EP 29: Drawing Out (and Leaning Into) the Best of Your Board

August 24, 2023

Show Notes

Have you ever struggled with striking the right balance with your board’s involvement in your mission?

Encouraging your board to maintain their strategic focus, without veering into operational territories, or dictating the “how”, can be difficult to navigate

The truth is that nonprofits are at their best when leaders can draw out and lean into the best of their boards. Figuring out how to do this is often easier said than done.

In this episode of THRIVERS, Tucker and Sarah pull back the curtain on an immersive two-hour session they facilitated with a community nonprofit board, aiming to rekindle their commitment, involvement, and enthusiasm for the cause. This session  was specifically tailored to amplify involvement, stir a sense of purpose, and align both old and new members with the organization’s overarching vision.

They walked the board members through the following steps:

  • Unearthing the deeper motivations behind each board member’s decision to join. 
  • Reflecting on the board’s history to identify and capitalize on their strengths, particularly concerning revenue and tangible impact.
  • An imaginative exercise on impact forecasting—projecting the transformative outcomes envisioned three years ahead.
  • Strategically brainstorming on gathering the necessary resources to turn envisioned impact into reality.
  • Individual board members determine their specific roles, harnessing their unique passions to further the organization’s goals.
  • Laying out clear, measurable objectives for the upcoming 6-12 months, establishing both direction and accountability.
  • An introspective wrap-up, allowing board members to appreciate their renewed commitment and the profound nature of their discussions.

You can jump ahead to any of those steps here:

  • (00:00) – Intro
  • (04:58) – Step One
  • (10:02) – Step Two
  • (18:15) – Step Three
  • (23:13) – Step Four
  • (30:13) – Step Five
  • (32:41) – Step Six
  • (36:54) – Step Seven
  • (42:46) – Outro

Tune into this episode to learn practical steps you can take to energize your board around your organization’s purpose.

Listener Links/Resources:

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Tucker: Welcome to THRIVERS: Impact-Driven Leadership for the Next Normal. I am your host, Tucker Wannamaker, the CEO of THRIVE IMPACT. Our mission at THRIVE is to solve non-profit leader burnout and right the injustices happening against impact-driven leaders. We believe that burnout is the enemy of creating positive change, and we want to connect you with impactful mission-driven leaders and ideas.
So that you can learn to thrive in today’s landscape. And I’m joined as usual by my co-host, Sarah Fanslow, our Chief of Impact. Sarah, how are you doing today?
Sarah: I’m good, Tucker. How are you?
Tucker: It’s a beautiful August day. Although I hear in your neck of the woods, it’s a little rainy.
Sarah: It’s super rainy today.
Tucker: Here it’s beautiful. Here in Colorado, it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful. I know as we were wrestling through what we wanted to chat through and have on the podcast today, we realized that we haven’t talked about boards much in a little while, but we had a really impactful experience with a board a couple of months ago and that was really around how do we help energize their board.
I think this board in particular was a small community-based nonprofit. And I remember talking with a CEO about the board and she was just feeling I just I’d really love for them to be more involved and more engaged. They were on the spectrum of a board it sounded like, of just not there or not really engaged.
Sarah, do you remember some of the things that we were when we were talking to this ED or CEO?
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. I think she had a great board chair who was pretty engaged, but, and I think the issue really came down to getting things done around revenue and fundraising. And I think the reality was that the board was nice.
It was lovely. People liked each other. So in that way, it was a positive board. We know of other boards where that’s certainly not the case and there are a lot of culture issues that this board didn’t have that issue. There weren’t really cultural challenges. But the challenge was like, how do we get folks involved in doing work particularly around fundraising?
Tucker: Yeah. Anybody out there listening have any of those challenges? Anybody? Raise your hand if you do. Okay, you don’t have to. Maybe you’re driving, so don’t raise your hand. But this is a very common issue that we experience with boards. That is, how do I get them excited and not guilt them into things? But how do I give them or how do they get momentum?
How do they get motivation and things like that? So we wanted to take you through a literal step-by-step of a, what was this, a two-hour workshop? How long was this? This is a two-hour workshop that is something, that, I mean we, this is what we do. We do professional facilitation, and I think this is a sequence that you actually probably could use yourself.
