Non Profit Board Orientation Plan

Your job as board chair is to build an effective Board of Directors whose activities & involvement positively impact the outcomes of your organization’s mission, vision, values and strategic goals. The success of nonprofit organizations, especially small non-profits often depend on the quality and contributions of these individual board members. It is imperative these volunteer board members are engaged, feel appreciated and are well informed about their role and how they can impact your organization. It begins with recruiting the right board members and then providing them with the right information to begin contributing to your organization immediately.

The goal of your Board Orientation should be two-fold,  first and foremost to demonstrate to your new board member they have joined a professional organization, you value their expertise and appreciate the time they will devote to your organization.  Secondly, prepare them to be part of the decision making process and contribute immediately by being well informed about their role, how your organization operates, and who’s who within your organization.

Successfully on-boarding new board members will provide them with:

  • Vital information about their role and what’s expected of them
  • Information as to how the organization operates and its hierarchy
  • Who’s Who and their respective roles
  • Have the ability to share a few of the organizations key accomplishments and the organization’s mission, vision and values with their network of friends.
  • Understand the strategic goals and where the organization is in relationship to the achievement of those goals.
  • Be ready to contribute at their first board meeting
  • Be proud to have joined a well run and professional organization
  • Feel their time is being valued and appreciated

There are two important elements of the orientation process, the board orientation book and the board orientation session. The board orientation book is specifically for new board members and it is for them to take home, read, review, and write questions in the margins. It contains historic and current information so that new members have the relevant information enabling them to participate in the decision making process and have an immediate impact on your organization. It should be handed out several weeks prior to the orientation session. The orientation session is about providing new members an opportunity to ask questions, see first hand what was discussed in the orientation book, and hear from the people responsible for executing the strategic plan and mission of the organization.

An effective board orientation book includes:

  • Fact Sheet
    • History of the organization, when it was founded, why it was founded, significant achievements and significant challenges of the organization. Any press clipping featuring the organization are helpful.
    • Programs
    • Populations that are served
    • How the organization is financed
    • (Most of this should be on your website so providing this information should be easy)
  • Legal Documents
    • Explanation of legal and fiduciary responsibilities
    • By-Laws
    • Articles of Incorporation
    • Insurance Policy Information
  • General Board Information
    • The type of Board you are and definition
      • Governing and Operating Board-?
      • Governing and Managing Board-?
      • Governing and Fundraising Board-?
    • Board member job description and responsibilities
    • Conflict of Interest Policy
    • Board Attendance Policy
    • Individual Board Commitment Agreement
    • Board Role(s)
      • Actively participate in Fundraising
      • Having an annual board appeal, 100% participation
      • Providing donor referrals
      • A minimum time commitment
      • Participation on one or more committees
      • Clear understanding of the Board’s Role and the Staffs Role
      • Participation and attendance at the Board/Leadership Team Annual Retreat
    • Board of Directors list
      • Current contact information including profession.
      • Term(s)
    • Committee List
      • Description of each committee and its mission
      • Committee member list
        • Board members
        • Volunteer committee members
  • Calendar of Events including:
    • Board meetings
    • Events
    • Annual retreat
    • Other important organization dates
  • Organizational Planning
    • Mission Statement
    • Vision Statement
    • Value Statement
    • Strategic Plan
    • Operating Plan
      • Organizational Chart
      • Key Staff Members and their job descriptions
      • Description of each program and who it impacts
  • Financial Statements
    • Annual Budget
    • Current P&L
    • Balance Sheet
    • Description of Accounts
  • Other Information
    • Executive Director reports from the last six months
    • Minutes from the last three board meetings
    • Current marketing materials
    • Ongoing fundraising or capital campaigns
    • Upcoming fundraising events

The Board Orientation Session should be run by the board chair however all board members and key staff members should be present for this session and should be encouraged to respond to questions or add additional perspective to questions that may be asked. During these orientation sessions new members will hear first hand much of the information that was presented in the board orientation book and have the opportunity to meet the people responsible for each area of the organization. This is the time for them to ask questions about their role, what is expected of them, and how they can best contribute to the organization. While these sessions will introduce new board members to key personnel, familiarize them with the facilities, and educate them as to the organization’s mission, programs and populations it serves, make sure these sessions are interactive allowing new members time to interact with programs, staff and facilities.

A thorough orientation session should include:

  • Review of Orientation Book, (Board Chair)
  • Q&A on contents, (Board Chair)
  • Review of mission, vision and value statements, (Executive Director)
  • Fundraising, (Fundraising Chair)
  • Introduction to Staff, (Executive Director)
  • Facilities, (Executive Director and/or staff)
  • Programs, (Staff)
  • Overview of Strategic Goals and current initiatives to impact those goals, (Board Chair)
  • Calendar, (Board Chair)

During these sessions be sure to listen to the board members questions, comments and responses. You may identify areas they can make a significant contribution you were not expecting or find areas that could use yours or another members follow-up for additional education or clarity.

As you can see there is no magic or rocket science in a professional orientation program whether it’s for new board members or staff.  You will get back what you put into the program. If you focus on the big picture and getting new people up to speed quickly they will contribute from day 1. If the focus of your orientation program is about filling out a checklist then you will be frustrated and it will take longer for the individual to contribute.

The mistake many non-profit organizations make is not making board orientation a priority, or believing board orientation is providing minimal information, By-Laws, Articles of Incorporation and perhaps a recent financial statement in a poorly organized binder. Your board members have full time careers and in many cases very important and successful careers. Your board orientation should be as professional as any of your board members may be offering in their own companies. Without a comprehensive board book and orientation it may take new board members many months to get up to speed  delaying their ability to provide meaningful insight and contribution to your organization. If a new board members term is one or two years  10-20% of their board term has been wasted.

