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Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

For all the obvious reasons, I’m not a fan of the “New Year’s Resolution.”  They are too easy to make, too hard to keep, and a good way to feel bad about one’s self right out of the box on January 1st.  Instead, I like to quietly set self-improvement goals for myself throughout the year, keeping them realistic and attainable and known only to me.

But if I had to suggest one thing for all of us to start doing immediately it is this:  Think Deeply – About Everything.  In fact, think deeply about the suggestion itself – doesn’t everything in our modern society push us in exactly the opposite direction?   Take, for example, Twitter.  Frankly, I don’t think there is anything that I (or anyone else) can say in 140 characters or less that is worth reading or hearing, except, perhaps, as an introduction of a link to some information housed elsewhere on the net.  Yet we see these byte-size pieces of data everywhere that are constantly pushing us to the twittersphere.  Another example – politicians of all stripes.  Don’t they all have “five point plans” based on logic and good, old fashioned common sense that are designed to save us from ourselves?  And don’t we buy into them, the simpler the plan the better?  How has that worked out for you?  Or take the most obvious – the instantaneous and seemingly authoritative nature of (drumroll, please……..) the Internet itself.   If it is on the Internet it has to be true, right?  To quote the famous Michael Scott of the sitcom The Office – “Wikipedia is the best thing ever.  Anyone in the world can find out anything they want about any subject so you know you are getting the best possible information.”  Hmmmmm…..

The fact is, even the easy things in life are not so easy.  Every decision carries economic and social costs which we may or may not consider.  A tiny, tiny example – we recently purchased a new coffeemaker and invested in the permanent, gold plated filter[1] so that we would not have to continuously purchase paper filters.  Besides its convenience, isn’t the permanent filter a “greener” way to go?  If more people bought permanent filters, the paper filter factories would produce fewer and use less electricity and water and other natural resources.  In addition, there would be far fewer paper filters at the bottom of the landfills, and fewer trees would be sacrificed for my morning cup of Joe.  But what about the carbon footprint of making the gold plated filter itself, including its plastic frame?  Is it larger or smaller than the carbon footprint of the paper filter?  What about the water and soap we have to use to periodically clean the thing?  Again, a small, seemingly insignificant example, but multiply that by the thousands of large and small decisions we all make all the time about our lives and lifestyles and you get my point.  Some examples:  Is it better to go hybrid or traditional combustion automobile engine?  Should we recycle or not?  Should we concern ourselves with clothing manufactured for pennies in sweatshops in the third world?  What about organic versus processed foods?

And what about our philanthropic choices – who or what is more deserving of our limited dollars?  What should the mission and vision of my private foundation be?  Where can I make the most difference?

Philanthropy is all about giving, but it should be all about informed giving.  If you want to make an impact on this world you need to decide how and why, ideally based on your own passion and vision for a better world coupled with informed knowledge of the facts.  What do you care most deeply about?  How can you learn more about it?  Another politician’s trick – refer to the other guy’s propensity to “just throw dollars at a problem.”  Are you “just throwing dollars at a problem” if you donate to a charity you know little about?  Sadly, you probably are.

Think deeply – about everything. 

Philanthropy and charitable giving is as personal a choice as we have.  We are not compelled to give but if we do give we owe it to ourselves – and to society – to think deeply about the issues that concern us and question, always question, whether what we are doing is the most we can with the limited resources we have.

If everyone did this one thing and followed through – Oh, what a wonderful world this would be!

[1] Don’t get excited – a gold plated coffee filter retails for about $4.50.  Not like the coffeemaker itself that, for an extra hundred bucks, comes with inlaid Swarovski crystal elements.  We opted out of that.  Geez Louise, it’s just a coffeemaker!

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Charitable Nation has, from time to time, showcased various wealthy individuals who are to be admired for their generosity and systematic approach to philanthropy.  (See, especially, Peter Lewis, David Geffen, Warren Buffett, John D. RockefellerChuck Feeney and Lady Gaga)  It can be both interesting and instructive to learn a bit about what makes these folks tick.

Now, the predictable response from the cynics among us is “Yeah, but did you know what a [nasty person] s/he was?”  I can’t and won’t argue that – building and maintaining a fortune is not easy and those who do so tend to have somewhat aggressive personalities.  And, in truth, the philanthropic impulses of some of the “1%” may be suspect, but I prefer to focus on the potential for good that results therefrom and give credit where credit is due.  The philanthropy of the 1% has made a big difference in this world by being impactful and long-lasting.  We can criticize the timing and/or amount of funding or the seemingly parochial views of some of the donors, but we must accept the fact that marketplace of philanthropic impulses is alive and well and made more vibrant by such generosity.