To be able to take your board through in terms of how to create some conditions that help for the board to know more about literally what’s going on, to make the implicit of the things that we think the board knows way more explicit. I think we have a tendency to think that people know more than they do.
And then we start to create a story that we start telling ourselves around, “Why won’t they just get engaged? Why won’t they just…” Sometimes the actual issue is that they actually don’t even know in the first place. They don’t know what’s going on. And so we wanted to talk or walk through the exact sequence that we took this particular board through.
This is a board of about, what, there were about 7 or 8 members, I think on the board. So this is all done on Zoom, by the way, as well. And so just to try to paint the picture a little bit we wanted to invite them in and we invited them in. By the way, we play music at the beginning of literally every one of our experiences, and it is something you absolutely can do too as a nonprofit leader or anybody who’s creating any kind of Zoom experiences.
And I know it sounds like a small thing, but it’s a thing like, it’s a thing to just make it feel like a warm and welcoming space as opposed to hopping on and crickets the whole time. So just a thought for you all. But we welcomed them in. We invited the board chair to welcome people in. They introduced us at Thrive and just a little bit of our work.
And then we hopped as quick as we could into a connection exercise. And one of the reasons why this is so important is in, in most meetings, and especially ones like this, we’re wanting to help people know that their voice is actually more important than our voice. We are not sages from the stage.
We’re guides from the side as we like to say. And so it’s important to actually invite their voices, everybody, who’s in the room for their voices to come in as quick as possible. But the particular question that we asked them was actually something we call a purpose question. And this is one of my favorite questions to ask board members.
And that purpose question is literally why is being on this board important? Why did you choose when you could have said no? Every one of your board members said yes to your board when they could have said no. And so the question really is why is being on this board important?
Why is being on this board important? Why is it to you? These are some thought joggers we gave. Why is it important maybe to the organization and why is it maybe even important to the community? And we gave people some space to reflect. This is, by the way, very important, especially for those who are not so extroverted, if you will.
We gave probably, I don’t know, a good minute or so for people to literally… We invited them to grab a pen, write down some thoughts that they might have played, some light music, and let them reflect on the question. Before we invited them into sharing with others. In this particular case, we did it with small groups.
Sarah: Yeah. And what I love about this question every time we ask it is I think sometimes people forget they have a choice. Like they literally forget they get to choose whether they’re somewhere or not. And when we forget we have a choice, then we can easily go into the victim story. Which is, this is happening to me and not for me.
I don’t get to decide. And it creates a whole narrative. That it can be negative, but if we have choice, it opens up a totally different story. All of a sudden we’re in charge of our experience in some way. And I’m curious, Tucker, if you can remember back to this workshop, what came up for people around the purpose?
Tucker: Oh, their explicit, why they had, they, it was fascinating to see where people’s energy was. Some were really, geared towards having a personal experience. That’s why these thought joggers of to you, to the organization, or to the community were really important because it gives people a lane to run in around why it’s important and one of the things that’s fascinating, again, going back to making the implicit explicit, is you really start to see where people have energy.
Yeah. I remember talking to a wonderful… Actually one of the best fundraisers I’ve ever experienced. Her name is Serena Bruzgo. And we did a training with her a long while back—in fact, we need to have her on the podcast, she would be wonderful—but she said one of the greatest gifts that people can give to you is sharing with you their why.
Now, she was talking about it from a fundraising context, but I think it’s absolutely applicable here too, is it’s actually giving people gifts. You’re creating a space of giving and receiving where I’m able to receive a gift from you and I’m able to give a gift to you of why it is that important in the first place.
And from the very beginning, you, I was, I was looking at some of the different people who had shared, because I take notes on all these things and it was, you were able to see, somebody had a real thoughtfulness around some of the people that are serving their clients.
So it was, the organization was really important and the thoughtfulness around. Some of these drivers that they have as a part of their work. Somebody was really thinking about the community as a whole, that this is really important to this county that they’re serving. And you could see in his energy.