You and your organization can’t afford to waste that time. Do this right the first time and you will be rewarded over and over again. If you would like assistance with putting a quality board orientation program together please give us a call. We’d be glad to help. Beartooth Business Consulting. 406-690-5988,

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Is co-managing a business or department possible??

Co-managing a department is possible and co-managing businesses happen successfully everyday among partnerships and spouses.

However there are differences between couples and partners owning their own businesses and individuals working as employees managing a department. There are also similarities to successfully co-managing your own business and managing in a business or organization as an employee. This article will outline some of the pitfalls of co-management as well as my keys to success of how you can make co-managing work so that your time and energies are focused on being a well managed organization that benefits all of its stakeholders. For purposes of this article I will refer to spouses owning and co-managing a business together as partners.

Is it impossible for two individuals to manage an organization in the same way? Managing and leading a organization is a very individualized thing. While there’s volumes of books written about leadership skills, and management styles, each person applies these skills in their own individual way and has their own style of communicating with other stakeholders. Without exception each person has their own personality traits, strengths, and weaknesses that affect their management abilities and style. Personality traits such as whether you are  introverted, extraverted or somewhere in between have a huge impact on your management style and how you impact the performance of the other stakeholders in your organization.

There are some clear advantages if you can successfully make co-management work:

  • Having co-managers can be beneficial in that you’ve created redundancy so that there isn’t a gap or lapse in performance when one of these managers is out ill,  on vacation or leaves the organization. Each manager should have a basic understanding of the other managers responsibilities and have the ability to step in and fill the other’s role on a temporary basis so that until the other manager returns or can be replaced there isn’t a lapse in the day to day performance of the organization.
  • It is a great way for you to further the development and gain valuable experience for your managers and future leaders. You can determine who can take on larger roles within your organization and what each person’s strengths and weaknesses are. You may find a new or different role within your organization for one or more of these managers based on the job they did co-managing the department.  
  • If managed well co-management can be effective and allow you to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time than with one.

Keys to success:

  • Clear definition of responsibilities and expectations. It is imperative, and I cannot emphasize this enough, that there are a clear job description that details each manager’s role, areas of responsibilities and expectations. These should be written and shared among the other stakeholders so that each person within the organization understands what each manager is responsible for and who to go to with what question. However, without written job descriptions and a shared understanding of each person’s areas of responsibilities you’ve created a recipe for disaster that will end up in competition for control, each manager stepping on each others toes, sometimes unintentionally but often intentionally. It will create confusion among employees and other stakeholders as to who’s actually in charge and who can best help them fulfill their needs.
  • A strong pro-active leader willing to deal with conflict.  As a business owner or head of an organization when we create a management structure where two or more people are co-managing a department, we need to understand we have created additional work for ourselves and are ultimately accountable for the outcome, good or bad. By its very nature you have created a situation where two individuals are going to compete with each other, it is our job to manage those efforts and energies in a way that benefits the organization. As the leader we must lead to ensure there is a clear understanding of each manager’s role, area of responsibility and expectations of performance.  We must take the lead in ensuring the communication between managers is open and consistent. We need to be involved, even go as far as scheduling, daily or weekly meetings between the managers. Finally, I can’t emphasize this enough, be willing to step in early to resolve conflict. Ultimately you are responsible for the day to day operation of the department and if the management of that department isn’t working you are responsible.
  • Communication is the key. There should be daily or at the very least weekly one on one conversation between the managers as to what’s going on. What are the challenges and opportunities each is currently facing. Can the other manager help or offer another point of view?  Is the other manager better equipped to take on and solve the problem? Some decisions need to be made jointly and this allows for discussion among the managers and ensures each manager has the opportunity to express their opinion prior to these decisions being made. If these are co-managers reporting to a higher authority I would suggest the boss is part of these meeting so that all are on the same page and the boss has the opportunity to hear first hand from each of their direct reports. I would suggest the boss refrains for making decisions on behalf of these managers, however offering an  opinion is appropriate provided they let the managers come to their own conclusion. Their presence alone will have an impact on the discussions and on how these decisions are made.
  • Managing Conflict. In partnerships there are no bosses to settle conflict or to get a another point of view and ultimately settle a disagreement. If the partners are married this can be a dangerous things as conflict and disagreement can easily carry forward and affect family life or creep into the bedroom. If the managers are partners I would encourage setting time aside to discuss how to solve problems and share their opinions. This time might be at lunch or another place outside of the office. I might even suggest you agree on processes to resolve disagreements so they are resolved sooner than later. Letting ongoing issues continue to fester doesn’t get them resolved and can create all kinds of resentment and dysfunction that can eventually destroy a business, department and/or marriage. Don’t be fooled, if there is ongoing conflict between partners or managers, employees, coworkers and even customers know it.
  • Shared Vision & Mission. If two or more managers are pulling in different directions it won’t be long before they pull the department or organization apart. You all need to be on the same page working towards a common set of goals, have a common vision of where you want to take your organization and have the same mission for what you do. If you don’t have a Business Plan for your organization and departments, I would strongly encourage you to put one in place prior to creating a co-management structure. Involving these key managers in the creation of that business plan will ensure their respective buy-in and common understanding of where the organization is going.

