Think of your Board of Directors as an Adult Leadership Program

When I was an Executive Director with the YMCAs, I had Program Directors who ran our programs – things like day camp, youth sports, teen leaders, etc. Other organizations probably have similar roles, people who run programs, services, do case management, etc. A couple of months ago I shared an article on effective board meetings. In it, I talked about how I think of the Board of Directors as an Adult Leadership program that the Executive Director leads. 

Our youth programs would teach kids things like teamwork, sportsmanship, and how to develop healthy relationships. Similarly, our Board of Directors helps adults to develop their presentation and collaboration skills, it teaches them how to problem solve and advocate for things that are important to them, and it gives them a connection to their community that they might not otherwise have. 

When we think about our boards in that light, it shifts how we think about the structure, functions and activities of the board. It also helps us shift from a one-way street to a two-way street. If we just think about the board as being there to serve our organization, it’s a one-way street – what can the organization get out of these people? When we consider our work with the board as a two-way street we start to think about how the work engages and develops the members of the board. 

In planning a youth development program, the director needs to consider these components: 

  • Objectives and Purpose
  • Target Audience
  • Program Structure and Activities 
  • Curriculum and Content
  • Resources and Materials
  • Staff and Volunteers
  • Budget and Funding
  • Outreach and Recruitment
  • Evaluation and Assessment
  • Safety and Risk Management 

Let’s look at each and see how these planning components can apply to running an Adult Leadership program, AKA the Board of Directors. 

  • Objectives and Purpose

    • Clarify what you want the organization to get out of the program AND what you want the participants to come away with. Will they experience skills development, personal growth, community engagement, network building, leadership skills, personal fulfillment, etc? 
  • Target Audience

    • Who and what does your organization need in order to advance the work on the cause? Think about the skills, passion, connections, characteristics, and demographics of the people you want on your board. If the people on your board do not possess the qualities that you need, how can you help them to level-up?
  • Program Structure and Activities 

    • What are you going to have your board members do? It’s not enough to just have them come to board meetings for a sit & get. Incorporate opportunities for every board member to speak and contribute. Think about engagement opportunities outside of board meetings; such as committees, task forces, program observations, community outreach, public appearances, and more. Ideas for engaging your volunteers at a higher level:
      • Provide experiential learning to help grow their knowledge of the cause
      • Give them research projects or reading to do and report back to the larger group
      • Have them interview experts in your industry and share their learnings 
      • Give them the opportunity to conduct mission moment interviews and share the impact the organization is having
      • Delegate the facilitation of a discussion topics to someone other than the board chair
      • Additionally: opening thoughts, timekeepers, and committee reports are all roles that volunteers can step into 
  • Curriculum and Content

    • The content of board work should tie back to the mission and strategies of the organization. By including volunteers in strategic planning and tying those plans back to the month-to-month work of the board, you actively engage your board in advancing the mission. In addition, consider the opportunities you are including for your volunteers to grow. You might include:
      • Formal or informal training on things like: board governance, community initiatives, leadership skills, industry trends, etc. 
      • Board mentoring
      • Presentation opportunities
      • Networking 
      • Mission education and connection
  • Resources and Materials

    • This involves ensuring that your volunteers have the information available to do their job as a board member effectively. That can include an onboarding process, access to historical information, agendas and reading materials distributed in advance, and staff or volunteer support.
  • Staff and Volunteers

    • In order to ensure that the adult leadership program is effective, it requires staff or volunteer monitoring. Often the Executive Director is the leader who ensures that the program runs according to design. A Board Development committee or a Board Governance committee can (and should) help with planning, executing, and evaluating the work of the board. 
  • Budget and Funding

    • Just like with any other program, potential expenses need to be considered. Do you need to rent space for meetings, provide meals or snacks, purchase name tags or shirts, host socials, etc? Meals or other refreshments can serve as a great strategy for bringing people together and providing informal networking. 
  • Outreach and Recruitment

    • I hardly ever talk to a nonprofit leader that doesn’t ask me how they can find and recruit good board members. It’s important to acknowledge the fact that a professional and highly productive board can be one of your best attraction and retention tools. When people are excited about serving on your board and they believe their time is being used valuably, they will want to get others involved. And, the opposite is true. If meetings are unproductive and poorly organized, they can repel prospective board members.
  • Evaluation and Assessment

    • Again, this is often led by the Executive Director, and it is great to enlist the Board Development committee with this process. Good questions for the group to discuss include:
      • How effective was our last meeting?
      • Did we engage all members?
      • Are volunteers actively contributing?
      • What can we do to make the next one better? 
      • Are there any “off-line” conversations that need to happen? 
      • Are we meeting our objectives in regards to adult leadership development? 
      • Are we moving the needle on the work of the board towards our strategic objectives? 
  • Safety and Risk Management 

    • Serving on a board is usually a fairly low risk program in terms of physical safety. Unlike providing swimming or camping programming! To make sure that your volunteers are protected, all agencies should carry Directors & Officers (D&O) insurance. Additionally, ensuring that you create a culture where it is safe for people to step outside their comfort zone is key to helping them grow. No one grows when they do not feel safe. 

There’s no question that our best volunteers are the ones who give their time and energy to our organization out of a passion and desire to give back. And that is still super important. But if we are only thinking about what we can get out of our board members, rather than what we can give them, we are missing an opportunity to further develop the adult leaders we interact with and who care about making our world a better place. 

Every nonprofit is different and has unique needs and challenges. Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com, or schedule a Discovery Call if you would like to discuss your organization’s Adult Leadership Program. 

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors, and helper of nonprofit leaders.
kim@athena-coco.com 

 

Glossary of Terms

I work with a lot of people who are new to the nonprofit field. Some have decided to transition from working in the for-profit world to have more purpose in their work. Others have identified a problem, created a unique solution and started an organization to help make our world a better place. Still others are at a place in their lives where they are ready to start giving back to their community and are stepping into their first board governance role. 

Through working with these “newbies” I often get asked about different terminology. Words or phases that don’t quite make sense to them. Or they believe them to mean something different. It was out of one of those conversations that came the idea to write an article that is really a glossary of terms. 

Working or volunteering in the nonprofit sector can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be challenging to navigate the unique language and culture of these organizations. Understanding the terms and titles used in the nonprofit sector is essential to effective communication. Below are some of the most common terms and titles used in the nonprofit sector.