It’s like everybody had all this energy coming out because it was letting them go and that space of why it’s so important to them. But then letting others hear that again, it’s like this cycle of giving and receiving, which creates a reciprocity inside of the small team of a board, it generates that energy.
Of, “Oh wow. Thank you.” Like people were saying, “Wow, I didn’t even know that about you,” or “Oh, I didn’t even realize that,” or “That’s why this was so important to you.” And that happens all the time. Every time we ask this question. So we asked that question, we invited them into that purpose question.
We actually did do breakout rooms via Zoom. If you’re in person, you can of course just have people turn to their neighbor or you can have them break off into groups of three. Usually wanna keep it small to make sure everybody gets a chance to share go around the room. Equality of voices is very important in making sure everybody gets a chance to share.
And so we let them do that and then we come back and have them share back. What kind of themes did you hear? Like after they shared or maybe what kind of appreciations did you have for what your partners shared? And it was a really powerful experience from the very beginning to kick off the experience of energizing their board.
So Sarah, where did we go from there?
Sarah: Yeah, so from there we went into kind of a state of the union, which is to say where is the organization financially or from a revenue perspective? And we looked back over five years, the past five years. And so in advance of the meeting I had worked with the executive director to input a bunch of numbers into a spreadsheet and we can share the spreadsheet in the show notes with you all. But what it does is it breaks up revenue into the different types of streams, right? Corporate donors, events, for example. Individual or major donors. And so we had her do that with the revenue for the past five years and looked at and shared with the board trends in where, and one their overall revenue.
Right, had it been increasing or decreasing and in this case, there had been a significant increase in revenue over the past few years, but primarily driven by PPP loans. Which a lot of nonprofits got and really increased revenue for organizations out there. And really actually that revenue picture was part of the impetus for this conversation, which is to say, we’ve done really well for the last few years.
This type of revenue is drying up. What happens next? And oftentimes I think with the board in this case, clearly the overall revenue numbers had been shared. But I think the thing that hadn’t been explicit to the board before this conversation was that revenue channels or streams that were generating the majority of the revenue.
And so we really showed folks the picture said this is what it looks like. And there were some clear categories of revenue where. It wasn’t bringing anything in. I think we realized through this conversation that individual donors were really not a significant part of the revenue picture at all.
And so in working with the executive director prior to the meeting, we were able to gather the data that then helped the board engage in a different revenue conversation than they had been having previously. And curious Tucker your thoughts, what did you see in the room as we were going through some of those numbers?
Tucker: I think that, again, similar to what I just shared a minute ago around the why is that people just didn’t fully know. I think it is, going back to this making the implicit explicit, I think we assume too much that people actually know what’s going on. But I also think that one of the things that we say all the time that I steal all the time from Jon Berghoff, which is, “We don’t learn from our experiences. We learn by reflecting on our experiences.” And one of the things that I did appreciate were some of the questions that we asked them is after we shared this data, because you know how many of our board meetings are sit-and-get? But we don’t give them the space to reflect on what they just got in a sense.
Sarah: And how they’re interpreting it.
Tucker: What does that even mean to them? Yeah, exactly. And so we ask these questions. After the ED was able to share some of this and that was, what did you notice?
I love the question. What did you notice? It’s a very non-judgmental question. It’s about awareness. It heightens the awareness and letting people share. What is it that you noticed that was in there? We also asked what strengths did you notice that were actually there as well? What strengths are you seeing that you have when it comes to revenue?
And then also what opportunities did you see as well? And so giving people the space to reflect again, the same thing as the purpose question. Really important to just give that space for them to notice and hear exactly what you said. How are they interpreting this in the first place? Because somebody’s gonna see something from one angle and somebody else is gonna see something from a totally different angle.
But letting them do that and do that in the room and the voices to hear the voices is really helpful for them to understand themselves better.
Sarah: And to your point, I think the questions, that we often ask so often… And we were just on a meeting before this where the organization was talking about a meeting they have and the point of the meeting is to address challenges.
And every time I hear that now I’m like, “Oh…” It makes me cringe a little bit because like we keep having meetings just about what’s going wrong and like those are the wrong type of meetings. And that is what Appreciative Inquiry teaches us about. Which is that we can only build on strength.
