All posts by dennmill243pm

30 Jun 2014

Effective Board Recruitment: Another Key Characteristic of a High Performing Board

The typical nominating committee process typically limits you to only those individuals your board members know, not those who you may need to know.  My recommendation is to progress from focusing on nominating to recruitment.  To start this process, develop an ideal board matrix.  This should consist of the sought after expertise you desire on your board., e.g., marketing and public relations, philanthropy, etc.  Next, compare the information with your current matrix of expertise, corporate and business and geographical board members.  The difference between the ideal board matrix and your current matrix becomes your priority area for board recruitment.

Where to look for this expertise?

04 Jun 2014

Building Trust

Whenever you consistently make decisions that benefit your mission, you will earn people’s trust and respect.  Respect is really gained through your informal authority:  people’s trust and admiration for you, not through the formal authority of your status within the organization.  Leaders win hearts by your passion, vision and sincerity.  If you build employee trust, your whole organization will be strengthened.

  • It’s important for employees to know that you are “there for them”
  • Talk to people at all levels of your organization
  • Tell your employees and volunteers about your plans for the future and how they participate in its success
  • Watch your actions!  People will watch how you treat others and how you communicate with them
  • If you make a promise to do something, deliver on it.  If you cannot, own up to it with honesty and truthfulness.
20 May 2014

Are You Ready for the New Competencies of Nonprofit Leadership?

Today, the executive leadership skills required for a nonprofit organization to succeed have changed dramatically. The new leadership requirements that will be needed to navigate and lead your organization include:

  • Visionary thinker
  • Entrepreneur
  • Relationship builder
  • Achievement driven
  • Collaborator
  • Inspirational motivator

Leaders need to be visionary thinkers. Today’s executive directors need to chart the future direction for their organization and communicate it to all stakeholders. Whereas, in the past, the board may have set the vision, more and more board members are asking the executive to step forward and demonstrate his or her leadership by stating the vision. Though it is crucial to collaborate and initiate discussions with your board on the topic, you must take the first step. It requires courage to set the vision but others will be inspired and motivated by your inspiration to chart a new course.

Having an entrepreneurial spirit is perhaps the most significant competency required by today’s nonprofit leaders. Executive directors need to become the chief entrepreneurial officer (CEO) for their organizations. Whereas, in the past, executives had to manage their organization’s revenue, today they need to creatively build the revenue base by generating investments for the organization. They need to create revenue by building relationships with those willing to invest in them. In the for-profit world, chief executives are paid for increasing their stock price and improving the net worth of their investors. The nonprofit leaders of today need to do something very similar. This “nonprofit stock price” is increased by positive achievements of your organization, effective communication newsletters and reports, board members who serve as ambassadors promoting your positive impact, friend and fund development initiatives, and creating an overall positive winning attitude among all stakeholders. The higher your stock price, the greater the likelihood that people will want to invest in your success.

Another competency that a leader must have is the ability to build trusting relationships. Organizations whose leaders are able to bring out the best in others, whose leaders are able to make people feel important, whose leaders make people feel that their voices, concerns and actions do matter are the organizations that will be the most successful. For all the nonprofit executive directors who think they can do it alone without the support of their employees, think again. As an old saying goes (one of my favorites), “People may not remember what you did, they may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” I learned a long time ago that a leader’s job is to help his or her staff understand the importance of their respective roles and that their input is important.

Another new core competency for today’s nonprofit leaders is being the chief branding officer (CBO). Today’s nonprofit leaders need to build their organization’s positive brand through constant communication of your achievements and success. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Organizations that effectively communicate their successes are often highly successful in fundraising. This is not a coincidence.

It is also very important today to discuss the concept of collaboration from an executive leadership point of view. Far too often, executives have been concerned with control. The more programs they control the greater their perceived empire. Today, the opposite is true—the more a leadership can initiative discussions around collaboration, their chances of success increase. In recruiting and rewarding existing leaders, seek those whose personality allows them to be more collaborative and less controlling.