Several weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a reader directing me to a very interesting website, “The Generous Billionaires Club.” In this one website we can find information about the “Forbes Billionaires List,” “The Giving Pledge,” “Who’s Not Giving An Inheritance,” “Who’s Been Generous” and “Who’s Been Very Generous.”  (Almost makes me want to break out in song: “he’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…”)

Some interesting factoids:

  • According to the Forbes Billionaires List, 16 of the top 25 billionaires in the world are Americans but NONE of the 26 new tech billionaires are American.
  • The silver spoons in the mouths of the progeny of guys like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg and T. Boone Pickens may be a bit tarnished – in their parents’ estate plans, inheritances are minimized and philanthropy is maximized.  But, it’s not all bad – as Buffett has famously stated, he will give his children “enough money so they would feel they can do anything but not so much that they could do nothing.” In other words, the concept of “no” inheritance is relative.
  • Of the top 10 folks who have given away at least $1B of their net worth over time, 2 of them (James Stower and Herbert Sandler) are no longer billionaires.  Not mentioned in these statistics is Chuck Feeney, the co-founder of Duty Free Shops, who is definitely a former billionaire and whose private foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies will have funneled $9B into charitable works by the time of it self-liquidation in 2016.

Whether you are a casual observer or an unabashed philanthropy geek, you can obviously have a lot of fun with these facts and stats.  In any case, I hope the information contained therein is instructive and inspirational for us all, regardless of the number of zeros that follow the value of our charitable giving

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I am a proud alumnus of Binghamton University, one of four major university centers in the 64 campus State University of New York (SUNY) system.  Binghamton is a young school, founded in 1946 as Triple Cities College, an extension of Syracuse University.  It became part of the SUNY system in 1950 and grew dramatically during the Rockefeller years, attaining its current status as a doctoral granting university center in 1965.  The 1970’s were tough for the University as New York State faced hard economic times and funding suffered accordingly.  Interestingly, the University never wavered – it continued to burnish its reputation as a very selective, high quality, world-class center of learning.  Over time, the financial hard times eased, but the evolution of Binghamton from a “state school” to a “state supported school” continued.  (What’s the difference, you may ask, between a “state” and a “state supported” school?  Essentially, “state supported” means less and less money each year from State sources.)  Regardless, Binghamton is today both the shining star of the SUNY system and an up-and-coming player in the international major leagues of colleges and universities.  Most important, it is a relative bargain, making high quality higher education available to a diverse population of students from all economic backgrounds.  binghamton-university-bearcats-logo

Sounds like a great success story, doesn’t it?  The problem is, because Binghamton is both young and part of a state system, its culture of philanthropy has not yet fully developed.  This issue is front and center on the agendas of both the boards of the Alumni Association and the Binghamton University Foundation – how to build and permanently sustain a culture of philanthropy within the University and alumni communities.  The question is obviously multi-faceted and complex.  Today, I wanted to spend a little time on one seemingly small but very profound step that the University itself has taken to help build that culture right at the true grass roots of the cause, the campus community and the student body.  The Student Philanthropy Committee was established earlier this year as a joint effort between the University and the student body.  The Committee functions under the auspices of the Binghamton Fund, the University’s annual giving program, and its director, Caitlyn Carlson.  Its mission is simple – to build a culture of philanthropy among students by cultivating awareness and engagement.  I recently caught up with committee co-chairs Andrew Loso, Class of 2015 and Dillon Schade, Class of 2016, to talk about what they were trying to accomplish.  It essentially boils down to the two parts of the Committee’s mission, awareness and engagement.