  • Nonprofit Business – An organization that operates for the benefit of the public, rather than to generate profit for its owners. 
  • 501(c)(3) – A tax-exempt status granted by the IRS to nonprofit organizations that meet certain criteria, such as being organized and operated for charitable, educational, religious, scientific, or literary purposes.
  • Agency, Organization, Nonprofit or Charity – There are terms that refer to a nonprofit business. 
  • Mission Statement – A statement that defines the purpose and goals of a nonprofit organization.
  • Executive Director (ED) or CEO – In an organization with paid staff, this is usually the top staff person and chief spokesperson of a nonprofit organization. These terms are not generally used in smaller, all-volunteer nonprofits. 
  • Program Director (or Manager, or Coordinator) – Whether an organization has paid staff or not, this refers to the individual(s) responsible for overseeing programs or services offered. It’s usually a paid position, but there are many examples of volunteer program positions. 
  • Development Director – Usually a paid position, this role is responsible for managing fundraising and financial development activities of a nonprofit organization.
  • Fundraising – The process of soliciting and collecting donations from individuals, corporations, and other sources to support a nonprofit organization’s mission, programs and services.
  • Philanthropy – The origin of the word philanthropy is Greek and means love for mankind. Today, philanthropy includes the concept of voluntary giving by an individual or group to promote the common good. The giving can include time, talent, and treasure. 
  • Donors – Individuals, foundations, or corporations providing funding to a nonprofit. 
  • Grant – A financial award provided to a nonprofit organization by a foundation, corporation, or government agency to support a specific project or program.
  • Letter of Intent – A donor’s letter or brief statement indicating intention to make a specific gift.
  • Charitable Giving – The act of donating money or assets to a nonprofit organization for philanthropic purposes.
  • In-kind Donation – A non-monetary donation of goods or services to a nonprofit organization, such as donated office space or pro-bono consulting services.
  • Endowment – A pool of funds that are invested to generate income for a nonprofit organization over the long term.
  • Annual Campaign – Fundraising efforts that go to the annual operations of an organization. Sometimes called a Sustaining Campaign
  • Capital Campaign – A fundraising campaign intended to fund a large project, often a building or other physical structures. 
  • Bricks and Mortar – An informal term indicating grants for buildings or construction projects.
  • Donor Stewardship – The practice of cultivating relationships with donors to build trust, engage them in the organization’s mission, and ensure their ongoing support.
  • Volunteer – An individual who donates their time, skills and knowledge to assist a nonprofit organization.
  • Board of Directors – The governing body of a nonprofit organization, responsible for overseeing the organization’s management and making strategic decisions. Every nonprofit organization is required by law to have a Board of Directors. 
  • Board Members – These are volunteer governance leaders of a nonprofit. As a group they are responsible for making strategic decisions and providing oversight. 
  • ByLaws – This is a document that spells out how the Board of Directors and the organization will function. 
  • Board Development – The practice of developing and implementing strategies to recruit, train, and retain volunteers for a nonprofit organization.
  • Articles of Incorporation – A legal document filed with the secretary of state to create a nonprofit corporation. This process is called incorporating. In some states, they are called a Certificate of Incorporation or Corporate Charter.
  • 990 – An IRS form filed annually by nonprofit organizations. 
  • Constituents or Clients – These words refer to those who are served by or who benefit from the work of the nonprofit. They usually refer to people, but it could include animals, groups or other entities. 
  • Stakeholders – Individuals or groups who have a vested interest in the organization. These could include partners, donors, volunteers, clients, staff and community members. An agency’s stakeholders are usually defined by the nonprofit.
  • Audience – This refers to the people that an organization is trying to reach with their messaging. It could be potential donors or volunteers, the entire community, or a specific demographic. 
  • Advocacy – The act of developing and implementing strategies to advance a nonprofit organization’s mission and goals. Advocacy can also represent a cause served by many different nonprofit organizations. 
  • Social enterprise – A social enterprise is a business with social objectives. Maximizing profits is not the primary goal of a social enterprise as is with a traditional for-profit business. And unlike a nonprofit, social enterprises pursue endeavors that generate revenues, which fund their social causes.
  • Impact – Measurement of the value and effectiveness of a nonprofit organization’s programs and services to the community. 
  • Annual report – A document that provides information about a nonprofit organization’s activities, financial performance, and accomplishments during a given year.
  • Capacity building – The process of strengthening a nonprofit organization’s infrastructure, systems, and processes to improve its effectiveness and sustainability.

Wow! This list is so long!!! I could have gone on and on, but I think this is enough for now. If you’re new to nonprofits or just thinking about getting involved, I hope this guide provides a helpful introduction to some of the most common terms and titles used in the sector. Please share with anyone who you think will appreciate the insight. 

Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com, or schedule a Discovery Call if you would like to learn more about the nonprofit sector, how to engage, and how you can help make our world a better place! 

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofit leaders.
kim@athena-coco.com

The Art of Board Communication

After a mini-Spring Break with my kids, I’m back on track with my project comparing leading staff teams to leading a Board of Directors. I see a lot of similarities, but many nonprofit leaders find board leadership to be intimidating and confusing. Hopefully this series can help to alleviate some of those uncomfortable feelings. Afterall, board volunteers are really just people who want to have a positive impact on their communities. Not much different from nonprofit staff, really. Check out earlier articles on culture, supervision, accountability, and appreciation

A big part of leading a Board of Directors is about building relationships around a common purpose. That being the mission of your organization. Building healthy relationships comes down to communication, similar to relationships with staff. The tricky part is striking a balance between enough communication and not overwhelming your volunteers. 

I like to categorize board communication down into these three buckets: 

  • Logistics
  • Relationship building
  • Agency understanding

The rest of this article will explore each category and systems for improving communication and relationship building in your agency. 

Logistics

  • What time is the board meeting? 
  • Where are we meeting? 
  • What are we talking about? 
  • Do I need to be prepared to speak? 
  • Do we really need to meet?

If you have board members asking questions like these in the lead up to a board meeting, you likely have room to improve your logistical communication. People like to know what to expect, and it’s a good practice to give them the resources needed to come to each  meeting prepared. 

Here are the best practice standards I recommend implementing when it comes to board meeting communication, specifically. However, these can also be used for committee meetings, events, and other board requirements. 

  • 3-4 weeks prior to the board meeting: Board President and Executive Director discuss meeting content. You may also include your Board Secretary or Administrative Assistant as well – whoever is responsible for communicating meeting details out to the board. 

Many agencies convene their boards during the third week of the month. This is common because by that time financial statements are prepared and can be presented. When that’s the case, the first day of the month can be a good trigger to start preparing for your board meeting. 

This planning meeting involves: 

    • Putting together the board meeting agenda (I’m planning a future article on my recommendations for effective board meeting agendas – watch for it!)
    • Determining materials for the board packet and who will collect them
    • Deciding who will present on what topics at the meeting
    • Assigning communication roles – what conversations need to happen to ensure everyone is fully prepared to speak at the meeting?

In addition, the beginning of the month is a good time to make sure that meeting reminders go out, or calendar invites have all the current attendees included. 

  • 2-3 weeks prior to the meeting: All presenters have been prepared. The board chair or the exec connects with everyone who will have a presenting role in the meeting. They are coached on the amount of time they will be allotted and the key points to cover. If there is a discussion to follow, clarify who will facilitate the conversation vs who will be engaged in it. 

In addition to preparing all presenters, print materials and resources should be gathered during this time frame. 

  • 1-2 weeks prior to the meeting: Prepare and distribute board packets. By this time you should have confirmed all presenters and gathered all materials for the board packet. A minimum of one week (10 days is better) before the meeting the full board packet is distributed. 

Board of Directors meet

  • Within 1 week after: Board meeting minutes are distributed. Assignments and action steps are highlighted. 

I often see agencies where the only communication that happens with the board is at the board meeting. By implementing the process above you provide at least three additional touch points with your volunteers – save the date reminder, board packet, and meeting follow-up. If that’s where you are at, this is a good first step towards improving communication. 