Pitfalls of co-management. Before you head down the path of having two people share the responsibility of managing your business or department there are several significant consequences if this arrangement does not work that should be considered before creating such a management structure:

  • One of the co-managers will become frustrated, dissatisfied and will eventually leave. This often can be the better of the two managers. The one departing is often the stronger of the two, one that is better equipped to make decisions and create opportunity. Their decision to leave is a prime example of just that, they have made a decision to change and pursue opportunities this time for themselves, unfortunately not your organization.
  • High turnover within the department. We all look for leadership and want to be led, if employees can find that consistent leadership within your organization they will find it elsewhere. Without clear leadership, whether that’s accomplished with one or two employees, your employees  will become unsettled and confused about who’s in charge and the direction of the department, maybe even the organization.  It won’t be long before they  look for greener, more stable employment opportunities. You are operating at a clear disadvantage when you are spending your time and energies recruiting, hiring and training not improving your organization.  Your competition will run circles around you with a seasoned, trained, and motivated team.
  • There is a difference between leaders and managers. Leaders will almost always find a way to separate themselves from managers and not necessarily intentionally. To some lucky  individuals leadership and connecting with people comes naturally. People want to be led and will naturally gravitate to those individuals that show the greatest amount of leadership skills and empathy for the individuals they are managing . “Leaders don’t necessarily have to have a title to lead and just because you have a title doesn’t mean your leader.
  • Low morale and performance. Those employees that stay may lack the motivation to find other employment or are close to retirement and can’t afford to leave. However, their motivation for doing a good job will be lacking with ineffective management. Your department is a direct reflection of the environment you’ve created. If your department is in constant turmoil and stress because of conflict between your co-managers and your inability to correct the situation, it will function in a confused, stressed, and ineffective manner. Employees are often like children and they will look for the least path of resistance. It is very important that both managers have the same set of standards and operating guidelines so that they can consistently apply the organization’s policies.

As this article points out there are some clear advantages to successfully co-managing your business or organization. The real key is you and your strength as a leader. You have to be involved and positively affect the outcome.
Beartooth Business Consulting specializes on Strategic planning, organizational structure, and leadership training. We can assist in how you set-up and manage your organization. Please call us for a free initial consultation to see if you can benefit from our services. 406-690-5988 or email at

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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 

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

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15 Simple Questions that will make you a better leader

Leadership is about empowering and inspiring people to be successful at their jobs and take pride in what they do. Great leaders ask questions and learn from their teams so they can do a better job leading their organization. No matter how great you think you are you are only as good as the team you surround yourself with and allow them to be.

The following are a few powerful questions and statements you can use to change the course of any conversation to learn what your team is thinking and what’s important to them.  Whether you are a CEO leading from the boardroom, working with a small team in a county office, or leading a team of firefighters to battle a raging wildfire these simple phrases and questions will have a powerful impact on your team and further your success.

“I’m Sorry”

This can be the most powerful of all. It is usually unexpected and it shows you’re human. It also demonstrates you are willing to be accountable to the team and the company.

“Tell Me More”

It’s open-ended, it shows interest, and it demonstrates your listening skills. The important part is listening. If you encourage your employees to open up to you and only hear, not listen they will never tell you more again. Remember your conversation, take notes if appropriate and act on those things that are actionable.

“What’s Working?”

Especially good if everyone’s on your team is complaining or in a funk. This one will  help you refocus on the positive. You can’t ignore the problems but by building  on what’s working you’ve changed the conversation so the problems may not seem as important.

“I’m Proud of you

Everyone needs to be recognized and as the boss you hope your team likes and respects you. These simple words when stated in a sincere fashion are powerful because they are clear, concise and from the heart.

“How can I be of help?”

Simple, but I’m often surprised at the responses. It may be that simply offering an ear is help enough, but often there are few specifics offered that really can make a difference and are easy to do.

“What are your Goals?”

This may be the goal for the team or for the project. It may also be personal goals including career aspirations. Knowing each team member’s goal, as articulated by the person, can change your opinion or perspective of them and their capabilities.

“What’s the most common things you’ve heard employees grumbling about?”

Try this one, Many will be shy about complaining. They don’t want to be seen publicly as the naysayer. But this question allows them to say what “others” are thinking and therein lies the power to get to what that person is thinking.

“You have my full Support”

If you desire to instill confidence that your team or a member of it has your support, this simple phrase will do it.

“Let me start by bragging about you and this team?”

There’s no better team builder than to give them accolades in front of an audience. Make it about them not you.

“If you were my what one thing would you change?”

This question gives them the opportunity to say what their thinking. The question is will they be honest and really say what’s on their mind. This is an opportunity to see how much they trust you.

“ What’s keeping you up at night?”

You may be up at night thinking about a major organizational change or a strategic issue. There can be an assumption that everyone is thinking about the same problem. That’s probably not the case. Ask this simple question and listen to what others are worried about and then help them solve their challenges. You may learn about a challenge you never knew existed but that could have a significant impact on your organization if it doesn’t go addressed.

“How could we get better and faster?”

How do we get better, how can we service our customers faster, more efficiently and with the same or better quality. These are important questions  to ask. As a consultant I make my living asking questions, writing down the answers your employees give me, and then putting them into reports for you.  By asking these same questions, you will save time, a lot of money, and more importantly build the kind of rapport with your staff that will enable you to lead.

“Tell me what you’re hearing from customers?”

Customers are the lifeblood of any organization. A good leader is listening to customers directly and talking to their team who have a vast amount of information about them. They may have a completely different perspective than you do or may reaffirm your assumptions, There may be a problem with a particular customer that only you can fix but if you don’t know about it how can you fix it. I remember many similar conversations I had with my team in a mood of frustration, maybe in those days even anger, about why did I not know about a particular problem. I don’t have enough fingers and toes on my body to count how many times the response was “You never asked”. Touche!!

“What else?”

A catch all question that can evoke a lot of different responses. That’s the point you have just opened the door and allowed your employee to talk about anything that may be on their mind.

“Why are you proud to work here?”

The answer may surprise you but in most cases it will allow people to talk about their co-workers, helping customers or maybe even you. Listen carefully you may hear accolades and praises for another employee who pitched in on a project or stayed late to meet a deadline. Leaders need to seek out the unsung heros and sing about them.