  • Awareness: According to Andrew and Dillon, the students today are more aware of the need for philanthropic support beyond tuition and fees than the members of my generation ever were. The committee has received little negative pushback from students, which is surprising when one considers that many, if not most of them come from modest financial backgrounds where cash is generally in short supply. The committee has gotten the word out en masse through events such as “Tag Day,” where physical assets made possible by donations were tagged throughout campus; manning a table at Spring Fling, a major, campus-wide social event; and giving a speech at the Senior Brunch. And, of course, there is nothing like the personal touch, where members of the committee use their personal connections to get the word out. The message is clear – “Join together – help ME do it!”
  • Engagement: One very simple yet concrete metric that the Committee had to work with was the Senior Challenge. Many schools have this – they encourage graduating seniors to make a modest donation equal in dollar value to their graduation year, i.e. $20.14. Simple, catchy and cheap, right? Unfortunately in fiscal year 2013 only 74 seniors (2.5%) participated. To Andrew and Dillon, this was simply unacceptable. Their goal for this year was to double participation to 150 students, which was still modest, but a step in the right direction. At 177 participants, the goal has been met and exceeded. Next year, they want to double again to 10%. Long term, they want to get to 30%, which experience at other schools has shown is about the upper limit for such a fundraiser.

Charities and nonprofits spend a lot of time and money to stay front and center in the minds of their current, former, and future donors.  It is not easy.  It is not a given.  Even if you assume that people want to give to certain causes, the fact is they have to know about the need and they have to be given an easy and nonthreatening way to contribute whatever combination of time, treasure and talent they can.  Binghamton University or [insert the name of your alma mater] cannot assume that current students see and appreciate the benefit of the education they are receiving.  They cannot assume as a given that alumni will automatically agree that paying it forward is the right thing to do.  Information, communication, and appreciation go a long way to making it all possible.  The students involved in the Student Philanthropy Committee are learning this first hand and at an early age and, in so doing, are helping the University in a small way now that will hopefully blossom over the years as giving becomes a habit – a habit begun in the undergraduate years of the college experience.

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Several years ago, a rabbi told me that he always carries coins and single dollar bills so that, if he sees a panhandler in the street, he can easily give a modest amount to him or her.  The idea is, while we do not know the circumstances of such an individual, the fact that s/he is asking should be proof enough that there is a need.  Shame on us if we ignore that need; shame on the beggar is s/he is scamming us.

How do you feel about this?  One-on-one philanthropy is tough because we just don’t know…

But do we ever?  I have done what I refer to as “symbolic” work at a soup kitchen, substituting for the regular staff on a couple of Christmas days.  I saw families and individuals in the facility, none of whom looked like the dirty and bedraggled homeless we see sleeping in doorways in New York City, but none of whom looked particularly prosperous either.  Some of the clients were strapping young men who were seemingly capable of at least manual labor.  I was told that most of them were down-on-their-luck working class poor, for whom the recent Great Recession was devastating.  Did the folks running the soup kitchen bar their entry because they might be scamming the facility?  Of course not.  The fact is, particularly on Christmas Day, no one goes to a soup kitchen if they can afford something better.  Although, the staff goes out of its way to treat all of its clients with dignity and respect.  Eating in a soup kitchen is, at its absolute best, a humbling experience.

Institutional philanthropy, particularly the short-term kind like a soup kitchen, is tough because we just don’t know…

On the weekend after Hurricane Sandy hit the New York metropolitan region, my wife and I were at our home trying to clean up the mess.  Our neighborhood was badly hit, not to the point of mass destruction and obliteration of buildings, but enough that our houses were not habitable for weeks or months thereafter.  On that Saturday, a group of women from the local PTA made their way through the neighborhood handing out sandwiches and drinks to the residents.  I was overcome with emotion as I sat on my front doorstep eating the sandwich.  How awful – here we were, recipients of a modest yet most generous handout (“hand-up”) when we were always the ones giving to charity.  It was a blow to our pride and ego, but one we accepted with grace.  Those PTA ladies will never know how grateful we were for this small act of kindness, nor the profound effect it had on us.

Personal receipt of charity is tough, particularly when our personal pride goes to war with our sense of need…

I think it comes down to this – the seemingly short term “brother, can you spare a dime?” kind of charitable circumstances we find ourselves in from time to time should neither engage nor disengage the guilt factor we may feel at contributing or not contributing.  Our feelings will depend on our personal constitution, and we should come to grips with that as a matter of personal philosophy.  Sidewalk philanthropy may or may not do it.  We may feel more comfortable when, like the PTA ladies, we respond to a more verifiable crisis.  In the bigger picture, however, it is incumbent on all of us, particularly in this day and age of the fraying social safety net and tendency among politicians to demonize the poor, to take a longer term view.  We need to support those causes that truly help people in need and trust that, over time and situation, such organizations develop adequate controls to do the kind of triage required to stretch their limited resources to help those who need it most.

A great, big “thank you” to bloggers Richard Marker (“Wise Philanthropy”) and Gray Keller who, with differing viewpoints, have blogged about this issue and inspired this post.

