When is it Time to Hire a Consultant for Your NonProfit Board?



The role of the board in governing a non- profit organization cannot be overestimated. The board makes the difference between a good nonprofit and a great one, and can even make or break the organization. The board must ensure the non-profit’s mission is relevant and that the mission can be achieved today, and is prepared to fulfill it’s mission into the future. Organizations function much more efficiently and successfully when they are supported by a board that understands their role and supports the operations by providing the resources it needs to fulfill it’s mission

Boards need to review their performance every few years, if not annually. They need to ask themselves hard questions about their role and are they fulfilling their role. Are they making the organization better for it’s staff and the community they serve. Boards also need to stay up to date on best practices, governance, expectations of donors, and the new Form 990 and IRS guidelines.

Too many nonprofit boards have become insular, with little turnover and no real understanding of what the stakeholders want. Too many boards are detached from their true role and are dis-engaged from the staff and it’s mission. For many human services organizations where government grants and contracts have been their mainstay of revenue, boards have dismissed their role completely in fund development, or minimize conversations about creating an organization that is sustainable, and benefits from diversified funding sources.  

Boards will muddle along, year after year without taking stock of what their real role should be given the current situation. If this is happening to your board it might be time to bring in an outside perspective. A fresh set of eyes and ears can many times reinvigorate a group that still feels passionate about the mission, but is know longer sure how to govern the organization.

High functioning boards focus on resource development. Resource for nonprofits include people, staff, boards, volunteers, and committee members, money and assets. If your board meetings do not include significant time discussing resource development and resource allocation then you need help.

To determine if your board  might benefit from the help of an outside consultant ask yourself the following questions. If you cannot come up with a definitive, collective answer quickly or if you have NEVER asked these questions of yourselves, it might be time to engage in structured board development work:

1.) What size should your board be today? Do we talk about the number of volunteer leaders based on the skill sets we need, what committee structures are needed, fundraising outreach, etc?

2.) Do we adhere to term limits, what do you think about term limits?

3.) How should we set up our governance structure so board meetings are filled with issues the board needs to handle and not issues for day to day operations.

4.) Do we have functioning committees that get things done for the board and how do these committees communicate with the board? Do we allow non-board members to serve on committees?

5.) When was the last time we reviewed our mission, vision, value statements and by-laws?

6.) Has our funding increased, decreased or remained the same over the last three years?

7.) Do we have a functioning Fundraising Committee or Development Committee? Do we have a Development Director, and If so, does the Development Director feel they have the support of the board by opening doors in the community? if not, what role do we think the CEO/ED should play in fund development. Have we discussed this with our CEO/ED?  How would we backfill the operational needs of the organization if we decided our CEO/ED should be development focused and not operationally focused.

8.) Do we have a Strategic Plan that we follow? One that drives our annual operational goals and that’s shared with all stakeholders. Do we recruit people to our board based on the Strategic Plan needs and the overall goals of the organization? Or do we ask ourselves, Does anyone know  anyone who will serve on our board.

9.) Do we have a board development plan? If not-, If yes-

10.) Do we expect our CEO/ED to find board members?

11.) Is the board burned out and tired? Is less than 50% of our board disengaged? Do we have fewer than five board members and think this is OK?

12.) Are the board meetings lengthy and overwhelming? Are they boring with little outcomes or change? Do we take action from the discussions at the board meetings?

13.) Do we think we are a true partner with our CEO/ED?

14.) Do we think we are a working board or an advisory board? Does this match the needs of the organization at this point in time? 

These are a few of the questions that boards should be asking themselves. Small non-profits will often say, “We do not have money to hire a consultant.” That may be true but how long will you continue to plod along, with no increase in funding, no real outcomes, burned out or dis-engaged board members and an unfulfilled mission? If you don’t act, it may be too late and it certainly won’t get any better. 

Evaluating a board from the inside, a fellow board member or board leadership,  is hard for a lot of reasons. There are feelings and egos that are easily bruised, long term members who made significant contributions in the past, deserve a certain amount of respect even though their contribution has declined, and friendships that have been formed can be strained.   We can ask the hard questions others shy away from and will be the bad guy when delivering not so welcome information.

