VM Blog

Showing blog entries by: Tracy Douglass Remove

  • Top 5 Signs of a Successful Board

    February 23, 2021

    Posted by: Tracy Douglass

    Over the years, we've delivered hundreds of workshops to boards of directors about their roles, responsibilities, financial oversight and how to manage meetings. With all this exposure to boards of every size and purpose, from small working boards to formal boards with million-dollar budgets and layers of employees, there are signs that tell us if the board is operating successfully or not.

    We know a board is operating well, regardless if the organization is small or large, when board members:

    1. Know their priorities - Boards of directors are responsible for setting the strategic direction for the organization and that direction is outlined in their strategic plan. This plan details the goals that are to be achieved over the next 3 - 5 years and sets the priorities for the work of their committees, their board meeting agendas, and their budget.
    2. Know their finances - Speaking of budgets, board members are ultimately responsible for the financial health of their organization. Board members, all of them, must understand their financial statements and make sure their budget reflects the priorities in their strategic plan. The community, funders, donors rely on the board to oversee that the money the organization is given, is used wisely to achieve what they've said they would.
    3. Know their duties - Board members have the legal duties of Care, Obedience, and Loyalty. These duties are specified in the Corporations Act, yet they are frequently unknown or misunderstood. Not following these duties can result in personal liability to board members, dysfunctional board meetings and conflicts of interest, causing irreparable harm to the organization.
    4. Know their boundaries - Board members should be passionate about the organization and the work that it does. However, the board has a role distinct from the staff and volunteers who provide the programs and services. The best practice is that board members are to set direction and provide oversight; they state what should be done. The staff then determines how to do it. To help remember the board's role, think of the board having eyes in, but fingers out of the operations.
    5. Know their worth - Board members should know what skills, experience, and strengths they bring to the board table so they can make a meaningful contribution to discussions and decisions. If there are members who aren't contributing, this might be the reason and indicates recruitment and onboarding could be improved.

    Now that you understand the signs of a successful board, are you seeing these signs on your own board?

    If not, we can help! We offer workshops, resource packages and coming soon we will have a new distance learning options (Like us on Facebook to find out first)!

  • Planning for 2021 - How much time should I spend planning?

    As the song goes, Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes; (Turn and face the strange). Facing the strange is such an interesting way to describe how the non-profit sector has been pivoting and shifting this past year, showing our nimbleness in times of turmoil. I know we are tired, but we can't let up yet. There's so much more to do.

    The exciting thing is that over the past year we've built up a great deal of experience on how to adjust and change very quickly. We've tried out new ideas, learned from mistakes, and because of this trial by error, our skills have improved. Looking back, we should all be proud of what we've accomplished.

    Although, didn't we all wish for more time to test the waters before jumping right in? Wouldn't it have been nice to have more time to anticipate change and plan?

    When writing this blog post, I did a quick search to see if there was a recommended ratio of time that we should spend planning vs time spent on doing. Scott Ambler, VP for Disciplined Agile, writes about the Agile-Driven Projects approach, and suggests a ratio of 1/5. However, every situation is unique. It was a given, though, that every project should have a plan, just that the plan should not prevent a project from starting. You can plan as you go!

    Three Agile planning tips:

    1. Plan in iterations - chunk your project into iterations or milestones and plan for the short-term ones in detail. As you approach the time for the next chunk, build in the details for that part
    2. Be uncomfortable - for high productivity, estimate how long you think a project or iteration will take and shave off some time. Uncomfortable timelines increase productivity and creativity; decisions get made with less time for bureaucracy.
    3. Avoid the Friday deadline - end of day Friday deadlines always turn into mid-morning Monday and productivity is significantly lower on Friday. Schedule deadlines for Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

    Spending some time anticipating different scenarios and how to respond to them will increase your response time. We do this all the time when we write policies. Its part of our culture and norms. The challenge is to plan for something with so many unknowns, like the end of a pandemic.

    So what's your plan, how will you be 'facing the strange' this year? I'd love to hear from you. Email me at tracy.douglass@volunteermanitoba.ca and share your plan!


    Need some help planning for 2021? We've partnered with Volunteer Ottawa to bring you two workshops:

    Business Continuity Planning, includes working through a scenario, 2-part workshop: February 2 AND February 4, 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM, $95

    Developing an Organizational Return to Work Plan, February 17, 2021, 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM, $50