That’s all we have to build on. And so if we want to move boards in the direction of… You know of not just not positivity, but what can we do and where are, do we have strength? We need to ask different and better questions. And so this idea of asking about where we’re strong and then where we have opportunity frames the conversation around revenue in a different way that then I think has the possibility to generate.
New actions. And there’s a lot of research, I think we’ve mentioned before. Brene Brown has a lot of research around the importance of grounding in wins and in strength. And if you’re not doing this with your board you’ve got to, don’t start with the, so what’s wrong here? Because you’re gonna push people down into cycles of reactivity, but let’s ask where do we have strength and what do you see?
Tucker: And we also did that with Impact too. So it was this past orientation around revenue. It was also this past orientation around what impact have we had? Based upon the best of where we’re at when it comes to impact.
Now, I think in this particular case, most of their impact data was more output-oriented and activity-oriented, which is fine. That was where they were at. And part of our goal in the rest of this workshop was to actually help them to go into outcomes and to think about the actual shift and change.
That you’re hoping. So instead of just an increase in clients, it’s like an increase in what you want those clients to actually what positive change you wanna create in those clients. But nevertheless, it was still this groundedness in both their revenue and where things have gone and been, and ask them what strength and the same thing with impact.
What are they noticing as the strength?
Sarah: Yeah, I remember particularly in that point when we had been preparing for the workshop and talked with the board chair about our impact cycle, which we’ll put in the show notes for you all, but the idea that there’s impact, there’s story, there’s revenue, and there’s the program.
And in the middle is the flywheel. And I think, what you shared with the board chair was oftentimes we’re just talking about revenue, but the point of revenue is impact. We can’t lose the why. Similar to the purpose question, we can’t lose our own why, and we can’t lose the why for the organization.
And yet, so oftentimes we are losing focus on that why? And we’re just talking about dollars in the door instead of the difference they’re making. And that’s another cognitive shift I think we need to help each other make, which is the point of talking about revenue is not revenue. The point of talking about revenue is impact.
Tucker: Yeah. And I wanna give a shout-out to a podcast we had earlier around impact forecasting. That was with Stephanie Skryzowski and Skyler, I think it was Badenoch who is an ED. And Stephanie is somebody we actually work with at A Hundred Degrees Consulting, but they’re like our outsource CFO, and it’s been really helpful to work with her and her team.
They specialize in nonprofits. But I loved the podcast we did with them because it really helped, even me and the listeners here reframe budgeting around impact. And so instead of doing… And Skylar in particular was bringing this forward too, which was how do we go into the space of impact first and we’re forecast our impact?
And then we turn back around and say, okay, what are the resources that we need in order to get there? Which makes so much sense and it fits with our impact cycle. Kind of what you were sharing about Sarah of… Based upon this workshop, again, we took them from a purpose question.
Then we took them into the best of the past and what the past look like. And now we’re actually, we use the impact cycle to help bring them into the future first. So that future orientation takes them into the space of, “What is it that we even want in the first place?” We now have a sense of where we’re coming from and some of our strengths and what we’re noticing, but then let’s go into the future and we invited them into this space.
Imagine the organization has been wildly successful three years from today. What is made possible? This is an impact-oriented and impact-forecasting type of question. What is made possible for those that we’re serving? What is made possible for our community? What is made possible for our whole organization?
So we invited them into reflecting forward in a sense. And there’s a lot of deep data and research around this. Thinking about Dr. Benjamin Hardy and his research, we’re actually going through a lot of, one of his books right now called 10x Is Easier Than 2x but he has a lot of research as an organizational psychologist around when we can capture the images of the future and we have a sense of what that might look like.
It really helps to become a paver, some pavers for the path moving forward, coming into the present. And so we invited them into in a sense, impact forecasting of imagine that you have been wildly successful three years from today, what do you think is gonna happen and what do you think would be made possible from that?
So we’re, as you can hear from that, even that question in that language, we’re trying to invite them into outcomes. Not just outputs and activities, but outcomes that are coming because of the work that you’re doing. Hence the made possible type of questions.
Sarah: Yeah. And I wanna note that there was a new board member on this experience.