There a only a few moments in every conversation that allow you to impact the conversation and empower your staff to open up and tell you what’s on their mind. They almost always have the best interest of your organization in mind and you should take whatever they say in this spirit. Keep these simple phrases in your back pocket, they will help you move your organization forward and build a loyal empowered team around you, after all it’s your success that’s at stake.


Beartooth Business Consulting’s purpose is to make a positive impact on businesses and organizations through strategic goal setting, operational excellence and leadership coaching.  We can be reached at 406-690-5988 or by email at

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Is your board having the impact on your non-profit that it should?

These five phases of  Board Development will help you get the results you desire.

All nonprofits have a board. These boards have to exist for legal reasons however boards should exist to provide value for the organization. That value can be fundraising, governance, provide professional skills that do not reside among the staff, and financial oversight.

These organizations can function so 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. The board should be active in creating a strategic plan for the organization that includes the organization’s mission, vision, values, and strategic goals. In addition to the strategic plan, your board should have its own development plan of to ensure it is staffed properly and is operating as effectively as possible.

— Board Development Plan —

The purpose of a board development plan is to build an effective Board of Directors whose activities & involvement positively impact the outcomes of your organization’s mission, vision, values and strategic goals.

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 an organization. Boards are like parents: they need to support, encourage and inspire greatness in their “child” if the organization is to survive and thrive. What happens when the board does not understand its role or embrace it? The nonprofit becomes an “orphan,” unable to secure sufficient funding, attract committed staff and enthusiastic volunteers or reach its full  potential.


Effective boards ensure that board members’ skills and assignments are aligned with both the organization’s needs and the members’ own interests. This sounds easy, but in practice, it requires a deep understanding of what the organization needs from its board, and what each member can (and wants to) provide given his or her skills and interests.


This  plan will address any weaknesses and inefficiencies with the current board and will guide the future development, actions and staffing of your board. The plan also encompasses how to fill gaps when the board needs different people, how to recruit them, and how to exit board members appropriately when that becomes the right thing to do. A good plan will make the job of the board chair and executive director easy and allow them to focus on how to move the organization forward and achieve its Strategic Goals. These five phases will guide you in the development of your a board development plan.


Phase ONE: Current Board Evaluation

To obtain a clear picture of how your board is functioning and identify deficiencies and opportunities, you will need to assess the skills, interests, and contributions of the current board. In order to fully understand how well the group is leading your nonprofit organization an assessment of individuals contributions as well as how the board functions collectively needs to be made. This should be done with a select group of board members and the board chair. On some boards this may be the executive committee.

Each board member should be asked to fill out a questionnaire that includes:

  • Board member interest assessment
  • Board members self evaluation
  • List 3-5 items each board member thinks the board should focus in the next year.

A few of the questions that should be asked of board members that can easily be answered are:

  • Do I attend meetings regularly and participate in discussion at these meetings?
  • Am I informed about the mission, vision, values and strategic goals of the organization and do I support them?
  • Do I contribute my time and money to this organization to the best of my ability?
  • Do I serve on committees and task forces when invited?
  • Do I encourage others to support this organization and serve as a spokesperson when asked?

Other questions may include:

  • Does your Board have full and common knowledge of their roles and responsibilities of a board of directors? 1-5
  • Board members understand the organizations mission/vision/values and it’s programs? 1-5
  • Structure of the board, officers, and committees is clear regarding individual and group roles and responsibilities? 1-5
  • Board has clear goals and actions resulting from relevant and realistic strategic planning? 1-5
  • Board attends to policy-related decisions which effectively guide operations activities? 1-5
  • Board receives regular reports on and understands finances/budgets, program performance and other important matters? 1-5
  • Board helps set fundraising goals and is actively involved in fundraising? 1-5
  • Board effectively represents the organization to the community? 1-5
  • Board regularly monitors and evaluates progress on important organizational matters? 1-5
  • Each member of the board appears to be involved and interested in the boards work? 1-5
  • All necessary skills, stakeholders, and diversity are represented on the board? 1-5

From the results of the individual questionnaires and the board activities from the past year you can collectively access the performance of the board with the following tools and discussions:

  • Board Member Performance Evaluation
  • Board Fundraising Assessment
  • Evaluate committee structure of the board and create new committees if needed or abolish extraneous ones
  • Evaluate effectiveness of board meetings and restructure if necessary
  • Determine if some board members should be asked to leave the board

Phase TWO: Organizational Needs/Board Make-Up

It is important to determine the skill sets and personal background that should make up your board. Many existing members may fill these roles while certain skill sets may need to be filled with future board members. Secondly, it is important to determine what type of culture the board wants to create for itself and what the focus of the board will be relative to decision making. This can be done with the entire board or again with the executive committee.

What professional skills, demographic make-up, social economic background, and fundraising ability does your organization need from your board? Some typical skills needed by almost every nonprofit are:

  • Legal expertise
  • Financial management
  • Accounting expertise
  • Marketing skills
  • Communications/Public Relations
  • Fundraising ability/Event management

What type of culture do we want for your board & board meetings?

The culture of effective boards allows for meaningful participation among its members. For example, meetings are characterized by open debate and questioning, and an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect among the members. Board members enjoy their interactions with one another and the organization, as demonstrated by high levels of participation and meeting

attendance. Board meetings that fulfill their true purpose do the following:

  • Promote a sense of teamwork
  • Reinforce the shared vision
  • Afford time to recount stories and successes
  • Connect board members with the work of staff
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction, and reinforce the overall sense of the mission and its importance to the community

Secondly, board meetings should always include a “mission moment”—5 to 10 minutes in the middle of the agenda to hear from a grateful teacher, transformed client, satisfied parent, or other individual who shares their pleasure with what your board members have done for them and others. While this may not always be possible to do in person it can easily be accomplished by reading a letter, a phone call, or video conference. Fifteen minutes per board meeting will make a world of difference. We can all find 15 minutes to carve out for something so important.