As consultants our role is to:

  • Work with leadership to plan the process and define the timeline.
  • Help drive the process without influencing the content.
  • Ask questions on behalf of the leadership team, board, or staff that an insider might not be comfortable asking.
  • Plan each meeting’s agenda, and ensure the group and the planning process stays on track.

Were here to help, call us for a free consultation to see if your organization is a good fit for our services. Beartooth Business Consulting, 406-690-5988, or by email mike@beatoothbiz.com. 

Beartooth Business Consulting is a member of the MNA, Montana Non-Profit Association

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Strategic Planning in the Nonprofit World

Strategic planning is also a tool for changing your mode of functioning from “reactive to proactive.” You can anticipate, plan and create the future. It will stimulate creative thinking about what the future can be. There are many important benefits of the strategic planning process, they include:

  • Team building that is nurtured by the process of inclusion.
  • Stimulate ingenuity and new approaches.
  • Increase everyone’s investment in the organization.
  • Develop a common vision among all stakeholders.
  • Clarify values and beliefs among all stakeholders.
  • Identify opportunities and anticipate possible obstacles.
  • Provide a framework for day to day decisions.
  • Create a marketing and fundraising piece.
  • The plan can be an excellent public relations piece for funders as well as a blueprint for Tumbleweeds growth.
  • To create an efficient well managed organization where all the stakeholders work together to fulfill your mission, vision and values of the organization and are held accountable for their contribution.

How to Get Started

  1. Step One, in order to get a handle on the current situation a questionnaire should be sent out to all your stakeholders, board members, team leaders, community partners and staff ahead of the planning sessions requesting their input on how the organization is doing, what are the current challenges and what are the future opportunities. Questions might include
  • If I were running “your” organization what would I change?
  • What one thing will make “your”  organization succeed?
  • List three things “your”  organization does well?
  • List three things “your”  organization needs to improve upon?
  • List three threats of “your”  organization.
  • List three opportunities of ““your”  organization.

The compiled results of the questionnaires can be sent out to those directly involved in the Strategic Planning meetings and used as the foundation of your discussions.

Step Two, determine who will be involved. Who on the board, staff and executive team need to be involved?  Your entire board, a select few, the executive committee? Selecting who will be involved is as much of an art than a science.  There is a balancing act between getting things done efficiently while at the same time being sure all the stakeholders feel a sense of inclusion.  The risk is planning with too few or taking a top down approach can create a feeling of alienation thus significantly reducing the opportunity for buy-in from board, leadership and staff. Without that all important buy-in, the chances of fulfilling the goals and ultimately being successful are significantly reduced.

I have worked with clients where we brainstormed separately as an entire board, then brainstormed separately with the leadership team and ultimately brought the two groups together for a joint session to discuss differences and create the Mission/Vision/Values statements and Strategic Goals collectively.

There are some logistical questions that need to be answered as well as a few tools that help record and lead the conversations. You will want to know the answer to these questions before you start the process

  • Are you prepared to facilitate change?
  • Who are your planning process champions
  • State your objectives and expectations:
  • Create a timeline for the planning process:
  • How many years ahead is the focus of the strategic plan?  The realization of goals 1-year, 3-years or 5 years are certainly different.
  • How do you intend to keep stakeholders informed of the progress during the project?
  • What is your budget for the meetings and planning?
  • Do you have a format for your strategic & operating plan?
  • Who is ultimately responsible for writing and editing the plan

A few tools that will be helpful when facilitating the meetings are:  

  • Terms document
  • Note taker
  • Flip chart
  • Markers
  • Sticky notes or round stickers
  • Whiteboard

Now that you have sent out your questionnaire, compiled the results, decided who will be involved, and have a plan for the planning process, you are ready to begin meeting and creating your Strategic Plan. These five phases of Strategic Planning will guide you through the planning process and will explain the importance of each one..

Phase One: determining where we are and where we want to go.