Another thing that I’ve seen is execs who expect their board to handle all of this on their own. While that is definitely the best case scenario, they might need help getting there. With guidance from the Executive Director on these best practices, it’s fully reasonable to get to the point where your Board President or Secretary is leading the charge on these conversations and the communication plan around board meetings. 

Relationship Building

Like I stated above, leading a board comes down to building healthy relationships with your volunteers. Think about how you do this with staff members. Whether it’s intentional or not, your relationship building process probably includes one-on-one conversations, informally stopping by to chat, team building activities built into meetings, learning about them on a personal level, and more. 

It can be a little more difficult to do some of these things with board members, who are not in your office space everyday. But there are likely ideas you can glean from the relationship building you do with staff. Here are a few that come to my mind:

  • Include get-to-know-you activities as the opener to your meetings. Ask questions like: what was your first car, who is someone who had a significant impact on you growing up, favorite family vacation, or what they are doing for the weekend. 
  • Distribute an All About Me document. This can be used to gather information about your volunteers’ families, career, accomplishments, likes and dislikes, and more. A fun idea from this is to have everyone’s favorite snack at board meetings. 
  • Go to them. Pick one board member a month (or week), and go visit their office. Bring them their favorite (office appropriate) drink. See them on their turf to get to know more about their work. 
  • Schedule a formal one-to-one with each board member every year. This is when you can ask them about their experience on the board, get feedback on how you are doing as a leader, and understand how they want to be involved in advancing your cause. 

Agency Understanding

Building relationships with volunteers, and making sure they know when and where they need to be are both important. Maybe most important when it comes to communication with your volunteers is making sure they have an understanding of your organization. They cannot advocate for the agency, if they do not understand it. 

When educating the board on your agency, it’s important to keep the conversation high level. Drilling down too much may lead them to think they are responsible for operations. Rather, you want to help them to think big picture. 

Here are some conversations to have either individually, during orientation, or through your board meetings. These will help prepare your volunteers with knowledge and ideas about how to govern the organization. 

  • Critical social issue – What is the problem the organization is working to solve? Or, how are you trying to make the world a better place? Educating on the problem is key to evoking passion from volunteers. You can do this by telling them about the issue. Or, you can assign readings or resources to look into. Then have a generative discussion about the challenge during a board meeting. 
  • Your agency’s solution – Many of the problems facing our communities are huge and multifaceted. Volunteers need to understand the organization’s philosophy and approach to tackling the issue. This can be communicated through conversations and orientation. A powerful activity may be to present a graphic on all the different agencies addressing the problem in your community, and how your approach fits into the broader strategies. 
  • Program outcomes – Your programming may be a really big part of your organization’s solution to the problem. Consider having board members participate in experiential learning as part of their orientation. Have them engage in your programs or go out to other agencies to see what they are doing. This is where volunteers can sometimes slip into operations mode. Be sure to coach them on thinking big picture about outcomes and measurements. Not on how the curriculum is built and the scheduling of classes. 
  • Financial strategies – Similarly to programming, volunteers sometimes dig down in the weeds when it comes to finances. Helping them to focus on financial strategies can elevate their thinking. Pose questions about the breakdown of revenue streams and distribution of expenses. What trends are they seeing? How do they compare to the nonprofit industry? What about the for profit sector? 

It’s good to include these discussions in orientation and throughout board meetings and one-to-one conversations. Another great tool for educating volunteers and building healthy relationships is through a board retreat. This event can be difficult to pull together, but it has so very many benefits, especially around relationship building. 

This might seem like a lot. But I’m here to tell you, building strong and healthy relationships with board volunteers is probably the most important thing an Executive Director or a Board Chair can do to impact the future of the organization. This is how you deepen connection to your cause, invest individuals in the future of your organization, and ensure long term sustainability for your agency. 

If you need help developing a communication plan for your governance volunteers, let’s visit! Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com, or schedule a Discovery Call today. Let’s work on developing healthy relationships with your Board of Superheroes! 

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofit leaders.
kim@athena-coco.com 

 

Board of Directors Evaluation

More and more lately I’ve been asked to conduct board evaluations. This has been a good way to develop a relationship with an organization, and to help them when they know something “just isn’t right.” Oftentimes a nonprofit leader can tell that things are not going the way they want them to, but they just can’t put their finger on the actual problem (or problems). That’s where I come into the picture!

When I start visiting with an agency, I usually begin by asking them a few questions. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get them thinking and moving in the right direction. More often, those questions lead to even more questions, which leads to me coming in to provide a full evaluation. 

The components of a full evaluation can look different from agency to agency, depending on the size, longevity, whether or not they have paid staff, and more. There are several things I look at when evaluating the health and effectiveness of a board. Some include: 

  • The Executive/Board Chair relationship
  • Executive Director’s thoughts on board leadership
  • Board President’s understanding of board leadership
  • Management tools that have been established 
  • Communication systems
  • Official or implied board expectations
  • The board’s effectiveness in carrying out their responsibilities
  • Whether or not the board is fulfilling their duties

Let’s look at each of these aspects of nonprofit leadership.

Executive Director/Board Chair Relationship

Some organizations have the Executive Director report to an Executive Committee, the Human Resources Committee, or even the whole board. Any of those options are fine. The important thing is that there is a healthy, open and honest relationship between the Executive Director and the person or group they report to. 

This relationship is unique to the nonprofit sector and can be tricky. In many organizations the Executive Director drives the work and leadership of the Board of Directors. The tricky part comes up because the board is actually the supervisor of the exec. So the board supervises the individual who informs and guides their work. Even in agencies where the board is largely self-governing, the exec and the board rely on one another to drive their pieces of the organization.

This relationship is key to the success of the nonprofit. It requires mutual respect and an understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities. Clear, open and consistent communication is the foundation to ensuring relationship success. 

Executive Director’s Thoughts on Board Leadership

Whether the exec likes it or not, some portion of their job involves board leadership. Every organization is different and therefore, what each nonprofit needs from their board is different. Since the Executive Director works in the agency every day, she or he is best informed about what the organization needs from its volunteers. The board looks to the exec to shape their work. 

Additionally, no one is born knowing how to be a good board member. Even when someone comes to a board with experience serving on other Boards of Directors, it doesn’t mean they know how best to serve this organization. 

When evaluating this aspect of an agency, I consider whether the exec wants to be completely hands off, or if they are trying to micromanage the volunteers. Either can lead to challenges. Going back to the previous point, we look at the communication that has happened between the board and the exec. Have they addressed what roles each will fill? If not, how does anyone know what they should be focusing their energy on? 

Board President’s Understanding of Board Leadership

What does the board president believe their role is? Are they there to just lead meetings? Should they be driving a set of strategies? Can they address volunteers who are not contributing? Not to sound like a broken record on these first three bullets, but it all comes down to the relationship and communication between the exec and the board. 

Management Tools

In case it hasn’t been clear so far – effective nonprofit leadership boils down to relationships. However, putting tools and processes in place can help ensure that the work that goes into building great relationships is well managed. Pieces that I recommend boards establish include: 

      • Clear board expectations
      • A process for deepening connections
      • System for tracking prospects
      • Clear and thoughtful communication systems
      • A thoughtful and thorough on-boarding process
      • Professional and effective board meetings 

Without some of these basic processes in place agencies often end up spinning their wheels. They have great conversations with no system for following up. They create great connections, but lose track of the individuals. Or they attract really great board or donor prospects, and end up scaring them away by appearing unorganized and unprofessional. 