Is there a clear understanding of your organization’s decision-making processes?

The board and executive director should have a shared view of the board’s involvement in the decision making process and which decisions it should make. Board level decisions are clearly differentiated  from areas where the board can expect to have input into an executive director’s decision, or where it will only be informed about decisions (perhaps even after the fact). The agenda of each board meeting clearly reflects the agreed-on decision-making process.


Phase THREE: Board Member Expectations

As your board evolves over time, so will its role in supporting the organization. As the board matures their role will transition  from Governing and Operating to Governing and Managing and eventually to a Governing and Fundraising Board. Their focus should be on fundraising and recruitment of other board members that can have an immediate impact on the organization. Its expectations are for the Executive Director and staff to operate the day to day business of the organization without the assistance of the board. Board members are passionate about the organization and contribute significantly at the committee level and in the annual strategic planning process.

It is important to have a document for existing and future board members that clearly communicates what is expected of them as board members. This document should also  outline each individual’s role as board members, responsibilities of board officers, committees and staff. A few of the things that should be considered in creating expectations for the board are:

  • Actively participate in fundraising
  • Having an annual board appeal, 100% participation
  • Providing donor referrals
  • A minimum time commitment
  • Participation on one or more committees
  • Clear understanding of the board’s role and the staffs role
  • Participation and attendance at sponsored events
  • Participation and attendance at the board/leadership team annual retreat

A basic starting point is getting broad consensus that fundraising is a priority. If one or several persons on the board understand the board’s fundraising role, they should be the core of the fundraising or development committee. For some organizations, this education process may take several years and require a complete turnover of board members. However, even if accepting development responsibility happens gradually, it will be worth it to your organization. What is important to understand is that fundraising is a multifaceted activity and the entire board must be meaningfully involved in one way or another. Those boards that are active in fundraising become visionary and can lead a nonprofit to its next level.

Another way to look at this is:

Gather, Get Ready & Grow

  • Gather—the first step is to bring the board to consensus that fundraising is a board responsibility.
  • Get Ready—the next step is to prepare the board for fundraising.
  • Grow—the last step is the board implementing the development plan, then realizing the benefit when donors and contributions grow.

When the Board, Executive Director, and Development Director are working in sync toward achieving your strategic fundraising priorities, the organization will realize new levels of  success.


Phase FOUR: Board Recruitment Plan

Every organization dreams of recruiting and retaining a board of visionary planners,generous investors, willing askers, and passionate pragmatists. While this may seem an unrealistic dream having this goal and a plan to achieve it will get you much closer than you are now.

It is important to have an established set of procedures and policies for recruiting new board members. When recruiting new board members, it is important to go beyond making a list of skills needed for organizational tasks. Board members should not only lend their expertise but give entree into areas of influence for fundraising possibilities. Additionally, it may be helpful to have people on the board with connections such as:

  • Access to foundations, corporations and individual philanthropists
  • Media contacts
  • Political contacts
  • Contacts with other professional and service organizations

Some larger more institutional boards may have a recruitment committee while most non profit boards rely on the whole board to recruit new members. No matter whose responsibility it is to recruit new members, the organization should have a plan as to how the recruiting process is done. Developing an onboarding packet will significantly decrease the learning curve of new board members and increase their impact on the organization.

This recruitment plan should address:

  • How you will identify potential board members whose profiles fit the needs of the organization
  • Who will be involved in the interview process, and what that process is.
  • How you will communicate expectations to potential board members.
  • The development of a board recruitment packet that includes:
    • Strategic Plan, including mission/vision/values
    • Organization Fact Sheet
    • Board of Directors Job Description
    • Board of Directors Pledge Form
    • By-laws
    • Financial Statement from prior year
    • Current marketing materials
  • The development of an onboarding packet for new board members that includes many of the same documents listed above but these additional documents
    • Annual Calendar
    • Organizational Chart
    • Staff List
    • Staff Job Descriptions
    • Board Education Program
    • Board of Directors Contact List including terms
    • Committees
    • Volunteer programs
  • The development of an orientation program for new board members that includes these documents
    • Facility tour
    • Understanding of Financial Reports
    • Programs
    • Staff Introductions
    • Board Committees
    • Fundraising Training


Phase FIVE: Board Performance

The board must establish a way to evaluate its performance on a regularly basis, both collectively and individually. Second they need a plan for improving leadership performance so that the board becomes visionary and leads the organization to new levels of success. This annual work is usually conducted by the Executive Committee. To get started boards must:

  • Set some realistic objectives for the board that can be measured
  • Conduct an annual board retreat where results of board performance are shared
  • Recognize the board for its contributions to the organization

Evaluating a board from the inside, a fellow board member or board leadership,  is often 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 mostly friendships that have been formed can be strained. It is often easier with a lot less stress to hire an outside consultant to do this evaluation and development planning with you.  They can ask the hard questions and be the bad guy when delivering not so welcome information. They can also lead the organization in its evolution whether that’s moving from Governing and Operating to Governing and Managing or from Governing and Managing to Governing and Fundraising. Boards like any other organizations must change and evolve and that is often hard to do with volunteer part-time board members.

As a consultant my role is to facilitate these proceeding without influencing content and keeping the project moving forward to completion. My role is to help educate the board on its development responsibilities and get the board to understand that fundraising is it’s number one priority for the organization. The final step in preparing the board to do fundraising is to train them in fundraising theory and practices.  Please call us if we can help. Beartooth Business Consulting, 406-690-5988, 

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, 

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

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Mission, Vision and Values

Mission/Vision/Values, the guiding principles of your organization & the starting line for your  Strategic Planning Process

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.

