaz, Irish Hills Girl Scout Council; Kathleen Durand, The Center for Single Parents; Ferne Farber, River House Shelter; Amanda Good, Alternatives for Girls; Doreen Howson, Eastern U.P. Domestic Violence Program; Mary Keefe, Relief After Violent Encounter; Kristin Lukens-Rose, Women's Information Service; Barbara Morgan, Shelter, Inc.; Clara Newman, YWCA Interim House; Hedy Nuriel, H.A.V.E.N.; Antoinette Peterson, Women's Resource Center,; Pamela Martin Turner, REACH, Inc.; Michelle Vasquez, Ann Arbor Community Development Corporation; Christine Warne, Region Four Community Services.
We are now beginning to recruit for the 1995-1996 sessions of the Michigan Women's Leadership Project. The total fee for lodging, meals and participation in the Leadership Project is $700. Limited scholarship assistance is available to help with travel from the Upper Peninsula and child care. Scholarship assistance may be available.
A total of 15 participants will be chosen. Eligible applicants will be Executive Directors of organizations which have as their mission serving needs of women and/or girls. Deadline for applications will be July 31, 1995. If you are interested in applying, please contact Sandra Bitonti Stewart at (517) 374-7270.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy offers a service which allows organizations to select among a number of articles on fundraising, make a toll-free call, and have those articles faxed and in your hands in minutes. The service is called ChronicleFax and fees for articles range from $3.75 to $7.74. Guides and directories are also among the resources offered. Resources include information on capital campaigns, special events, planned giving, direct mail, telemarketing, donor research, foundations and corporations, and general fundraising topics. Several articles address the special needs of small charities ("How Small Charities Can Get Started in Doing Research on Potential Donors," "How Small Charities Can Get Started in Planned Giving") and offer instruction in grant application ("How to Increase Your Chances of Winning a Foundation Grant," "Guide to Books on Winning Corporate Grants".) For a list of articles, call 1-800-432-0550, 24 hours.
Need some information on management or leadership, but don't know where to start? The Applied Research and Development Institute has created an extensive directory of books, booklets, pamphlets, bibliographies, audio and video tapes, computer software, training kits and other materials in management and leadership development. The list includes over 1400 entries from hundreds of publishers, as well as a list of 153 non-profit organizations that provide technical assistance on management and leadership (three of which are in-state, several more are located in the Midwest). Operations and human resource management, resource development, financial management, legal issues and planning are among the many subjects included. Dozens of resources can be found in the areas of capital campaigns, grants, individual contributions, planned giving and in- kind donations. This 75-page long directory can be found in the January 12, 1995 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy or can be ordered for $6.95 by writing to: Applied Research and Development Institute, 2239 South Oneida Street, Suite 633, Denver, CO 80224.
When you take a look at the costs of printing for one year, chances are good that they;re substantial. Here are some ways that you can cut costs: BID OUT just about all jobs. Take advantage of items when printers are hungry for work. ASK PRINTERS which sizes work best for them. ask them to suggest cost-reducing alternatives to what you are proposing. REDUCE PAPER WEIGHT whenever possible. Remember that you are paying for paper by the pound. PROOFREAD. If you are not a good proofreader, enlist the help of people who are. The investment can pay large dividends as you avoid changes to final proofs. When getting QUOTES on the printing if you are using a mailing service, ask for a "delivered to your letter shop" quote. In large quantities, this can make a big difference.
Source: Communication Briefings, Feb. 1995, Vol. 14, No. 4, p. 5.