Last but not least, today’s nonprofit leaders need to be inspirational motivators to their staff, boards, donors and other key stakeholders. When resources are few and many employees are going without any pay increase for years, they will still perform their work at a very high level when they are led by inspiring leaders. Why are some organizations successful and others are not? The answer lies in the passion of their leaders—their unending search for excellence in all they do. They listen and actively seek input from their employees and board members. They earn people’s respect and trust; they don’t demand it. As leaders, they constantly reexamine their organizations from top to bottom. They set expectations for their staff and board, they communicate those expectations, and hold people accountable for measuring up. More importantly, they create a winning attitude that conveys the message to all that their organization is “the place to be” and share this with their stakeholders.

05 May 2014

Articulating Your Vision

By Dennis C Miller

Where are you going?  One must answer this question before any effective strategic plan can proceed.  Your vision for your organization’s future is what will inspire your key stakeholders to stay motivated going forward.  Today, an effective leader must work in partnership with the board to create the organization’s future direction.  Your vision should set standards of excellence, inspire enthusiasm, encourage commitment, and be well articulated and easily understood.  Ask yourself:

  • Has your current vision became stale and in need of revitalization?
  • Are you still passionate about achieving it?
  • Is your new vision a realistic, credible, attractive future for your organization?
  • Will it inspire your staff, board, donors and other stakeholders to be involved to achieve it?
28 Apr 2014

Leadership Nugget: Characteristics of a Nonprofit in Strategic Alignment

By Dennis C Miller

Today, more than ever before, the chief executive and board must be true partners in leading the organization forward to generate the positive social impact needed in their communities. They share these characteristics:
• Strong organizational self-knowledge
• Engaged key stakeholders with inspiring vision
• Entrepreneurial Leaders, High-Performing boards
• Impactful programs and services whose achievements are outcome driven
• Investors seeking to contribute
• Commitment to continue improvement
• Recognized for excellent

25 Apr 2014

Leadership Nugget: Key Components of Organizational Assessments

By Dennis C Miller

Confidential interviews with key members of the Board, executive team and other key stakeholders are the basis for a successful organizational assessment. An outside facilitator, without bias, is engaged after a careful review of board minutes, board structure, programs/services offered and key planning documents recently produced. The assessment process will include asking:
• Is there a clearly articulated vision and is the organization strategically aligned to achieve this vision?
• How effective is the board? How motivated and engaged are they? Do they evaluate their own performance?
• How effective is executive leadership?
• What obstacles are there to developing governance best practices?
• Are the top achievements effectively communicated to stakeholders?
• How does the Board measure success?
• What is the image/brand in the community?
• What success has been achieved in fundraising?

24 Apr 2014

Leadership Nugget: Overcoming the Silo Mentality

By Dennis C Miller

Many organizations have unresolved internal issues and conflicts preventing them from working more effectively together. The culture of “my needs first” has to be transformed into “those we serve first.” This shift in mentality results in:
• A greater sense of confidence to achieve their strategic goals;
• The know-how to accomplish those goals;
• Internal obstacles of personality and egos are realigned to focus on organization’s mission;
• A re-energized board and staff that know who they are and where they are going.

18 Apr 2014

Leadership Nugget: Strategic Alignment

By Dennis C Miller

A successful strategic plan means the entire organization, including the work of the board, leadership and staff has to be restructured to require individual goals to be fully aligned with organizational goals. Four components for success include:
• An upfront, comprehensive assessment of the organization to identify key strengths and crucial areas of needed improvement;
• A clear vision with established measures of success progress to align the entire organization’s efforts;
• A comprehensive funding plan to secure the necessary resources, and;
• A detailed plan for implementation and execution with buy-in from both the board and staff.