I recently sent an outline to a new client for their strategic planning process. The very first items to discuss with their leadership team and board are their Mission, Vision and Value statements. The follow-up conversation with the executive in charge was all about how they frame the strategic planning process. As I explained each individual statements role in the leadership and management of the business it occurred to me this conversation would be a great blog topic to share with my world.

Mission. 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. Mission Statements can be relatively short, here are a few examples.

Expedia+ the internet travel company mission statement is: To Revolutionize travel through the Power of Technology.

The Mission Statement of the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center where I once served as Vice-Chair remains the same since it’s inception in 1976, and is still relevant 40 years later: “Our mission is is to expand the potential of people of all abilities through meaningful, educational, and inspiring outdoor experiences.”

Headframe Spirits has aligned themselves very closely with preserving the historical importance of the city of Butte, Montana where it is located , here is their Mission Statement: “To produce quality spirits, to promote responsible alcohol consumption, to create jobs in our community and to use the history and culture of Butte Montana to inform our production and product marketing. We live in a wonderful place and our craftsmanship should reflect positively upon it.”

The Mission Statement for Kampgrounds of America is:  “To make Happy Campers that recommend KOA to others”

The Mission Statement for The Women’s Fund, a non-profit organization, is brief and to the point “The Women’s Fund for the Fox Valley Region, Inc., invests in women and girls through:

  • Grants
  • Advocacy
  • Education

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. Vision Statements may or may not change over time. Essential elements of a successful Vision Statement are:

  • Future oriented
  • Likely to lead to a better future for the organization
  • Fits the organization’s history, mission and values
  • Sets standards of excellence
  • Clarifies the organization’s purpose and direction
  • Inspires enthusiasm and commitment
  • Reflects the uniqueness of the organization
  • Ambitious

As an example Ford Motor Company’s original Vision Statement  was to “Democratize the Automobile”, today it is “To become the world’s leading consumer company for automotive products and services”.  

The Ronald McDonald House Vision Statement is: A world where all children have access to medical care, and their families are supported and actively involved in their children’s care.

The Vision Statement of the Red Lodge Songwriter Festival one of my companies is: Our vision is to create an annual event that brings tourists and songwriters, including hit makers, to Red Lodge each summer to share their talent and skills with the local community. Through this interaction of songwriters and their music we will create an inspirational culture that promotes creativity in songwriting, performing, and collaboration among the artists.

Values. How do we want to conduct ourselves in our business and personal life. This should be the guiding principle on how leadership conducts

themselves in their business dealings and is reflective of how the outside community views the organization. Words like honesty, integrity, caring, transparency, knowledgeable are often reflected in value statements.

I’ll use Expedia again as an example.  They call their values Cultural Norms which is a great name. If the company abides by its values statement that is what creates the culture.  

“We believe being different: We feel new ideas, different ways of thinking, diverse backgrounds and approaches, because averages can lie and sameness is dangerous. Because of this belief, our norms aren’t rules or universal at all corners of our company, But they are important to our identity and how we work together. Like our company, these norms will evolve.

  • We Lead Humbly: Our leaders serve their teams. None of us has all the answers, but we are curious and we are always looking to learn. Though our leaders take their responsibility to our business and their teams incredibly seriously, they never take themselves too seriously.”
  • We are transparent: We communicate openly and honestly, at all levels, upwards, sideways, and downwards. We surface difficult issues quickly, we act, we learn.”
  • We Organize for Speed: We seek to gather data as fast as possible, and move. Speed allows us to make mistakes and constantly improve.
  • We Believe in the Scientific Method: Everyone’s ideas are equal in the face of hard data. We use data to guide but not define our actions.
  • We Act as One Team: We look to optimize for the greater good, not just our own, or even our own teams’ interests. We are actively interested in the success of others.”

The following is the Values Statement for Women’s Fund, A non-profit Organization for Women

  • Our core values are the foundation of all our decisions and actions. We intend this statement of values to be used across the organization to ensure that our decisions and actions are consistent with and supportive of our values and beliefs.
  • We believe that in order to create a just and sustainable society, women and girls must have opportunities, unlimited by gender, to develop and use their individual talents, abilities, and skills, along with the freedom to make their own decisions, guided by their personal values and beliefs.
  • We express our values by promoting and supporting open and respectful communication in all forums;
  • Full participation of women and girls of all backgrounds, including diversity of race, class, age, religion, culture, sexual orientation, and other identities;
  • Informed, educated, innovative action designed to have a positive, measurable impact on the lives of women and girls;
  • Collaboration among organizations and individuals working to benefit women and girls.

Whether you’re a for profit or nonprofit corporation having a mission, vision and value statement will guide you through your Strategic Planning, goal setting, day to day execution and ultimately permeate throughout your organization making you a more profitable, more sustainable and much more successful.

There may be a strong person within your organization that can lead you through the Strategic planning process however using an outside facilitator can
often lead to better results in a shorter amount of time. An outside facilitator can help drive the process without influencing the content, remain objective,  and will not try to influence the conversation. Beartooth Business Consulting is well versed in the processes necessary to make your organization stronger and more efficient with Strategic Planning. Give us a call to discuss how to implement Strategic Planning in your organization. Give me a call at 406-690-5988 or email me at Mike Booth, President



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Partnerships can be Challenging

They start out well, all parties fired up and ready to go, everybody working hard to ensure their goals and interests are fulfilled. Sometimes these interests and goals align with the businesses, but in many cases they don’t or eventually move away from the needs of the business. Partnerships can form for a number of reasons and sources, spouses, friends, or business associates. In some cases the business may be small and relatively easy to manage, all is well, however as it scales one or more of the partners take on more and more of the work leaving a disparity and resentment due to the amount of work each partner is doing.