Brand new member to the board. And he really, as you asked this question, led the way in talking about bringing in some data from the area about who the organization was serving and the opportunity they had that they weren’t maybe thinking about where they could expand their services.
And it was a really interesting conversation because it got everybody else thinking in a little bit of a different way. Instead of, how can we just keep doing what we’re doing? All of a sudden it was. How can we reach people we haven’t been reaching and what is it that we wanna make possible for those folks?
And one of the things I think you always say, which I love, is that the importance of this is not just having people think about the questions, but it’s about having them hear each other’s answers in real-time. The voices hearing the voices. So instead of us sitting with the executive director, us sitting with some board members and translating from one person to the other.
People are hearing what each other are thinking and where they wanna go. Which I think allows them to move faster together. Forward.
Tucker: Totally. Yeah. It’s so interesting how, the old adage from the military, which was, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Like you said this at the beginning, so often we want just to get in the work and we are like trying to hurry through and let’s do.
That if we can slow it down enough. Hence why the space is to reflect generative questions. Letting the voices hear the voices, not going through the filter of a consultant, but creating the conditions for voices to hear the voices. It slows it down enough that smooths it out. It creates a transparent really process in a sense because they didn’t hear it through any filter.
They heard it directly from the other board members. That it now starts to speed it up because you’ve been able to slow it down enough for people to hear each other.
Sarah: Yeah. They’re all on the same page. Yeah. There was some research I looked at recently, I think it was from Harvard Business Review.
That talked about why visionary leaders frequently fail, and it’s because they have not gotten the middle managers on board. They didn’t have the voices here, the voices of the people that were actually gonna do the work. And so while the idea might have been great, the implementation failed because people weren’t on board.
And so as we think about, how to get people on board or how to get work done, the question is really how do we get people on board? That’s really the question, I think.
Tucker: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. So we did that impact-oriented forecasting. Impact forecasting. Imagine we’ve been wildly successful three years from now, what’s made possible for those that we serve, for our organization, for our community.
And then we went back into, now what are the revenue strategies? So resourcing that impact that we just got people that people got really energized by and excited about because that’s why they’re here. Which they spoke to, of course, in the purpose question. Then we went into revenue strategies and just we had a whole, like six different ones.
There’s fee-for-service strategies, there’s individual donor strategies, there’s corporate donor and sponsorship strategies, there’s grant strategies, there’s legacies and bequest—like planned giving strategies—there’s special event strategies. And so we just kinda laid out the spectrum of sorts of all the different types of things that you might be able to do to give them the, in a sense, these were all a whole bunch of thought joggers.
Of ways for them to think about their own revenue and get them to process through, what are the revenue strategies that would make sense for us to be able to get there? And they came up with quite a few different partly answers, but also really reflections around ways to engage the volunteers in a much stronger way into the fundraising side.
Getting a leg up, particularly around individual donors. I remember one person said that they have a high military population. In this particular area and what, is there a space there around the revenue that we can look at, maybe even for grants? because maybe there’s a lot of grants around veterans and things like that.
So it started to just generate this almost how might we space, how might we get to that based upon revenue? That they were able to open up that aperture and really look into and think into and share ideas around how they want to get there.
Sarah: Yeah, I love that. And I think one of the things you’re pointing out, from the impact forecasting, this idea of serving different populations, including military and vets, but also other rural areas, then opened up a conversation about, so what revenue could we go after in order to serve these special populations?
And one of the things that sometimes can be nebulous for nonprofits is the who. The who that they’re serving. We’ve worked with a lot of nonprofits who are really trying to hone that. Who, right? We want it to be everybody. But the problem is when it’s everybody, we can’t get specific.
Tucker: It’s nobody.
Sarah: It’s nobody. So one of the things I loved about this is that really, people can’t get practical and specific unless they have something to get practical and specific around, right? So all of a sudden this conversation about other populations, Opened up really specific revenue conversations about grants that they could go after.
And corporations, right in the local area that they consider could consider approaching.
Tucker: Yeah. And with that we even ask them this is the literal question around the innovate states that we call, which is, “How might we, as we think about resourcing the impact that this organization is excited to make, what resources do you need or connections do you have to help bring this about?”