When phase one is completed your organization will have completed these important tasks:    

  • Create and/or clarify your mission, vision and value statements. If you don’t have one, now is the time to write one.
  • Determine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to your organization
  • Create and prioritize the long term strategic goals for your organization.


These three words and their respective statements will guide your organization through its long term strategy, long term goal setting, short term objectives, and how it will conduct its business in order to fulfill the mission and ultimately reach the vision.Your mission, values and vision statements should be:

  • Defined
  • Stated
  • Shared

For more specific information on how to write mission, vision, value statements for your organization you might want to read this post. Mission, Vision, Values

Create the Vision

Companies often stop at their mission statement but the Vision Statement is what the world or organization would look like once the mission is fulfilled. The Vision Statement reflects what your organization ultimately wants to achieve. The Vision Statement can be something that is ultimately achievable or can be a dream that may not be achieved in the current staffing lifetime but is still ultimately worth striving for. Things to consider when you’re either clarifying or creating your vision statement.

  • A visioning session is a time for dreaming.  
  • What do we want this organization to look like in 5, 10 years?
  • Create a headline for a newspaper about the organization ten years from now. What would it say

Make sure the statement is descriptive enough and is measurable to determine progress toward the vision.

Create the Mission

After the vision statement is written, go through a similar exercise to define the organization’s mission.  Remember a mission statement describes “why” the organization exists.  Vision and mission statements are used as a guideline for decision making so it should reflect the importance of what the business is trying to accomplish.

Your mission statement should answer these questions:

  • what is our purpose.
  • what is your reason for being.
  • who and why do we serve.

A Mission Statement should be relatively static and should be the guiding principles as to why the organization exists and why it does what it does. In the nonprofit or 501(C)-(3) world mission statements are often synonymous with the stated purpose in their Articles of Incorporation

Define Your Organizational Values

How do you want to conduct yourselves in your business and personal life. The value statement should be the guiding principle on how leadership conducts themselves in their business dealings, the staff takes into account when making day to day decisions, and is reflective of how the outside community views the organization. Words like honesty, integrity, caring, transparency, knowledgeable are often reflected in value statements.

SWOT, Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats

In order to fully understand your current situation it will be important to take your organization through an analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that are current to your organization, often referred to as a SWOT analysis. You will want to identify how each of these are effected from internal and external influences.

Key questions to address:

  • Strengths and Weaknesses of Leadership Team
  • What changes are impacting your organization
    • Internal
    • External
    • Today
    • Five years from now
  • Critical Issues for the future
  • Opportunities for your organization.? current/future
  • Threats to your organization. current/future
  • Fundraising limitations/opportunities
  • Community engagement
  • What is the role of the board?

Strategic Goals

The last part of phase one is defining your strategic goals. Change is necessary for any organization to sustain itself and compete in today’s marketplace. As a non-profit you may not think you compete for customers or for your programs and services, but you compete everyday with hundreds of other non-profits for funding. Being successful and being able to prove you fulfill your mission with give you the competitive edge to compete for funding which is the lifeblood of any non-profit organization. Your strategic goals should be visionary, they should stretch your operational abilities, and their achievement should ultimately raise your level of success. Your strategic goals should follow these guidelines:

  • What are the five to ten most impactful goals for your organization?
    • In what timeframe can they be achieved?
    • What resources are needed?
    • What are the expected results and how will they impact your organization?

Phase Two: Build the annual operating plan.

When phase two is completed your organization will have defined operational objectives for the following year and defined action plans on how you will achieve these objectives.

Strategic goals set the direction of your organization that will be realized somewhere in the future, usually 3-5 years. The annual operating plan defines the objectives and the action items necessary to fulfill the strategic goals.  Operating objectives will almost always align with one or more of your strategic goals. Your operational objectives should be SMART. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time Bound.

Your staffs leadership team should spearhead the effort to build your operating plan, Executive Director, Development Director, Finance Director and other your department heads. However, to build a great plan that is ready to be implemented within your organization you must include as many staff members as feasible in its development. Their input will create a more robust plan, allow you to see challenges and opportunities that are not always visible at the upper management level, and most of all readily act on the plan because they feel a sense of inclusion. If the process can address these four questions they will feel a sense of inclusion and will work to achieve your objectives.