Communication Systems

I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. A communication system does not need to be elaborate. However, it does need to be thoughtful and intentional. Without a plan, emails can spiral out of control. Pretty soon, no one wants to be associated with the organization because they cannot handle the number of communications they receive. 

Well functioning organizations come to an agreement as a board/staff team about how often they communicate and in what manner. They establish an understanding about etiquette. When there is a real emergency, they can deviate from their plan, otherwise they trust their system and make adjustments as needed. 

Board Expectations

I touched on board expectations under the management tools section. Like communication, this component is so important that I wanted to call it out separately as well. 

No one likes to commit to something if they don’t know what they are getting themselves into, right? This is especially true with joining boards. When a new board member is recruited, there’s a good chance that this is their first experience serving on a Board. It’s an unknown for them. Using Board Expectations as a recruiting tool can answer a ton of questions for them and help them to make a good decision about getting involved. 

Your expectations can be used for evaluating the board’s performance as a whole and as individuals. You can also reference it when dealing with issues of engagement or to raise the bar for the board team. As an organization’s needs change, board expectations are easy to change and update. Expectations should tie directly to what an agency needs its volunteers to be doing in order to advance the cause.

Board Responsibilities

 Every board has three overarching responsibilities. The governance volunteers are responsible for the mission, vision, and strategies. They ensure the organization has the resources (usually people and money) to deliver the mission, vision, and strategies. And they are responsible for making certain that the organization is operating legally and in a fiscally appropriate manner. 

These three functions are consistent across all Boards of Directors. A board evaluation looks at the extent to which the board owns these responsibilities. Sometimes it is a matter of seeing if they even understand that they should be owning them. 

Board Duties

Lastly, I like to review the board’s relationship to the duties of a Board of Directors. Like board responsibilities, duties are the same from one organization to the next. Responsibilities differ from duties in that responsibilities are functions, things the board does. The duties of the board speak more to how the board conducts itself.

Board duties include: Duty of Care, Duty of Loyalty and Duty of Obedience. Again, when evaluating an organization, I gauge their understanding of these duties, and their commitment to them. 

Conducting a board evaluation involves interviews with organizational leaders, review of documents, and sometimes attending a board meeting. It concludes with a report to the organization outlining and prioritizing opportunities for improvement. When a nonprofit knows that their board needs work, but they don’t know where to begin, an evaluation is a great place to start! 

Do you know of a Board of Directors that could be stronger, more efficient, or more effective? I’d love to visit with them to see if I can get them moving in the right direction. Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com, let’s chat!

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.
kim@athena-coco.com

Should You Start a Nonprofit?

You see a problem. It could be for a specific group of people, for a community, or for the world. Or maybe a personal challenge leads you to want to help others in your situation. You have an idea for a unique and creative way to make the world a better place. And you think you might want to start a nonprofit. What’s next? 

A Forbes article states that 50% of nonprofit organizations will fail within their first year. A lot of energy and emotion goes into launching an organization. Before you make the decision to travel down this path there is a lot to consider. 

Who else is addressing this problem?

An unfortunate commonality with nonprofits is that there is a lot of duplication. Many agencies serving the same cause in a similar way creates confusion for clients/constituents, donors, partners and the community. It leads to unnecessary competition between organizations that could probably do more good by working together. 

As you are considering starting a nonprofit, you first need to get crystal clear on what problem you are working to solve. Then look around and see who else is working to fix that problem. Check out their methods for addressing the problem. Is your idea similar to some other agencies out there? If so, you may be better off trying to partner with those agencies and work together. However, if after researching you find that you have a unique and creative way to address the problem, you may want to move forward. 

What is your commitment level? 

Starting a new business is a LOT of work. When you start a nonprofit organization, you have the additional challenges of extra government paperwork, developing and leading a Board of Directors, and fundraising. Not only that, oftentimes the founder ends up contributing a significant amount of personal time and financial resources in order to get the agency up and operating. Before launching a nonprofit, critically evaluate how much time and money you are motivated to put into it. 

It’s definitely worth noting that not all nonprofits require significant personal investment. Those with narrow scope and size can be launched with less backing and involvement. Which brings us to the next question you will want to consider. 

What is your long game? 

Nonprofits are often started as a result of a loss or trauma. For example when a child is lost, family and friends come together to channel their grief and desire to “do something” to honor their loved one. This is a great reason to start a nonprofit organization. It provides an instrument for managing grief, directing energy and routing funds. It can raise awareness and give people an opportunity to feel a connection to the child. Often these projects have a shorter lifespan. They serve their purpose and at some point are put to rest. And that’s okay. 

In other cases, the loss leads to something much bigger. Susan G. Komen is a great example. Susan’s sister Nancy started the organization in memory of Susan, with the purpose of ending breast cancer. Nancy had a long-game vision in the promise she made to her sister. 40-years later the organization is still working to eliminate breast cancer through research, education, screening, and treatment.

So, what’s your long game? Is your idea something you want to expand, and have live on long after you are gone? Do you want to keep it small and local? Your long-game can change as your organization evolves. Formulating a clear vision for where you want to take the agency can help you think through the previous question of your commitment level. 

Who will want to support your cause? 

Lastly, think about who will want to come alongside you and help you advance the work of your agency. Any successful nonprofit requires community engagement. Volunteers are needed to govern the organization as the Board of Directors. Donors or funders are almost always needed to provide operational resources. And community volunteers are generally needed to deliver programming or services, and to help with fundraising. 

When starting a nonprofit, one of the first things I always recommend is that the founder(s) get out in the community and talk to people about the problem and their solution. From there they find out who is excited about the work. Those are your potential donors and volunteers. If no one is interested in the project, it might not be a very good idea to go the nonprofit route. 

This article might sound like I’m trying to talk you out of starting a nonprofit organization. That’s not entirely true. What I really want to do is make sure that you make a good decision for you, for the people you want to serve, and for the nonprofit sector. This is another good article to read as you’re considering if the nonprofit model is right for you and your cause. 

Thinking about making the world a better place with your great idea? I would love to visit and talk through your options. Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com, let’s connect!

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.
kim@athena-coco.com

Onboard New Board Members

When you are a busy nonprofit leader, securing a new board member might seem like an item to check off your “to do” list. And it is, to an extent. However, if you stop there, you are jeopardizing all of the hard work that you have put into finding and recruiting qualified board members. 

I am frequently asked about how to retain board members. As if there is one thing that you could do to keep a good board member. The reality is that retaining board members takes the culmination of many things. Some of them are within our control, and some are not. A board member being transferred out of state is not something that we can control. Treating board members respectfully and valuing them is totally within our control. 

In this article we’ll look at what to do once someone agrees to join your board. A professional onboarding process can work wonders in helping a new governance volunteer to feel welcomed, comfortable and valued. All key components in retaining a volunteer long-term. 