What resources do you need or connections do you have to help bring this about? So this is where, and we did invite them, very specifically said, and it’s very important to get specific and as specific as you can get, the more that people can grab onto it. Kinda like what you were just sharing, Sarah.
And so we gave them some different thought joggers. We said things like, what personal resources might you need around revenue? What grants should we apply for? What businesses or companies might we want to approach in support of our work? What connections can you personally make? So we’re actually asking these questions in the context of, again, impact forecasting revenue, what are all the different types of revenue strategies, and then what resources do we need or connections do we have that will help us to bring about these resources or help us to bring about these, this impact that we’re wanting to have?
And they shared a lot of, a lot of information. I’m looking at some of your recap email here and there were people who were like, “Oh, I know… I know this person. Oh, it would be really helpful for us to talk to them about this particular type of impact.”
Again, that’s where the energy around the vets and the audience came up, and then people were like, “Oh yeah, there’s a grant that I know about that people can actually apply for.” It started to bring in those specific conversations, those specific organizations. Things that were in the purview of all these board members, they just hadn’t been given the space to really think about it in the way that was a direct translation into their revenue.
Sarah: Yep. Yeah, absolutely. And what, part of what I love about this is, people, so often, I think one of the challenges with boards around revenue is like, What exactly are we asking people to do? And are we asking them to actually go out and fundraise? Maybe sometimes, but oftentimes what we really need is a door to be opened.
And that is the great spot for a board member to say, oh, I know this person over there. I know that grant. Let me get you connected here. Let me do that bridge-building work. So then somebody from the organization side can go and follow that through. So instead of saying, “Hey, can you each commit to raising $10,000?”
It’s not what we did. We said, who can go out there and help open a door? And that is something people are often very willing to do, but seldom ask specifically enough about in order for them to action.
Tucker: Yeah. Just made me think, Sarah. We ought to do a podcast on our revenue structure that we’ve been working through and working on and implementing ourselves.
Sarah: Oh, that’s a good idea.
Tucker: Just a thought. Because I was like, this is exactly what we’re doing internally too. But it also is translating to the board. Anyway, just a thought. Throw that out there. A little forecasting for what we might be doing out in our podcast here in a little bit.
All right, so then we ended, so let me just recap where we’ve been. We did a purpose question. We invited them into why is being a part of this organization important and why did they choose to be a part of this organization? We helped them to go into the past state of the union, what’s been the best what did you notice in the data?
What strengths do you have around your revenue and your impact and opportunities? Then we shared the impact cycle—all these things we’ll put up in the show notes—which helped to show that revenue support. The revenue is an outcome, but it’s actually there in order to support the real outcome that we want, which is impact.
And so then we took them into a space of impact forecasting. After the impact forecasting, we brought revenue strategies and opened up the aperture to all the different types of revenue strategies that nonprofits can really embark on or have, and then invited the reflection around as we think about resourcing the impact that we all just shared about earlier in the impact forecasting time.
What resources do you need or connections do you have to help bring this about? And so now the question is, “Okay, now what do we do?” If we got this, we got all this great data and information. I remember talking to the ED too and she was like, I really want them to make sure that they’re doing something.
Because we still want people to do something. That’s part of the point. It’s not just to talk about it. It doesn’t really count. And so this ending section was around commitment. It was pretty blatant. They have, in particular, they have three subcommittees that they already had right now, and some were in some and some were in others.
And our question was, “How do you as a board member want to support this moving forward?” Specifically around where do you… What energy do you… Which subcommittee do you have energy around? That you would like to invest your time and energy into? They had one that was around internal affairs.
There was one that was around external affairs. They had one that was around governance. And some of the people actually stayed, which is, by the way, is another opt-in. I remember I was just doing a workshop and somebody said, “Some of our role is to get people to continually opt into things.”
And a lot of this was happening throughout. With a purpose question and all these other things. This was like another added opt-in is we gave people the ability to re-opt in or to opt into the one they actually really wanted to be a part of in terms of a subcommittee. And so we asked people, “Which subcommittee do you have the most energy around?”