  • How does their role impact the mission, vision, and values of your organization?
  • How can they have a greater impact on the outcomes?
  • How can they take personal responsibility to fulfill department objectives?
  • What are their personal goals?

When defining your operational objectives they should include:

  • What resources are necessary to complete the objective
  • Who is responsible,
  • The anticipated completion date
  • The financial impact on the organization, revenue or cost.
  • What key success indicators can be monitored.

In addition to the operating objectives an annual operating plan almost always includes:

  • Organizational chart
  • Current job descriptions/responsibilities
  • Budget(s)

The following format is one I’ve used in the past and might work for you as well.

Strategic Goal

<<List one strategic goal>>

Objective 1: <<Define objective>>

  • Action Item 1:

–    Responsible Person(s):

–    Desired Completion Date:

–    Estimated Cost/Savings:

–    Resource(s):

–    Key Success Indicators:

–    Expected results:

Phase Three: Communication with Stakeholders

It’s great you have a plan, now what? Share the plan with those that need to know. Both the strategic plan, annual operating plan, and budget should be approved by the board, after all, they are responsible for the organization’s financial well being and its overall success.  It should be shared with the staff as they are responsible for executing the day to day objectives of the operating plan and fulfilling the mission. And finally outside stakeholders. Current and potential donors will appreciate the Strategic Planning you did and knowing where you are going. If your organization is large enough to be on the radar of local, regional or national press, your vision and strategic goals are newsworthy, especially if they impact the lives of the community you serve. If you work closely with community partners share your strategic goals with them and explain how they can impact these goals, it will only lead to improved working relationships. Here is the list of groups your plan should be shared with:

  • Board, Official adoption
  • Leadership Team
  • Outside Stakeholders
    • Press
    • Donors
    • Community Partners

Phase FOUR: Ongoing Monitoring

In order to bring your strategic and operational plans to life they must be monitored and measured on an ongoing basis. Are you making progress against the goals of your plan within the defined timeframes? That is the ultimate question. Measuring the progress of your objectives will hold people accountable for their commitments and for its execution. Everyone wants to know what the score is and how their job performance will be measured, job descriptions are a good tool for understanding what is required of in order to fulfill the responsibilities of your job, but it is ultimately the achievement of your goals that measures your success.

In these reviews it is also important to ensure the relevancy of the goals and objectives. Has there been a change, either externally or internally, that might make you question the importance of a particular goal and/or objective. Additionally something may be impacting the organization that creates the need for an additional strategic goal or operational objective(s).

These periodic reviews can be conducted monthly or quarterly based on the demands of your organization. They should start within departments and then roll up to the leadership team and ultimately the board. There should also be a plan to review the performance of the board however this might occur annually.

  • Goals/Objectives Review
    • Are our objectives still relevant?
    • Are you progressing towards goals?
    • What has changed and/or is affecting our business?
    • Are there new goals that should be considered?

As you have read and possibly done it, strategic and operational planning are not rocket science however they require discipline, hard work and a commitment to work the plan. If you take the time to think about the future and then put in place the steps and practices necessary to fulfill that future, your organization will reach new heights, your staff will be excited about coming to work each day to fulfill your mission, and you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to attract funding. Good luck, I hope this you found this information helpful.

Maybe there is someone in your organization that can lead your organization through the Strategic Planning process, however often it can be beneficial and much more impactful to hire an outside facilitator to help you. An outside facilitator that is worth his or her salt will:

  • Work with leadership to plan the process and define the timeline.
  • Help drive the process without influencing the content.
  • Ask questions on behalf of the leadership team, board, or staff that an insider might not be comfortable asking.
  • Plan each meeting’s agenda, and ensure the group and the planning process stays on track.

Beartooth Business Consulting are professional facilitators and can help your organization create or refine your strategic plan. Give us a call we’d love to talk with you and learn how we can impact your non-profit organization. 406-690-5988, mike@beartoothbiz.com. 

Beartooth Business Consulting is a member of the MNA, Montana Non-Profit Association

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Are Your Meetings Productive??