When someone agrees to join your board, there are the logistical things to do:

  • Add them to your board roster
  • Order them a name tag (if that’s something you provide)
  • Ensure they have all meeting dates and other commitments
  • Complete any necessary paperwork
  • Etc. 

After you get those tasks handled, then it’s time to think about the experience you create for your new board member. Consider putting an onboarding plan together that includes: an announcement, personal support, and education

Announcements

Does the new board member just show up to the first meeting? Or do you send a notification out to the board and staff announcing the new member? Needless to say, an advance notice is preferable. Other ways of making a newbie feel welcome could include a sign as they enter your facility, put their name on a marquee, or an announcement in your newsletter, on your website, or in the local paper. 

Take into consideration the personality and the culture of your board/agency as you send out the announcement. Should it be strictly professional and highlight the new volunteer’s accomplishments? Do you want to make it playful with fun facts? Does it make sense to share personal attributes about the new addition to your board? The answer will be different for each agency and each board. It may even tie to your mission. For example, if you promote reading, maybe the announcement shares the new board member’s favorite children’s book. 

Personal Support

Joining a new group of any kind can be daunting. It’s even more intimidating when everyone but you seems to know what’s going on. There are several ways to mitigate that uneasy feeling of walking into a room of strangers. Assigning a veteran board member as a mentor or a “board buddy” can help with the transition to a new group. 

This can be as informal or as formal as you and the board would like for it to be. The pair can meet prior to the new board member’s first meeting, so there’s a friendly face when they arrive. They can sit together during the meeting, to help with clarifying any questions that arise. And they can connect afterwards to explore how the experience was and continue to help answer questions. 

You can also assign a staff or volunteer to serve as the new volunteer’s personal host. Their job may be to introduce them around, and give context to the different players involved in the meeting.

Education

There is a lot to learn when joining a new board. Many describe it as drinking from a firehose. Finding the balance between giving them what they need to know in order to be effective, and not overwhelming them and scaring them away, is a tricky balance to find. Again, this will be different for every agency, and you will need to figure out what is right for yours. Here are a few ideas for methods of educating your new volunteers. 

  1. Orientation: If you bring in a new “class” of board members all at the same time, it may make sense to do a formal group orientation. It can range from a couple of hours to half a day. Involving staff and volunteers; as well as stories and activities, can reinforce learning and make it an impactful experience.
  2. Series of Conversations: When you bring new members in individually, it can be a little more difficult to keep it from being a total information-download. Think about breaking it up into different sessions, and again involve other staff and volunteers in the delivery. Spreading it out over a month or two can give the individual the opportunity to absorb all the new information.
  3. Self-guided Content: Another option is to create a series of emails, videos, or even podcasts that the new volunteer can consume over a period of time. This option is going to be less personal, and there’s the risk that the new person will not commit the time to review the materials. A board manual (print or online) that you give them to read would also fall in this category.

Some things you may want to include in your new board education are:

  • Why you exist – what is the critical social issue your agency addresses
  • How you help solve the problem for your community
  • What programs and services you deliver
  • The impact that your agency provides to the community
  • Key messaging
  • Review board expectations again
  • Duties and purpose of the board
  • How your board operates
  • Logistics – staff and board contact information, key dates, access to any portals or technology the board uses, and any other materials they will need

Finally, you might consider putting together a goodie bag for when they come to their first meeting. The goodies could include an agency t-shirt, their name tag, a notepad and pen, candy, and other swag. (This would be a great project for a board member who really loves to help with recognitions and appreciations.) 

How you bring a new person into your organization sets the tone for their experience. Want to retain your board members? Put intentional thought into all aspects of the experience you are providing for them. If you would like help putting together an on-boarding process that’s right for your agency, I would love to visit. Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com, let’s connect!

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.
kim@athena-coco.com 

 

Engaging Prospective Board Members

In this article I talked about where to find prospective board members. (Incidentally, the sources for finding board members are also a great place to look for good donors.) Then, in this one I talked about the importance of clarifying your board expectations. Afterall, you wouldn’t take a paid job without knowing what the company was expecting from you. Similarly, no one wants to get into a volunteer position and be caught off guard by what is expected of them.

Today’s article is going to look at those crucial next steps. Once you know what you expect from your board members, and you have some ideas about where to look for and recruit them – you need to be ready with a plan for what to do with them once you start attracting them. 

I have observed leaders who meet someone – who has a little bit of interest in their organization – and they ask them to join their board right away. Finding, recruiting, and keeping good board members is hard work. It’s understandable that leaders may want to try and capture those interested as quickly as possible. However, slowing this process down is a much better approach. Let’s explore why. 

Recruiting Your Boss

Often, especially in younger nonprofits, the Executive Director does a lot of the work of recruiting the board. It often becomes just one more of the millions of things that she or he needs to work on. The very top reason to slow down the board recruitment process is because, as the ED, you are essentially recruiting one of your bosses. It’s safe to say that you probably want to make sure that you bring on someone who you trust, who you know will make decisions with the best interest of the organization in mind, and who is volunteering for your organization for the right reasons. 

Relationships Drive the Work

The work of a nonprofit organization is highly relational. Successful organizations engage more and more people in the important work of making the world a better place. Strong and healthy boards help to share the story of the organization, connect to partners, recruit more people to engage, and ensure impact and sustainability. Discovering how a prospective board member might contribute in an effective way takes time. It requires multiple interactions to develop a relationship and understand how their involvement can be mutually beneficial. 

Good Decisions Take Time

Just like you want to make a good decision for your agency, you also want to be sure that the prospect makes a good decision for themselves. They need to make a connection to your cause; determine if they have the time, energy and capacity to serve; and decide if your board is a good fit for them. It can be very disruptive to bring on a new board member, have them stay only a few months, and then lose them. 

For these reasons and many more, I recommend that organizations put a recruitment process in place. Having a process doesn’t mean that you cannot deviate from it, it just means that you have a plan for how to develop a relationship with a potential board member. 

Every organization needs to determine how their process looks. Many factors will determine what is right for each agency. An organization’s size, maturity, current programming, current board health, needs, and challenges are just a few of the things to consider. 

When working with agencies I recommend a minimum of 3 to 4 interactions prior to inviting someone to serve on the board. In the generic example below I’ve outlined some basic elements to include.

Board Recruitment Process

  • You get a Lead. This can come from networking, through your programming, a name presented by a volunteer, etc. 
  • Qualify that the Lead seems like a good prospect. Start (or continue) the relationship-building process. Take them out for coffee or lunch. Begin to share the idea of them serving on your board. 
  • If appropriate, invite them to observe a program or operations. Help them get a feel for the work that you do. During the observations make sure that someone hosts them. You want to clearly explain the methodology of your work, what sets your agency apart, and the intentional things you are doing to make a difference. 
    • Agencies that serve highly vulnerable populations may have to find different ways of educating a prospect about their work. 
  • Again – when appropriate, have them visit and observe a board or committee meeting. This is a good way for them to get a feel for the culture and how they might fit into it. 
  • Follow-up with the prospect to answer any questions, review expectations in detail, and explore how they are feeling about the possibility of getting involved. 
  • If they are interested, present to the board for a vote.
  • Officially invite them to join – OR – thank them for going through the process. 
    • A future article will talk about what to do with them once you invite them to join and they say: “Yes!” 
    • If you need to turn them away, share honest feedback. If the door is open to future involvement, let them know. If they are not a match, be clear about that too. 

