Simone Joyaux, ACFRE recently joined us for a webinar in which she explained some of her favorite standards for board governance — too often ignored and mostly unknown.
In case you missed it, you can watch the full replay here:
Steven: All right, Simone, still with us?
Simone: Yes, I am.
Steven: All right. So why don’t we go ahead and get started. So I will say good afternoon to all of you listening from the East Coast and good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for a special Monday edition of our weekly Bloomerang webinars. We are going to be talking about how to make our board stronger and why you’ll be glad that you did. Thanks for being here.
My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang and I will be moderating today’s discussion. Before we begin I just want to let everyone know we are recording this presentation. So if you have to leave early or you want to perhaps want to relive the content or share it with someone on your team, you be able to do that. Just look for an email from me later on today. I’ll be sharing the recording as well as the slides with you a little later on today.
As you’re listening, go ahead and please feel free to send in questions and comments through the chat box there on your webinar screen. I’ll see those and so will our guests. We’re going to save some time at the end for a Q & A session. We’ll try to get to as many questions as we can so do not be shy. We are going to leave time for questions.
And just in case this is your first webinar with us, welcome. In addition to offering great weekly webinars, Bloomerang also offers some donor database software, so if that is something you are interested in or are in the market for, please check out our website. I’d love for you to learn more and even get a video demo without having to talk to a salesperson. Who likes to do that anyway? So check that out if you’re interested.
I’m so excited to introduce out guest. I have a feeling that this is probably going to be one of our biggest webinars of the year. Our guest really needs no introduction but she is Simone Joyaux ACFRE. Simone, how is it going? Thanks for being here.
Simone: It’s going just fine. It’s raining here in Foster, Rhode Island, but that’s okay. Tom, my partner, will be very happy.
Steven: It’s raining here in Indy too. Hopefully, you other people have got some better weather. I’m going to brag on you. You are so awesome. You are a legend. You fill rooms repeatedly at conferences. I just had the pleasure of seeing you present at Planet Philanthropy last week in Florida. People were on the edges of their seats. I can’t for everyone to hear what you have to say about board governance today.
Just in case you don’t know her, Simone is described as one of the most inspirational, thoughtful, and provocative leaders in the nonprofit sector worldwide. She works with all types and sizes of organizations. She primarily focuses on fund development, governance planning, and management. She has written three books, three excellent books. “Keep Your Donors” is one. “Strategic Fund Development” and probably my favorite one “Firing Lousy Board Members.” I just love that title. She regularly serves on boards often as chair. She has even founded two organizations herself.
She currently chairs the board of directors at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and also chairs the advisory board of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom. So I’m going to pipe down because people aren’t here to listen to me. They’re here to listen to you, Simone. So why don’t you kick us off here. Get us started.
Simone: Well, thank you very much, Steven. This is as Steven said and you all know is about standards for good governance. I was actually quite excited when Steven asked me to do this. We are going to specifically be talking about standards. You have both the PowerPoint of course, but what you really want eventually, which Steven has also posted for you, is my governance self-assessment.
One of the questions that has always sort of plagued me over the years is on this continuum of really good to mediocre or as I like to say dysfunctional where is your board? Any number of us will say, “Our board is great,” or “our board is this or that.” How do you know? Who is deciding this? Your board share says your great? Your exec says the board isn’t so good? You as the fundraiser or you as the exec are pretty darned sure it’s not that good or whatever.
Over the years I’ve developed a set of standards. When I say, “I’ve developed a set of standards,” I mean I have spent 40 years working in this sector reading books and looking at other people’s standards and then playing around with them. What we always want to keep remembering is standards mean some sort of outside knowledge. It’s not, “Well, in my opinion,” because really personal opinion doesn’t count. It’s professional knowledge. It’s professional opinion based on lots of experience and expertise.
My standards as I say come from all kinds of different places as well as my own observation and consulting work. Just as an aside, one of my favorite documents that I ever read years and years and years ago by Ken Dayton, the former CEO of the Dayton Hudson Corporation in Minneapolis, St. Paul and it is called “Governance is Governance.” You can get this from the Independent Sector which is an organization in DC and it is called as I say “Governance is Governance” and the author is Ken Dayton. D-A-Y-T-O-N. You can order it right from their website.
Another really good source of ongoing conversation about good governance is in the Nonprofit Quarterly. That is www.nonprofitquarterly.org.
I want to start with a couple things first sort of laying some ground work. We’re going to talk about board or board members. Here it is. This is one of those hugely important distinctions that most people do not seem to understand. It’s a distinction of huge importance. The board is a collective. The board is a group. Its job is to do governance. The definition of governance is the process whereby a group of people work together to ensure the health and effectiveness of the corporation.
Now, just as an aside, if you go to my website, there’s a free download library and it has tons of materials like this including the job description of a board and performance expectations of a board member.
We are talking today not about board members. We are talking about the standards for a board. What’s so interesting to me is that all the material I read, the other books that I read, the articles, when I hear people talk they keep using board and board member interchangeably. That’s like a sin of massive proportions. Right?
One thing I always like to say to boards is no single member of the board has any more authority than any other member of the board because the concept is the collective. The work of governance that work of the collective group only happens at board meetings because that’s when you’re together. It’s always kind of fun to tell a board chair you have no more authority than anyone else. You can’t make any decisions because if they’re governance decisions they belong to the group and if they’re management decisions back away buddy. You’re the board chair, not the decider.
My actual governance self-assessment is however many pages long, but the particular standards I chose to look at today for you was composition of the board, selection, recruitment, and evaluation of board members so the decision belongs to the board and then it rolls out to the individual board members. Orientation and development of the board, board monitoring of organizational health after all what do we actually think the board is supposed to be doing. Board CEO relations, which is very interesting, then board operations, board meetings, committees or task forces, evaluation of the board, and philanthropy and fund development.