And I think most people stayed with the one that they were already in. But I know that some people actually changed. They’re like, “No, I actually have energy around a different committee.” And that’s a really important piece because again, you’re inviting them to have choice of where they have energy, but also doing it in a way that’s everybody… Again, going back to the voices hearing the voices, now they’re hearing each other’s voices of where they’re committing their energy to in terms of which subcommittee.
And so that was a really important piece of giving them the space of opting in around where they have most energy. And also a little bit of an inflection point too for the board of, “Hey, we’re moving forward with these subcommittees. We’ve been doing them. Some have worked ish, some have not worked so well. We’re really moving forward with these subcommittees. And where do you have energy that can help move these forward?”
And then after they did that, we actually invited them into a few more implementing-oriented questions and asked them three different questions.
What are some measurable goals you wanna work on to achieve over the next 6 to 12 months? When would you, as a committee, like to meet, which gets into our rhythms for us, is that biweekly? Is that weekly? Is that monthly? And who is the head or heart to help facilitate slash guide this committee? So we asked these very blatant questions of the board and let them share where their energy was. So after they determined where their energy was around the subcommittee, then we went a layer down.
Again, I’ll share those questions one more time. What three measurable goals do you want to work on achieving in the next 6 to 12 months? When would you, as a committee, like to meet in terms of what is the rhythm that you have? Who is of the head or heart to help facilitate or guide this committee?
And so again, gave them the space as committees based upon where they said they had energy. Go and reflect on that. Share what are some of your thoughts around that as a committee and let them then report that out to what is it that they wanted to do around those particular pieces.
So you can see how we started out with purpose, which is like big and broad and high level, but still very important. Then took them through a sequence of going down in altitude all the way to the level of, “When would you, as a committee, like to meet? And what do you want to get done and who wants to guide this committee?”
Sarah: Yeah. And what I love, oftentimes, or sometimes we can be like, “Yeah, I’m gonna commit to this thing. Sure, I’ll be on that committee.” But unless we go that layer down of, “Okay, so when are we gonna meet? And who’s gonna be in charge?” It’s so easy for it to all evaporate into the ether, but the minute we start getting specific about, so who’s taking charge and when are we gonna get something on the calendar?
It becomes very real, and we like to often say we’re opening the aperture, which is gathering voices, and then we’re closing it, which is deciding, and as you often say, deciding means to kill choice. It means to kill choice. But we need to do that in order to get things done sometimes.
Instead of sitting in the space of, “Oh, I’ll just help with all the things,” right? How many times have we heard that? Like, “You put me wherever you need me.” Nope. Don’t let people do that. Don’t let them. Because that really just means, “I’m not sure I’m gonna contribute.” And so we need to ask people those specific questions about how they wanna show up so that they get to, as you just said, continually opt-in.
Or if they’re not opting in over a number of times. That’s the beautiful point to go back to that purpose question, which is to say, “Why are you still here?” Which is a totally valid question, right? I think sometimes we get, are scared to ask people because we’re scared. The answer is gonna be like, you know what, actually I don’t wanna be here.
And I think honestly… One, in this particular context, I think what we realize actually is people do wanna be here. And getting that affirmation is so important. But two if for whatever reason people no longer do wanna be there, that’s okay too. And in some ways, by putting it out there, we’re allowing both of those things to coexist and understand that you know what, sometimes the time has come for folks to move on.
Tucker: Yeah. And that’s okay. None of us wanna have board members that don’t wanna be there. We don’t wanna be pulling people along. We more wanna be in a space of guiding energy. And so if we’re trying to pull people along, like that’s a, “Hey, here’s what it means to be a part of this board to be a part of the subcommittee. Here’s the commitments. Hey. And if this doesn’t feel like it’s the right fit for you, that’s fine too. But if it does, this is what it means.”
It’s going back to something you say all the time from Brene Brown, which is clear is kind.
Sarah: Clear is kind. I agree.
Tucker: And then we ended just to close, which we almost always do, is we close with heart, which is really closing with reflection. And we asked the question, “What was the most meaningful or valuable part of this conversation for you today?” And let people think about that. Because it ends on the strength of what was valuable and meaningful for this particular experience.