As you consider who to bring into your organization, there is a lot to think about. Are they a good fit? Do they have skills that your agency needs? Can they help with connections, open doors, or raise money? These are all important questions you need to ask. I believe the most important thing to look for is passion. Do they care about the issue your agency is addressing and your strategies for solving it? If not, they may not bring their best self to the table and they may not contribute consistently. 

When you have a great first “date,” do the next logical step and ask them to get together again. Bringing someone on your board is not as significant as getting married. So after a few good “dates” it may make sense to start talking about taking the relationship to the next level; ie: getting them involved as a volunteer. Just as you should hire slowly and choose a life partner slowly – take your time bringing on new board members. 

If your organization needs help creating a recruitment process that is right for you, I would love to help! Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com to learn more. Let’s connect!

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.
kim@athena-coco.com 

 

Nonprofits Fail – Here’s Seven Reasons Why by Tracy Ebarb

Why Do Nonprofits Fail? Does it seem a bit crowded in here?

A few years ago, during his presidential campaign, Dr. Ben Carson made the statement that 90% of nonprofits fail within a few years. While Dr. Carson’s statement was largely hyperbole, it did call to attention the alarming rate of both nonprofit failure and ineffectiveness. The real data from National Center on Charitable Statistics reveals that approximately 30% of nonprofits fail to exist after 10 years, and according to Forbes, over half of all nonprofits that are chartered are destined to fail or stall within a few years due to leadership issues and the lack of a strategic plan, among other things.

There are currently over 1.5 million tax exempt non profits in the US.

In Texas alone, there are about 106,000 non profits, about 1 for every 4000 people.

In recent years the “overhead problem” has begun to be addressed. The irony is that we did this to ourselves in the first place. Instead of clearly communicating WHY an organization needed money to be invested in overhead, virtually all nonprofits educated donors that money spent on overhead was bad! We created that story by showcasing that operating on a shoe string budget was a badge of honor. However, when we do that we are actually perpetuating and encouraging a ‘race to the bottom’ mentality where success is measured by how little we spend, not by the impact we have.

Time and time again, we see research that shows the organizations that invest in technology, talent, and professional development end up making greater gains. The old adage from the for-profit world, “You have to spend money to make money”, is widely accepted — but not so, in the nonprofit world. In The Rise and Fail of Charities in the 21st Century, Elsey points out that “Nonprofits should not be having a conversation with donors about how little they are spending. They should instead be speaking to them about how much impact they are having relative to their budget….It should not be a badge of honor to be proud of operating on a shoestring budget.”

Remember, when you stick with the “Tin Cup” mentality and fear asking for an investment —you’re missing an excellent opportunity to articulate to donors the reason you need them and their funding and how they are helping to increase impact.

Also, don’t forget – 501c3 is a tax status, not a business model.

7 REASONS WHY NONPROFITS FAIL

  1. Empty Optimism – or Pie in the Sky Dreams (without the proper ingredients to bake a pie)

    I’ve seen some of the best, most needed (in my view), and earnest efforts falter and fail because the leaders simply did not accurately calculate the amount of support that would be available and the alliances and partnerships that they would need to support their humble beginnings. In other words – they lacked a sound business plan upon which to build a platform for success. The old saying ‘to fail to plan is to plan to fail’ is so very, very true.

  2. Values Vacuum – or Poor Organizational Development

    Healthy organizations establish core values that guide the way leaders and staff do business, and how they deal with each other and with outside people and groups at every point of contact. It is far too common for autocratic and self-focused founders to establish one core value: “do as I say.” These nonprofit heads find it very difficult to transfer authority or to share the limelight and leadership with an empowered team. There is little internal trust, and insufficient values to guard against abuses of power, privilege, and people. It is also an environment in which many unethical and even illegal practices can flourish, and often do. These organizations frequently fail in the first generation, and almost never thrive when the leader with all of the chips finally cashes them in.

  3. Competitive Blinders – or ‘we’re unique, there’s no one like us in the market’

    Nonprofit leaders and ministry executives are frequently insular and blind to the external changes and “market” forces that will be their undoing. Often it’s because they are so focused on the needs and crises around them. Or they cannot imagine anyone or anything that would deter them from their righteous ends. And charities are often unfamiliar with, or even repelled by, the notion of “competitors,” so they don’t recognize true rivals or adjust to compete. There is no ability to adjust programs to match changing situations, culture, or competition and to compete for donations, volunteers, media coverage, or program space. This blindness also manifests itself in the lack of research done to determine if there are other Organizations doing the same thing, with basically the same goals. This along with a self-righteous notion that “we” can do it better, or the right way, when cooperation, even merging with another Org would be so much more efficient.

  4. Iced Innovation – or the notion that ‘our website is good enough for now’…

    Nonprofits must Embrace Technology
    Mobile access, mobile devices and the experience on the internet has changed user expectations and has also provided nonprofits with a more level playing field.
    Take a look at the businesses that have grown quickly over the past years, innovative companies which are “disruptive” or at least are very different from doing “business as usual.” Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Zappos. Or nonprofit organizations which leverage technology to deliver on mission, like DoSomething.org and donorschoose.org.
    Today’s donors are also today’s online shoppers. So your “competition” isn’t the other charity with a similar mission–it’s Zappos. Today (and tomorrow’s) donors are accustomed to finding and buying what they want, when they want it.
    Ask yourself this question: Is your organization set up to allow donors to find and give you what they want to give, when they want to give it? Now pick up your smartphone and see how easily and quickly (or not) you can find your site and make a donation– because they will not go to a desktop to make a donation or share their affinity for your cause, when the ability to do so is right at their fingertips. It’s what they’re used to.
    The good news is that this technology also makes the playing field for causes, more level. Just a handful of years ago, DRTV might have been the most effective way to reach a mass audience—but, due to expense, was only available to organizations with the largest budgets. Today’s technology allows any sized organization the ability to communicate, educate, and engage on a greater scale than
    ever before—at little cost.
    The emergence of the Internet and subsequent online innovations that have changed the world in many ways has made strikingly obvious a business truth that is actually timeless. If you do not innovate, you will disappear. If there is no adjustment of creative content, communications, or methods for new times and trends you will miss opportunities, and be judged as antiquated (and perhaps irrelevant). Creative presentation and original thinking buy you another look, enable you to capture attention in a crowded field, and present new ways for people to engage with your mission.

  5. Mission Creep or ‘yeah, we should do that too!’

    When a corporation goes beyond its initial product line and area of service, it’s called brand extension. In nonprofits, we call it mission creep, and because charities are in the business of changing the world, their leaders often cannot seem to stop themselves from seeing every need as a call. The result is too many directions, no mission clarity, diffused expertise, and donor confusion.