There are many, many questions in all of these areas in my governance self-assessment and I’ve selected just a few to look at today. The actual survey has “yes, needs improvement,” “no” or “I don’t know” as response choices. There are also several open-ended questions. I want you to reflect for just a moment. So this is talking about standards and this governance self-assessment with the idea that all board members each would fill it out. Then it would be tabulated. Then we would have a picture of how we the board, the collective compares us to the standards.
I also just as an aside always have the executive director and the chief development officer fill out the survey too because they work so closely with the board. I don’t tabulate their responses in with the board because I find oftentimes the staff responses are more knowledgeable and more honest.
So survey responses, yes, our board adheres to the standards or we kind of do, but we need some improvement, or no we just don’t. Now, “I don’t know” I think is just as important a response as the other responses. What’s interesting about it is why would a board member would not know the answer to this. So survey responses. Yes, needs improvement; no, I don’t know. Okay. This presupposes of course that either everyone agrees to the standards or and what oftentimes happens if of course most board members and quite frankly most staff don’t know what good standards are, so part of the joy, the value of conducting a governance self-assessment is it makes us think about the standard. It makes board members then have to ask questions about the standards.
Quite frankly, as far as I’m concerned given the background I already gave you, which I hope you heard, about where I got these standards from, my own 40 years of working in this, from reading books, going to conferences, reading articles, etc. these are the standards. If you don’t want to adhere to one of them, imagine the conversation your board could have about “I don’t like this standard.”
I don’t know is just as interesting a response as “yes,” “needs improvement,” or “no” because the question is why don’t you know the standard. Is it because the staff doesn’t explain adequately? Is it because you don’t go to board meetings etc. etc.? We are now going to start looking at specific standards which are in the entire governance assessment. You have that in the system. Steven loaded that up for people to download.
Think about recruitment of board members and the importance of it. Here is a standard. It’s on page three of the governance assessment, One B as in boy. The recruitment process considers issues of diversity (e.g. gender, generation, sexual orientation, socioeconomics, etc.) when identifying candidates for board membership.
Why is this important? Well, because all of the research says that diversity of life experience directly impacts the effect of a group or institution. This means your board as a group your staff and the governance committee or board development committee or nominating committee, whatever you call it, has to be comfortable talking about gender, generation, sexual orientation, etc. They actually have to be comfortable talking about this.
One of my most favorite experiences was when I served on the board of an organization that I founded that was very conscious of issues of diversity. One time as we were preparing for the next identification of candidates for recruitment we identified the skills we needed on the board and then we talked about the diversity we expected and the summary of our statement was we will only identify candidates that reflect our values and the behaviors we expect, all that sort of thing, and we’re looking for these particular skills and they cannot be white women over 50 because we had too many of those on the board.
This is a very important standard and a very important standard for board members and staff to truly understand. What is the value of diversity? What do we mean by it? Do we consciously and intentionally build a board with this consideration in mind and with this standard in mind?
Here is another one. This goes right along with the prior one around diversity. The board discusses the types of behaviors that contribute to group effectiveness, seeks individuals who behave accordingly, and avoids individuals whose behaviors negatively affect the group.
Imagine, yes, yes, yes, we’ve all identified the skills we need on the board. Those are very clear actually when you consider the job of the board. Again, you will find materials on that in the free download library on my website. However, we also have to talk about behaviors. So again, I was serving on a board where we were talking about behaviors. We expected of all board members things like being a team player, respectful, very candid, and honest, right?
So on this board we were beginning to brain storm candidates who fulfill both the skill needs and the diversity needs right and the behaviors. An individual was suggested as a candidate to interview and another board member very professionally and discretely said that person always wants to be boss in any organization. Then right around the table on this board everyone said we will not consider that individual because we adhere to a standard about group effectiveness and we seek individuals who demonstrate those behaviors and we avoid individuals whose behaviors negatively affect the group. Again, standards about recruitment.
What’s interesting is, to what degree does your board even have a conversation about these kinds of standards and you can use this governance assessment which is on the website for this program and you can use that to talk about the standards.
Okay, now another standard. Does your organization actually evaluate the performance of board members? Now notice. I just moved from the board, the group, to board members. Why would I do that when I specifically said at the beginning that this webinar is about the board as a collective and its good governance standards? Well, that’s because the board defines the performance expectations, the job description, etc. of the board member.
So every single year whether your term is expiring or not every single year the board the board development committee, the governance committee, again whatever you name it, whatever you call it, should evaluate the performance of board members. If your performance according to the performance expectations, sample on my website of performance expectations for all board members, your performance does not meet those performance expectations or standards for the individual board member then we give you feedback. If you don’t improve, then we thank you and you are released.
We do that even if your term has not expired. Because we don’t keep around bad performers because it harms the group. Of course, that is the topic of my very small book called “Firing Lousy Board Members” which you can readily get on Amazon. It goes through talking about what the performance expectations are for the board members, what the role of the board is, and how you have to regularly evaluate performance because the last thing you want is Simone Joyaux to stay on your board after you’ve found out at year one and it’s a three-year term that I’m a lousy board member.
Again, think about this. It’s governance self-assessment where every single board member has to complete the governance self-assessment and the exec and development officer do it too. You tabulate the results of all those board members and then it’s the conversation after the assessment that is so marvelous because the whole board gets the tabulated results. The whole board gets it and of course the board development committee, the governance committee talks about it and talks about what has to be done to improve things. There is a conversation at the board level about what has to be done to improve things and what the standards mean and why they matter because we don’t just invent standard for the fun of it. It’s because they actually matter.