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Empowering Nonprofit Organizations to Achieve Goals


It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but yet it was. During our most recent ShopTalk event focused on governance best practices for nonprofit organizations, the first thing our guest presenter pointed to was the importance of having a strategic plan.

What was ironic about his statement was that Republic Bank of Arizona had recently posted an article on our website with tips on kick starting your strategic planning process for 2020.

“It’s a great tool for making decisions,” says presenter Tom Okarma, a top-rated author and leading nonprofit board expert. A mistake nonprofits often make is creating plans that are simply rehashes of previous plans. “I encourage you to be bold in your thinking,” Tom says. He urged the group to use a concept called “inventive planning” which is different from proactive planning. “You need to look at where your agency needs to go as an organization, to adequately serve your clients and then build a bold plan to get there, not letting your current operating environment limit your thinking.”

Best Practice #1: Create a Bold Strategic Plan: Tom offers several resources for nonprofits to help create their bold strategic plan, including free templates.

Building & Maintaining a Superstar Board

A strong, energetic board is vital to your organization. To build and maintain one, you need to first determine where your strengths and weaknesses are in your current board structure, says Tom. The most effective way to do that is to:

  1. List the competencies you feel are needed from your board members to accomplish your mission and current strategic plan
  2. Looking at your members, check the boxes they fill on your list. Then you can visually see what holes you need to fill.
  3. Find candidates whose competencies can fill the unchecked boxes

Next is a bit more difficult. You need to deal with ineffective members who are either not contributing, or worse, damaging the organization in some way. Tom suggests handling the situation like you would any employee that needs corrective action. Document facts and dates regarding the incidents or concerns, and then have a discussion with the board member.

“Tell them exactly what they are doing wrong. Sometimes, they don’t know they are being difficult,” says Tom. “You need to have the moral courage to sit the person down and say, ‘You are great in these areas, but this behavior needs to stop.’”

Best Practice #2: Correct Weaknesses in Board: Tom offers tips for dealing with difficult board members.

Once you have your superstar board in place, you’ll want to work to keep it that way. There are several ways to do this:

  1. Create a dynamic Board Policy Manual. This is a crucial step in keeping your Board on task to reach your mission and goals.
  2. Establish an orientation program. Start your new members out on the right foot by making sure they understand their role and responsibilities.
  3. Provide ongoing training. To be truly effective, board members need ongoing support to help them learn the skills they may be deficient in, and stay up to date on new opportunities to help the organization move forward.

Best Practice #3: Provide Ongoing Support: Tom offers educational resources for board members.

Avoid Common Pitfalls

In his experience, Tom has seen some common mistakes he believes hinder nonprofit organizations that can easily be avoided or fixed. Here are the most common:

  1. Unproductive Board Meetings. It’s common to allow discussions to go on endlessly without making decisions, says Tom. You need a strong board chair that knows when it’s time vote on issues so you can actually get things done, and not just talk about getting things done.
  2. Under-utilized Committees. Give your committees the encouragement and authority to think outside the box, gather information and suggestions, and come back to the board with strong, well-researched recommendations the board can act on.
  3. Stray From Values. Ensure your board lives out the values of your organization. If the board isn’t enforcing them, the organization will lose them. Your goals should work like a magnet, pulling your organization in the direction you want to go.

Best Practice #4: Follow and Enforce Values: Stay true to the vision and values of your organization. These are your guiding principles and will keep your organization on the right path to accomplish your mission.

Banking for Nonprofit Organizations

If you’re looking for financial services from a bank that understands the special needs of the nonprofit community, check out Republic Bank of Arizona. Our Not-for-Profit Banking Program offers discounts and special rates on several of our services to earn more while spending less.