  6. Misplacing Priority #1 – or forgetting who the ‘real boss’ is

    At the end of the day, for nonprofit organizations – Money is more important than Mission. Nonprofits exist to serve and to meet needs on a global scale, and we care deeply for the causes we embrace, often to the detriment of our funders. A successful nonprofit knows that their #1 Customer is their donors, period. Without the donors, there would be no impact, no people served, no mouths fed, no backs clothed. Those we serve are important, but if we really want to have an impact, we must take care of our donors first, we must make sure that our programs are designed to give our donors an opportunity to fulfill the goals they have for their philanthropy, and then constantly communicate to them the impact their dollars are having. And when it comes to taking care of donors, relationships, personal relationships are KING! No fancy CRM or automated gift response mechanism will ever trump a personal relationship.

  7. The Data Conundrum – or the fear of information

    Although many organizations have begun measuring every possible statistic related to fundraising efforts, few have enough data to guide planning, analyze management systems, or redirect underperforming programs or communications. This may be because of the pressure to reduce overhead, or because the entrepreneurial spirit of charity leaders causes them to fly by the seat of their pants, to trust their own (often flawed) instincts. Also factor in the age-old truism – “there’s paralysis in analysis” – there’s a real and present danger for Organizations who dive too deeply into the studying the data on their donors at the expense of personal relationships.

Common mistakes of failing nonprofits fit into the categories below:

  • Not Having a Qualified Leader
    A leader of a nonprofit needs the following traits: A head for business, Desire to do good, Sincerity, Confidence, Goal Setting, Organization Skills
  • No Website Or Poorly Designed Website
    Make a user-friendly website, avoid bulky language, make sure the contact information is accessible & accurate. Have strong compelling content. A rule of thumb is make sure nothing is further than “two clicks deep”. Display your mission in a clear area. Have a clear button to donate on every page.
  • Poor Planning and Record Keeping
    No plan of action. A nonprofit is much like a business. There has to be a clear plan to get funding to stay afloat.
  • Poor Accounting and Money Management
    Building a solid capital structure is a key, Keep Strict Money Records, File all Documents & Forms Correctly and on time, Set Aside Seed Money, Spend wisely Evaluate Wants Versus Needs
  • Marketing Only to Large Donors and Not Thinking Smaller Donors are Just As Important
    Small donors are just as important as large donors. Don’t expect donors to maintain or increase the size of their contribution each time they give. Thank every donor in every circumstance they donate no matter how much they give
  • Nonprofit Doesn’t Mean Tax Exempt
    Know your tax laws and file your taxes.

Ultimately, the real reason nonprofits fail is because they shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

7 Reasons Why Nonprofits Fail was written by Tracy Ebarb, Veteran Fundraiser and the National Association of Nonprofit Organizations & Executives’ International Director. Tracy’s journey in the nonprofit world began in the early 80’s through his service on Church Staff as Youth Minister, Associate Pastor, Church Administrator, Director of Development and Stewardship and Senior Pastor. Tracy joined the renowned consulting firm of Cargill & Associates in 1998, designing and conducting over 60 Capital Stewardship Campaigns raising over $50 million dollars. As an independent Consultant, Tracy has traveled extensively overseas raising funds and working to develop humanitarian projects in the African nations of Sierra Leone, Malawi and Zambia, and the Central American nations of Nicaragua, Haiti and Honduras. As well as consulting and developing Capital Fundraising Campaigns in over 75 churches and nonprofits across the US. Until recently, Tracy has guided the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame as the Director of Business Development. He has recently accepted the position of Senior Counselor at Development Systems International.

Ten Indicators You Could Benefit from a Business Coach

Here we are in 2022! Welcome. 

The pinning up of a new calendar leads many to envision a bright new future for themselves. And anyone who has ever set a New Year’s resolution knows that change takes more than just dreaming of what could be. It takes planning, action steps, accountability, and hard work. 

Today’s article is about the value of engaging a Coach to help you get where you want to go. We’re going to explore many of the reasons why a Business Coach might be a good investment for you in 2022, and what they can help you with. If you have considered getting a Coach, reading this article is a great step in your contemplation. Let’s dig into ten reasons a Business Coach might be a great option for you! 

1. You set great goals, but regularly fail to meet them

Is it you or is it the goal? Are you creating goals based on the expectations of others? Are you lacking motivation towards the goals all together?

Sometimes goals are impressed upon us, and we have no choice but to put forth our best efforts to achieve those goals. Other times we set goals for things that we really truly want to accomplish, but then nothing happens. Either way, there are likely underlying reasons why goals are not being met. A Coach can help you peel back the layers to understand where the barriers are coming from and how to address them. 

2. You feel like you have stagnated/imposter syndrome

As we grow and advance in our careers, it’s common to get to a point where we question our legitimacy. Do we really deserve the position we hold? Are our skills suited to the role we’re in? Coaching can help you process how you’re feeling, separate feelings from facts, acknowledge your skills and expertise, and grow professionally. 

3. Your work-life balance is not balanced at all

If everything feels like it’s out of whack, it might be time for a change. When a professional or career change needs to be made, it’s not uncommon to completely throw ourselves into work, to avoid thinking about the change. It might also be time for a change if you have no choice but to spend an excessive amount of your time working or stressing out about work. 

A Coach can help you take the emotion out of your situation. When we’re overworked and over-extended, it can be difficult to separate reality from our overwhelmed mental state. Having someone process your situation with you will not only help you feel more sane, it will allow you to make rational, planful decisions. 

4. You want a career change

Many people come to a point in their life where they want more. More money, more flexibility, more impact, etc. What you decided to do for a career when you were 18 or 22 or whatever, might not be the right fit for you at this stage in your life. A Coach can help you suss-out what is important to you and get you moving in a direction that will be fulfilling and rewarding. 

5. You know you need to grow professionally

Growth can be difficult, and something we unintentionally avoid. Without knowing it, we can actively circumvent opportunities to grow, because in the back of our minds we know it will be easier to maintain the status quo. Additionally, we all have blind-spots. No matter how great we are, there are always opportunities to improve. However, without help, we don’t necessarily see them. 

A trusted Coach can help you move past your self-imposed barriers to development. They can uncover your growth opportunities and work with you to create a plan that will allow you to evolve and thrive. 

6. You need better accountability

No one likes to be held accountable. If you’re the one in charge of your own accountability, it might just not happen. Think about most diets. No matter how committed a person is to losing weight and creating a healthy lifestyle, it’s difficult to stick to the plan. 

Many people find it very helpful to engage an accountability partner to hold their feet to the fire. By sharing your goals and plans with a Coach, they can keep you on track. They will remind you of why you set your goals, and the necessary actions you have committed to in order to reach those goals. 

7. You struggle to work “on” your business

The everyday grind can easily become the thing that keeps you from growing. When all of your attention is focused on the day-to-day operations, you will never think bigger, explore options, and dream about the future. Dedicated time with a Coach gives Business Leaders the time to work ON their business. This might be in the form of strategic planning, exploring new opportunities, evaluating operations, assessing how resources are deployed, and much more! 

8. You need someone to talk to about your business and career

It’s lonely at the top! If you are the leader of your business, there isn’t a coworker you can go to who understands the challenges and pressures you face. Some people find this support in other CEOs or leaders. Others like to maintain a high level of privacy about the things keeping them up at night. A Coach can be that confidant that you need at the top. 

9. You want to save time and money

Without a sounding board, leaders still come to great conclusions on their own. However, it usually takes much longer than if you were to bring someone in to help you process your thoughts and ideas. And, as they say, time is money. 