I have been in four partnerships during the course of my career each with their own dynamics. I am currently involved in two, one that produces an event the Red Lodge Songwriter Festival and the other that facilitates a high end business mastermind group, The Yellowstone Business Forum. Each one has it’s challenges and it’s successes. In this article I will share some of the pitfalls and challenges with partnerships and some preventive measures to make your partnership the organizational foundation for success.

Do you have the right partner. Having the wrong partner can be the source of a great deal of personal stress, it can also have a negative effect on your business and your staff.

If you can answer yes to any of the following questions you are probably in a bad partnership.

  • Your’e feeling like you’re carrying more than your share of the work. If you’re feeling this way I would suggest writing down all the necessary job functions of your business and #1 who is responsible for each and #2 who is doing them. By completing this exercise you can substantiate your feelings, not only to yourself, but your partner.
  • Your partner seems to have lost interest in your business.
  • You’re finding more and more to disagree about.
  • There have been changes in your partner’s life that are interfering with their ability to fulfill their duties. There may be times during the partnership that the other partner is willing to pick up the slack for their partner who may be dealing with temporary illness, family or personal issues. However a partner may have found more permanent interests such as another career, hobbies, or financial interests that are interfering with their ability to function effectively in the business. This may also lead to a conflict of interest if the other interests are closely aligned to your existing business.
  • Your interest in the direction of the business has taken a different direction than your partner. This often happens when the size of the business scales up. While all the partners originally shared the vision of a growing business there comes a point when the size of the job and the amount of work that needs to be done scales up relative to the growth of the business. Some partners are not willing to put in the additional work or effort to substantiate that growth. In these cases one or more of the partners will end up doing a disproportionate amount of the work to keep up with the growth causing serious resentment within the partnership.
  • Can’t talk to each other. Communication is so critical to maintaining a viable partnership. When partners get so busy doing their own thing that they can’t find time to sit down with the other partner(s), they will likely start to feel less engaged. An unresolved issue can also lead to partners being unable to communicate freely.
  • Employees come to you for direction, even if they report to your partner on your org chart. Employees are always a great barometer of success and failure within your business. If your employees are coming to you for direction or with their concerns rather than your partner, this is a pretty significant sign they recognize who is in charge and who’s is leading the company.

If you answered yes to any of these questions you are in a bad partnership and should immediately take steps to take charge and fix the partnership or end it.

Here are a few steps to give your partnership the best chance to succeed.

What business are you in. Seems like a pretty simple question but if you cannot agree on what business you’re in you’re probably never going to be on the same page. In one of my partnerships my partner and I co-produce a Songwriter Festival in Red Lodge. It takes place over three days drawing tourists and music lovers into our community. My partner is a musician and naturally sees the festival as a music business. However, it takes all the elements of a good event, venues, fundraising, personnel management, talent, marketing, ticket sales etc. to make it work. I naturally see it as an event business whose product happens to be showcasing songwriters. This disconnect is a fundamental problem. My other partnership is the organization and facilitation of a high end business group. We both share the vision of helping business people be more successful and better leaders. We also understand each other’s strengths and limitations. We often use our partnership as a sounding board to further our other careers as a non-profit executive and business consultant.

What is each person’s expectations and needs. This can easily become a conversation of self interests and that’s OK. It’s important to get this information out on the table early. If not it will surface somewhere down the road and may make the partnership uncomfortable or worse create a conflict of interest for the business. 

What are the company’s goals? Define your company’s goals and create a business plan with the steps necessary to accomplish those goals. Accountability is key for the success of any business. Defining each partner’s responsibilities and commitment to accomplishing those  goals is key to your businesses and partnerships success. When personal goals become more important than the companies goals the business and partnership will suffer. 

What is each partner’s role. This is probably the most important aspect of a successful partnership..Understanding and defining each partner’s role and responsibilities is key for the business to run efficiently and the partners getting along. A lack of clarity around job descriptions and roles is a source of major frustration and disappointment in most partnerships and can often lead to their demise. These responsibilities should be written down and become part of the businesses strategic business plan. They should also be reviewed at least once a year and updated if necessary. These roles should be based on each person’s skill set and needs, many subsequent decisions can be made such as percent of equity, position within the company, decision making abilities and titles once the roles are set. There is no written role that partnerships are 50/50 propositions and that partners need to equally share in decision making responsibilities. In most cases someone has to drive the bus, be overall responsible for getting things done and be accountable to customers, employees and other stakeholders.

In one of my partnerships my partner is very out going, an A type personality. He also has close ties to music talent in Nashville. On the flip side he weak on commitment and follow thru. His role is talent acquisition, sound and PR. He does a great job of being the frontman for our festival making sure everybody is having a great time, and the artist needs are being met both onstage and off; an important role. The day to day running of the business has to be picked up by the other partner, in this case me. Marketing, bookkeeping, fundraising, logistics, etc. We both have opinions but once the overall business plan is set the final decision when it comes to our areas of responsibility lies with the individual.

Handle disagreements, frustrations and disappointments early. As in any type of partnership disagreements will happen. It is best to address them early and not let them fester over time. It is also important to address them in person. All too often in our electronic age of instantaneous response an email or text is sent that can be full of emotion or words that can easily be taken out of context. Regularly scheduled sit down meetings or lunches is a good time to discuss issues that the partners may see differently and attempt to get back on the same page. If you have clearly defined goals and action plans this is always a good place to go back to if there are disagreements. Many a disagreement can be resolved by going back and seeing how each person’s belief will impact the goals of the business. If there is a need for a change to those goals now is a good time to discuss it.