12 Mar 2014

Assessing the Results of Your Strategic Plan: One Year After

By Dennis C Miller

The strategic planning process can be one of the most exciting times for any nonprofit organization. New vision statements are created and the entire organization may feel a sense of new energy and excitement about the future direction of the organization. Leadership and staff are mobilized to achieve all of the key goals and actions identified in the report. The Board has a great sense of relief that all major strategic issues have been addressed and a plan of action has been developed for implementation. Everyone seems to have enjoyed their involvement in the process and are motivated to become more engaged to move the mission forward.

However, after a few months of high energy though, the results and successes that everyone hoped for are not always achieved. The excitement often diminishes and everyday organizational life and the day-to-day challenges become front and center. Despite the deep commitment to your mission and the determination to succeed, many organizations fully fail to achieve the goals identified in the strategic plan. Estimates indicate that nearly 60% of nonprofit organizations have difficulty executing the strategies previously agreed upon. Significant investments in time and resources have gone into developing the strategic plan. However, far too often the report ends up sitting on some executive’s shelf collecting dust.

Developing the most creative and visionary strategic plan is useless unless it is fully executed and becomes reality. The reasons for poor execution are many, but some of the major reasons are:

  • Resistance to managing change
  • Poor implementation training of those responsible for execution
  • Self-interest versus organizational interest
  • Maintaining existing functioning silos and political in-fighting
  • The lack of clear communication and not fully monitoring progress
  • Disconnect between planning objectives and operational realities.


How can you ensure that the investment you made in developing your strategic plan has a high rate of return? The answer is to conduct a comprehensive strategic plan implementation assessment. What goals have been achieved to-date? What obstacles may exist preventing further goal achievement? Where has performance expectations lagged behind? What needs to happen to move you forward? Who is resisting change? It is ideal to have such an assessment performed after the first year anniversary of your plan’s completion. This give you ample time to demonstrate movement towards achievement of your vision and strategic goals. Either your strategic planning consultant or another “fresh pair of eyes” can be engaged to perform the assessment.

We have all heard the expression “talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words”. Well, the same could be said about the progress of your strategic plan implementation. A comprehensive strategic plan implementation assessment should review the demonstrated progress towards all strategic goals identified in the plan, including the following:

  • Measurable results towards vision achievement
  • Documented records of financial improvements
  • Increased donors and philanthropic dollars
  • Expanded and enhanced programs and services
  • Indication of any development of any strategic affiliations and collaborations
  • Clearly visible results of higher performing leadership teams
  • Improvement in building your brand identity
  • Evidence of a more engaged and motivated board
  • Improved board governance and committee structure


The key steps in the assessment process are:

  1. Review all relevant information, e.g. board minutes, financial statements, annual reports, etc. that can show documented improvements for each goal identified in the strategic plan
  2. Schedule confidential face-to-face interviews with key board members and senior management to obtain their feedback of what’s been achieved and why other goals have not.
  3. Summarize key findings from a review of the information above and confidential interviews for all of the above plan components
  4. Discuss with CEO and/or Board Chair the results of your findings and make recommendations for achieving desired strategic goals. Include in your report what achievements you noted and what specific changes need to be implemented either in personal or operational systems
  5. Offer to conduct educational workshops for board, management and staff for developing their knowledge of best practices
  6. Present the comprehensive strategic plan assessment report to the entire senior management team and Board
  7. Offer to provide leadership performance coaching to either the CEO, senior management or board chair if necessary to achieve the desired goals
  8. Provide inspiration, encouragement and the necessary tools to move forward


Conducting a comprehensive strategic plan implementation assessment can be one of the best investments for any nonprofit organization to make. Identifying obstacles or resistance to change and providing a specific plan of action to overcome is a requirement for today’s leadership. Rewarding and recognizing those employees or departments that have successfully executed the strategies in the plan helps create a culture of success. Transitioning your organization from a culture of planning to one for managing results and outcomes is both challenging and rewarding. When the above modifications to your strategic plan are implemented, your organization will regain the energy, motivation and commitment to achieve your vision.