And, it’s very important if you’re facilitating something like this just to give space for people to do it. I usually say, “Hey, pop it up in the chat. Or if you wanna bring your voice into, you can bring your voice in verbally.” And I remember somebody saying how valuable it was to hear.
Hear the voices. I think that was literally one, just to be able to connect with each other and to hear, yeah, where people are coming from and to really understand a little bit more about what’s going on was really meaningful or valuable. And I know the CEO or the ED sent over a message afterward saying, you really energized our board.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. And I remember that new board member in particular said, this was so valuable for me to get up to speed with where you all are at and what we want to do together. And also as you are thinking about engaging your board and bringing new members in a sequence like this is really helpful when you have new members to orient them to both what you want and what you’re doing together, and then what you imagine the future to be.
Tucker: Yeah. And I love how you said that this is like one of some of the best onboarding you can give to people. For new board members, and, we do this on a quarterly basis, like we do our own sort of quarterly strategic planning. This is something that you’d want to do a rhythm of.
A regular pause. To see what you’ve been learning. And a lot of what this was really a sequence of helping people to learn by reflecting, by seeing where we’ve come by learning what it is that we really do want. And when we can give people that space and that pause to learn. On a quarterly basis, maybe with your board, a sequence like this could be really relevant every six months.
Get it on the calendar, if it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist. And so get it on the calendar and do some kind of a rhythm around these types of experiences that really help the board to be able to tap into some of these things that we talked about. What’s been the best of us? Why is it important that I still am choosing to be here?
And all the things that we went through.
Sarah: And then one, one last thing I remember is one board member said, “I didn’t quite know what to expect walking into this and it turned out to be so valuable.” And I’ll tell you all that I think one of the things in Tucker, you really have driven this home for me is that we so often don’t wanna give space to connecting with each other and to doing the work about each other as humans.
And we wanna get down to the “business”. And I think for some reason in our professional culture, it’s been frowned upon to get personal and to be humans with each other. Still to this day, we face that challenge all the time of people saying, Ooh, this part over here, or around the inner work or around connecting.
I don’t know how people are gonna react to that. And I’ll tell you, it’s a mistake every time. Not to do it every time. So true. because it is the thing people are gonna say. That was the best part of that. They don’t even know they want it or need it. They don’t even know, in fact, they’ll say they don’t want it and don’t need it when it’s not the case.
Tucker: It’s interesting we’re working with a really impact-driven pediatric clinic in California right now. And this exact thing has come up. We were taking them through a journey and we’ll probably put this up more on the podcast later on because it’s, there’s some really richness, some really good richness in the sequence of what we’ve been doing with them.
But one of the things that, as we’ve listened to some of the champions that they have, that we help them to create, which are people who are really helping to guide this process, they said, all the physicians and some of the leads are sharing about their lives. Because they have now this like regular rhythm of, “Tell us about your weekend. How are things going?” And hearing the whole human inside of everybody in the space. And they were like, I feel so much more connected. I feel so much more like I can trust them. because their whole human being, it was just by creating very simple activities around connection-oriented questions.
About their lives literally. And that is shaping and totally shifting the culture. And we have some data to back it up too specifically from this assessment called PERMA that is showing that this is, I don’t wanna say causality is happening, but these little shifts looks is creating or helping to create some of these shifts that they’re wanting to make around their culture.
So yeah, to your point, Sarah, we cannot overestimate the power of creating some spaces of connection. We need both. We need belonging and significance. We need buy-in and strategy. We need hearing the voices and figuring out how we’re gonna move forward together. But we overemphasize strategy and we underemphasize belonging.
And so the more that we can create the space of belonging, the space of humanity, That really helps to amplify the strategy that we want to embark on. All right, we have a thousand things to put in the show notes, so I’m gonna go back through my notes and figure out what goes up there.
But hey, if you need support on energizing your board because I know boards can be tough but that’s why we wanted to share this with you. Let us know, ping us, hop on our website and we’d be happy to share any more about this or help you to actually do something like this as well.
Other than that, we’ll see you next time on THRIVERS: Nonprofit Leadership for the Next Normal. Bye everyone. Thanks, y’all.