Over the course of my career I have attended literally thousands of meetings and planned and facilitated many of these meetings. Regularly scheduled meetings, annual planning meetings, status meetings, sales meetings, employee meetings, lunch and learns, motivational meetings, customer meetings, board of director meetings, the list can go on and on.

I have observed great meetings that created a lot of positive results and I have attended meetings that were a complete waste of time for everyone involved and wasted a lot of the company’s money. Meetings are an important part of doing business and there is nothing better than getting a group of people to agree and working towards a common goal. A productive meeting is a great tool for this. However there is nothing that wastes more time in your employee’s day or the productivity of your company than a needless or poorly run meeting.

Here are a few tips to keep your meetings on track and ensure they are productive for the attendees, achieve your objectives, and move your business forward.

A group of happy business people clapping in a meeting

Rotate responsibility for facilitating the meeting; You or the senior person in the room don’t have to run every meeting, especially in a regular meeting such as a weekly staff or status meeting. Rotating the facilitator of the meeting will keep a fresh voice in front of the group, give each person facilitating the experience of leading the group, and keep the meeting fresh and not routine. This will also make the person responsible for facilitating the meeting more prepared than if they were just an attendee.

Have an agenda; If it is not easy to create an agenda for your meeting no matter how brief it might be than it probably isn’t worth having the meeting. Knowing what you’re going to talk about, what information you want to share with the participants and what feedback you are looking for will give the meeting purpose, keep the meeting on track, and keep the time needed for the meeting to a minimum.

Share agenda ahead of time; When possible sending the agenda out before hand will allow the participants to prepare their thoughts and provide you input that is thought out and organized.

Allow for some social time but keep the meeting running on time; People want to visit about Sunday’s football game, their family outing, where their meeting after work for a beer and so forth, you get my point. You should build a little time in your meeting either before it formally starts and at breaks to allow the participants to visit and socialize with each other. As the facilitator you should keep side conversations during the meeting to a minimum. They are distracting to the other attendees and tend to make your meeting run longer than they need to. In a larger group if you have a participant that initiates a lot of side conversations with the people they are sitting next to you can as the presenter moving towards them or stand in front of them while facilitating the meeting. This will usually put an end to it or gain their attention back on you.

Put the cell phones away; There is nothing more disrespectful and distracting than participants checking email, facebook, texting or simply playing with their cell phones. I would suggest creating a standard policy in your meetings that cell phones must be muted, turned off, and out of sight. There may be exceptions if someone is expecting a call from family or a client that may take precedence over the subject matter being discussed but if so this should be stated prior to the meeting starting so the facilitator and other participants know beforehand that a person’s phone may go off and they will need to excuse himself from the meeting.

Does your meeting justify the cost; Have you ever thought about the cost of having an hour meeting with six employees? I’m not talking about the costs of the bagels and donuts or Jimmy John sandwiches, I’m talking about the cost to the company for having those six people attend the meeting rather than do the work assigned to them. If the average salary of those six employees were $50,000/year their hourly wage would be approximately $25/hour. That meeting cost the company $150 plus any other ancillary costs. Are the decisions made, direction provided, problem(s) solved worth more than $150.00?

Don’t have a meeting if there’s nothing to talk about, just to pacify the boss; As the boss are you calling a meeting to catch up because you’ve been away from the office, on vacation, working on other things or just plain out of the loop. Is the information you are looking for going to be as beneficial to the other participants or is it things they already know and are just going to be bored as each person shares what’s going on in their area(s) of responsibility with you. You might be better served by visiting with each one individually and asking questions that are only relevant to that one employee to get caught up than wasting a whole lot of your group’s time by listening to information they already know.

Businesswoman presenting to colleagues at a meeting

If you want to command attention Stand-Up; If you want to command attention Stand-Up; Especially in a large group or even with a small group of team members standing and leading the group will command their attention and focus the meeting on you, the facilitator.