Can the partnership be fixed? Breakups are hard and can be time consuming taking the focus away from the business and if attorneys are involved valuable monetary resources. In many cases the partnership can be fixed but it will be up to you to take action. Here are a few steps to take to right the ship

  • Be proactive
  • Be clear in what you want
  • Schedule time to talk
  • Discuss actions you are each willing to take, compromise might be necessary.
  • Write a plan for agreed upon changes

What happens if the partnership no longer works? It is important to have an exit plan upfront so that each partner knows when and how they can exit the partnership and what they will leave with. It should also addressed how a partner can be fired and how that might affect their equity. There’s no written rule that partnerships last forever and in fact most do not. For a number of reasons, some listed here, others not, partnerships will end and you should have a written plan in place on how to unwind the partnership so it has minimal effect on the business. Things like client relationships, non-competes, proprietary information, client lists, patents, financial information should be addressed and how any equity is paid out or in some cases if the business is in debt what the exiting partner is responsible for should be spelled out.
There are times when using a mediator or a third party to facilitate that conversation is useful. Beartooth Business Consulting can be that resource. Please call us for a free consultation to see if we are the right tool for your situation. 406-690-5988 or email us at

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A Special Invitation for You

Do you want to become a better leader, increase the profitability of your business, and/or overcome the challenges that are holding you back?

Over the last several months we have visited with dozens of business leaders vetting the idea of an high level group of business owners and executives that are organized with the sole purpose of theirs and each other’s success. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

They told us how beneficial it would be to hang out with other like minded successful business people to share ideas and discuss problems in a confidential and nonjudgemental environment. They said that learning effective leadership skills and finding fresh ways to overcome problems and seize new opportunities on a regular basis with the same group members would be awesome. Most importantly they wanted the sharing, support and accountability that comes with being in a mastermind group.

So we’ve created this exclusive business group, the Yellowstone Business Forumfor leaders like you.

The introductory meeting for this group will be May 15,2017 at the Billings Petroleum Club. We have invited a select group of business people who we think will fully participate, not only for their own benefit but to support others with their expertise and experience. We recognize that leaders have different needs and will facilitate two groups, one for business owners and one for business executives. Group sizes will be small with a maximum of 10 leaders in each group.

When you join the Yellowstone Business Forum you will also be invited to our YBF Retreat Weekend, October 2017 in Red Lodge, MT. This 2-day event is a chance to learn new leadership skills and work on your Strategic Plans for 2018 with other Yellowstone Business Forum members. You will get the opportunity for a deep-dive hot seat where you can really vet challenges and opportunities with other bright minded people.

Learn more about the benefits of Yellowstone Business Forum and how to become a charter member at

To join Yellowstone Business Forum or figure out if Yellowstone Business Forum is right for you, let’s schedule some time to talk about your situation and what your goals are, email Mike or Erika at mike@beartoothbiz.comor erika@erikawillisassociates.comand we set up an hour to talk either in person or by phone.

Here’s to all our success, Mike Booth & Erika Willis

Yellowstone Business Forum A Place where Success is Accelerated

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Location, Location, Location, is this still enough?

Does the old adage of location, location, location still hold true for storefront  businesses today? Or do these businesses need to add to their physical location with a professional online presence. I can answer that in one word, yes. I’m still a believer that a great location can make or break a business, I also believe that a great online presence won’t overcome a bad location, but I strongly believe that having a strong online presence will give any location a boost and in most cases give you a competitive advantage over your competition. I’m not suggesting you have to have a knock your socks-off online store or even offer online shopping but rather have a professional website that communicates what you sell, the brands you sell, your hours, how to contact you, what makes your business unique, and the experience someone can expect while shopping in your business. If you are a restaurant or tavern, your hours, your menu, how to contact you, the experience someone would have if they would patronize your establishment, how many beers you have on tap, and so forth.

I live in a small resort community where we have several really nice retail shops that sell everything from mountain gear to outdoor apparel to guitars. We have great restaurants and taverns too. Some of these businesses have a professional website that meets the requirements listed above, but others have nothing or if anything, a facebook site. Some of these businesses are sponsors of my Red Lodge Songwriter Festival. When I go to link their logo posted on our website there is nothing to link to except the occasional facebook page. What a missed opportunity.

Many tourists research their destinations prior to going where they’re going, and become familiar with where they’ll visit long before they ever leave home. They become familiar with places to eat, where to drink, where to buy new gear, or buy the latest Red Lodge sweatshirt.  Creating awareness of your brand will increase the chance they will visit and buy from you first.


Having a URL for your business and a website allows you to be found on the web. It also allows you to connect to other websites and vice-a-versa. Connecting to event sites you sponsor, the websites of the brands you offer, the chamber of commerce site, and others will increase your SEO and the opportunity for people to find you. As an example, someone may be traveling through or staying in Red Lodge and in need of a new raincoat. They might search on their cell phone, “raincoat patagonia red lodge”, that business or businesses that have a good website with the name of the brands they carry and the type of products they offer will come up in the buyers search. If you sell patagonia raincoats you will come up towards the top. It’s not hard to guess where they’re going to buy.



A professional website does not need to be a capital or labor intensive investment. There are a host of do it yourself platforms that enable you to create a very professional websites for a few hundred dollars and a few hours of your time. You will need  photos of your business, preferably taken by a professional photographer, but yes your iphone is better than nothing at all,  and possibly some stock photography, which if your town is similar to Red Lodge our local Chamber has hundreds of photos to choose from.  Here is a list of several web services that are inexpensive and have lots of do it yourself templates to choose from.

  • Squarespace
  • GoDaddy
  • Many, many more.

I use GoDaddy for hosting my sites and WordPress as my web platform. WordPress allows me to control my content and has lots of options to add commerce, video, photography, blogging and other features should you decide to invest the time.




It takes a consistent effort to keep up with your website but not necessarily a lot of time and it will be one of the best return on investment you can make.  If you don’t know where to start or would like a FREE one hour web site consultation or review of your online presence please give me call. 406-690-5988, 


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