A Business Coach helps you process through difficult decisions, crucial conversations, problem solving, and more. Otherwise, these are often topics that are put off until it’s absolutely necessary to deal with them. By dealing with them in a timely manner, you will save yourself frustration; as well as time and money. 

10. You need ideas!

An outside perspective can help you generate ideas that you wouldn’t have come up with on your own. Business Coaches tend to have rich experience in the business world and can provide creative solutions to try. When you feel like you’ve tried everything, it might be time to try visiting with a Coach.

These are just a few of the reasons it might be a great idea to engage with a Coach. Most Coaches (myself included) provide a free Discovery Call, where you can discuss your unique situation and see if Coaching is right for you. This is also a good time to interview the Coach to see if they are a good fit for you, your style, and your business.

If you would like to explore how a Business Coach could help you, schedule a 30-minute Discovery Call. You can also email questions to me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com.

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.
Kim@Athena-CoCo.com

Everyone Should Have a Budget. Period.

Over the last year and a half, as I’ve been meeting and speaking with small business owners and nonprofit leaders, one thing has amazed me. I’m always surprised to learn how many businesses do not have a budget. Either they are small enough that they don’t see the point. Or they have never had one, so why start now? One for-profit business told me that their entire purpose is to make money and who needs a budget for that? Maybe most concerning is when the leader has a strong understanding of the finances, but they just keep it all in their head. 

Allow me to explain why I believe everyone needs a budget. This goes for nonprofits, for-profits, and even your home finances. A budget is simply a plan; with numbers. Most business leaders, whether they write it down or not, have a plan for their business. They know that they want to grow, maybe add a staff person, possibly expand into new markets, etc. In order to do all these things and more, you need a plan. And more specifically – you need a budget. 

Why Avoid Budgeting?

It seems that many leaders avoid the budgeting process because of a fear of numbers. People decide early on that they are “not good at math.” And that leads them to steer clear of anything with numbers. This is why it can be helpful to think of a budget as a plan that you assign numbers to. With modern technology, a simple Excel or Google Sheets workbook can be designed to do all the math for you! If that’s too techy for you, a piece of paper and a calculator will do the trick too. 

Another reason leaders disregard budgets is that they do not want accountability. A budget tells you what you should be bringing in and what you should spend. That creates stress and frustration for some. Keeping in mind that you’re the boss of your business can be reassuring. YOU are the one holding yourself accountable! 

Along the lines of accountability, people will forgo a budget because they think they need to be able to predict the future. Meteorologists can’t do that, and neither can you. Fortunately, no one actually expects that of you. However, based on your knowledge of your industry, of your business, and of trends, you CAN be expected to make educated assumptions. If you’ve been growing steadily for 3-years, it can be reasonable to expect that trend to continue. If you’re in a more volatile industry, you might have to work harder to see trends, or plan for ups and downs. It’s not predicting the future, it’s developing a plan based on your expertise. 

Creating and following a budget will empower you in the following ways:

  • Making sound decisions
  • Educating you on what is really going on in your business
  • Helping you control your spending
  • Identifying problems
  • Being proactive

Making Sound Decisions

Business leaders make decisions every day. Everything from the epic to the mundane. Your ability to make really good decisions will likely determine how long you stay in business and how successful you will be throughout your career. Fortunately, you have at your disposal a super-power-like tool that can help you to make great decisions. And, you guessed it, that tool is a budget. 

Think you need to add a staff person to improve production? A budget will tell you if and when you will have the finances to make that addition. Thinking about expanding a product line? Your budget will tell you if that’s a good idea or not. Want to give raises to your amazing employees? A strong understanding of your revenue and expenses will make it clear when and how much will be appropriate and responsible. 

If nothing else, the process of creating and monitoring a budget will give you a strong understanding of where your money is coming from and where it is going. With super-powers like that, confidence in your decision making abilities will go through the roof!

Educating You on What’s Really Going On

As stated above, a budget puts your finger squarely on the pulse of your money’s comings and goings. It will tell you which product lines are kicking butt and which ones are under-performing. The amount you spend on staffing will become crystal clear; not just in terms of salaries, but also taxes and benefits. You will understand the true cost of doing business. You can even break it down so you know how much it costs to produce each item or service you sell. 

Over time you will be able to see if your business is going in a positive direction or a negative one. As you develop your budget you will be able to see how things look for your year. From there you can make decisions that can help make your year look better. If your budget for the year doesn’t show revenue covering expenses, you know this up front and have the ability to change plans. You can also build-in decision-making check-points. For example: If things are still trending up after the first quarter you may want to plan for additional investments. 

Helping You to Control Your Spending

If you are not tracking your expenses, you are definitely losing money. There’s an old saying: What gets measured gets managed. It might not be much. A few dollars here, a few there. Not knowing where your money is going can really add up. A great example is the daily coffee many people indulge in. Even if you go econo-coffee from the local convenience store, this likely amounts to $5 to $10 per week. Left unchecked, that’s over $500 a year! What would it look like if you saved or invested that money instead? 

If a daily coffee is important to you, keep it in the budget. This is not intended to anger the coffee drinkers! The purpose of a budget isn’t to take away things you need or really want. Rather, it shows you where your money is going. You are likely spending money without realizing how quickly it adds up, or considering what you can do with that money with a little bit of planning and intentionality. A budget brings bad habits to light and allows you to do something about them.

Identifying Problems

In addition to teaching you what you are spending money on, a budget can help you find problems. This is how embezzling is discovered! Does something seem off, but you can’t put your finger on it? The power of a budget will help you figure it out. By comparing the amount that should be coming in with the actual revenue you can find discrepancies and dig in. If spending seems off, your budget will help you root out the source of the added expenses.  

As this suggests, it’s not enough to just create a budget. You have to put your eyes on it. A monthly review is best. Once a month look through and see if your actual revenue and expenses are on track with the plan you created. If so, do a little happy dance! If not, you will be able to make decisions that will get you back on track. (This monthly comparison also allows you to monitor changes in trends so you can make great decisions.)

Being Proactive

Finally, a budget gives you the power to be proactive about the future of your business and your life. Whether this is in the area of saving for emergencies or planning for your retirement, a budget makes saving possible. A survey from Bankrate.com revealed that over 80% of people are not saving enough for retirement and 20% are not saving anything at all. 

A mistake often made is that people “plan” to save “whatever is left over” after all expenses are paid. As you may have guessed (or experienced), that’s not a plan at all. With that approach, nothing will ever go into your savings. And when there is an emergency, your business may not survive. By putting together a budget, and planning to save for emergencies and retirement, you are much more likely to invest in your future and the future of your business. By including ALL of your expenses in your budget, you will know what it really costs to run your business and support your life. 

Numbers do not lie. They are not there to make you feel good or feel bad. Using a budget makes you knowledgeable and in control of your business and your life. Wield it as such. 

I am not necessarily a “numbers person.” But I do love a good plan and a solid spreadsheet. I also love making good decisions with as much information as possible. This is why I’m a budget superfan! If you are interested in receiving a budget template, email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com. I can also help you to transfer your plan into numbers and set you up with a budget that works for YOU. Let’s connect!

Kim Stewart

Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.
kim@athena-coco.com