If you’re not there to solicit the input of the others in the room don’t have the meeting; If you don’t want to hear what the other people in the room have to say or care about, write a memo. It will more than likely accomplish the same thing. In my experience, it is impossible to get buy in from your team unless you truly listen to their concerns and ideas. The purpose of your meeting should be to share your thoughts, directions and ideas and then enrich them with the thoughts, directions and ideas from your team. After all you can’t accomplish your company’s objectives unless you get the buy-in and participation from your team.

Communicate and send Follow-Up on action items; In any effective meeting there should be tasks or action items that require follow-up by one or more team members. Sending out an email or written memo restating the purpose of the meeting, the important decisions that may have been made during the meeting and any action items that require follow-up will reinforce the importance of the meeting, encourage team buy in and ensure any follow up that is required is completed in a timely fashion.

Hire an outside facilitator; When you plan a meeting for Strategic Planning or other focused purpose do you as the Business Owner, President or CEO run the meeting? Have you ever hired an outsider, one who is a professional at planning and facilitating meetings? If you have not used an outside facilitator you are missing some of the strategic benefits of doing so. Whether it’s a small group of business partners or a large group of employees, having an outside facilitator for your meeting can often provide the positive results you are striving for.  From the most senior manager to the most junior administrator each member of your team can provide you insight into your business’s inner workings and the inner relationships between employees, vendors, ownership, and most of all, your customers.

An experienced facilitator will bring these thoughts and insights out for your benefit. An outside facilitator will bring an open-minded perspective to your meeting. They will keep the discussion focused, keep the process on track and will encourage your team members as equals in the process. In my own personal and professional experiences,

I have witnessed better outcomes when an outside facilitator is brought in. Meetings are sometimes a necessary evil of doing business. However if done right every meeting is an opportunity to encourage and motivate your team to accomplish the objectives necessary to grow your business.

asset-1442456070552If you need help with making your meetings more productive, call or email Beartooth Business Consulting, we can help. 406-690-5988, mike@beartoothbiz.com.  


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Event Management, Details, Details, Details

RvsdLogoOnlynogloMy buddy Cory Johnson and I just got done putting on the Inaugural Red Lodge Songwriter Festival last weekend. This was an idea that started eight months ago over a couple of beers, which evolved into nine performances in six venues over three days. It was an enormous undertaking that took the cooperation and efforts of a lot of people, some paid but mostly volunteers. The success of this event and others like it can be attributed to the talented artists that performed, but mostly it was having a good plan to start with and managing the details leading up to and during the event.

Every event has literally hundreds of little details that need to be planned for, budgeted for, and eventually executed on. If your event is a first time event work very hard at anticipating the unexpected. A friend once said “Murphy was an Optimist” and when it comes to event management I believe that rings true.

In the early planning stages of your event build an event resume and begin to write down and account for everything that will happen and influence the successful outcome of your event. In the case of the Red Lodge Songwriter Festival it was things like:

  • songwriters-2016-_0251Travel Schedules
  • Transportation to the event
  • Transportation during the event
  • Welcome baskets for songwriters
  • Lodging
  • Sound systems
  • Ticket sales
  • Fundraising
  • Advertising the event
  • Team management
  • Graphic Design/Printing
  • Media
  • Budgeting
  • Public Relations
  • Seating configurations
  • Ticket distribution
  • Communications
  • Point of sale systems
  • Storage
  • VIPs
  • Signage
  • Wifi at the venues
  • Photography/Video
  • Staging
  • Sound technicians
  • Meals
  • Caterers
  • Etc., etc., etc.

This is by no means a complete list and there will always be things that you did not anticipate happening that you need to be alert for. Having a good team around you that are willing to roll up sleeves and get the work done is a big plus as well. Everyone wants to be involved with events especially if they are fun events. Your team should be made up of people you can trust and will get things done when they say they will. There is nothing worse than to rely on someone who says they did something only to fall back on you at the last minute because it didn’t get done. It’s OK to have a small team of doers and tell others thanks for your offer but we have it covered.

songwriters-2016-_0321Beartooth Business Consulting can help you plan, manage and execute your event whether it is an industry event, fundraiser or corporate function. Please call us at 406-690-5988 or by email at mike@beartoothbiz.com   

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