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Philanthropy.  We, optimists, see it as a way to try to fix a broken world but somehow, no matter what we do, the world just stays broken!  But, then again, even assuming that we, as a society, can actually agree on which social ills need fixing… is philanthropy the way to do it?  Many people would argue that society’s ills are just too great for philanthropists to tackle without massive governmental assistance.  Others would argue that government creates more drag on the social system than the ills it cures.  So, what is the answer?

Perhaps it lies at the intersection of philanthropy and capitalism. Marketing and strategy

In 2010, an innovative financial instrument tied to the achievement of social goals made its appearance in Great Britain.  Called a “social impact bond” (SIB) the concept combined private investment with a specific government-sponsored project designed to achieve a certain social goal.   If, according to predetermined metrics, the goal was achieved, the investors would get some or all of their money back along with a rate of return.  If the goal was not achieved, the investors would lose their money.  Any repayment of the debt would come from the savings in costs enjoyed by the sponsoring governmental unit.

Such bonds are in the truly embryonic stage here in the United States and given their complexity and risk profile, may have a hard time gaining traction as real investments.  At this point, Massachusetts and New York lead the nation in their development but, even there, the concept is experimental and little more than a dip of the toe in the water.  Nevertheless, if some of these projects can be even partially successful, the way could be paved for the development of a new form of social investing.

Now, of course, such funding is not philanthropy, since a positive rate of return is expected and desired.  Instead, SIBs are profit-driven investments whose success is based on the attainment of socially desirable goals.  For those of us who believe in the financial market, it is the possibility of this rate of return that makes the very idea of SIB’s a potentially viable alternative to plain, old fashioned “tax and spend” government social programs.  Let’s use New York City’s Social Impact Bond, the first operational SIB in the US, as an example.  Its goal was to fund a program called the Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience (ABLE) at the city jail at Rikers Island.  ABLE aims to equip incarcerated adolescents between the ages of 16 to 18 with the social and emotional skills needed to help them make better life choices when they leave jail.  The theory is, the ability to make better life choices will lead to reduced recidivism, which will lead to reduced financial and other costs to the City.  To be sure, I would call this a true “BHAG” (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) but certainly one worth pursuing at some cost.  In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

  • In this case, the commercial lender/investor is the Urban Investment Group of Goldman Sachs Bank USA.  Their investment of $9,600,000 was turned over for administration to the intermediary, MDRC, a nonprofit social policy research organization. MDRC worked with the various partners to identify the project and negotiate the terms of the SIB.  In addition, it currently oversees the day-to-day implementation of the program.
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies is the philanthropic investor, which has provided a grant of $7,200,000 to partially repay Goldman Sachs if the project fails.  If the project is successful, the money will be rolled forward and used to backstop future projects.
  • The Osborne Association and Friends of Island Academy actually administer the ABLE program at the jail.  They are the boots on the ground, so to speak. 
  • The New York City Department of Corrections has agreed to repay the loan based on the inmate participation rate and the resulting rate of reduced recidivism (as defined). 
  • To keep everyone honest, the Vera Institute of Justice serves as the independent evaluator who will determine whether the project has achieved the desired goals. 

The project was started in 2012 with a five year window.  Several things have to happen in order for Goldman Sachs to be repaid:

  • Over the first four years, there must be a minimum of 9,420 participants in the program
  • If recidivism does not decline by at least 8.5%, there will be no payback
  • Reductions in recidivism between 8.5% and 10% will cause one half of the investment to be repaid
  • A 10% reduction will be the investor’s “breakeven”, with the full $9,600,000 being repaid, but with no additional rate of return
  • Above 10% will cause “success payments” to be made, which essentially represent the rate of return on the investment

Interestingly, even with a 10% reduction in recidivism, the cash savings to the taxpayer are estimated to be less than $1,000,000.  On a purely financial basis, this does not make sense.  In fact, the financial investment breakeven from NYC’s viewpoint occurs with a recidivism reduction of around 15%.  While the hardheaded financial analysts among us might find this “new math” a bit hard to swallow, one must realize that a successful social program will produce many other, not-so-easily-quantifiable benefits, such as safer neighborhoods and a more productive workforce.  Certainly an argument can be made that these goals are just as important as the hard dollar cost savings enjoyed by Rikers Island.  At this point, however, the jury is out on its overall effectiveness.

What struck me in a negative way about this project was the sheer audacity of the goal compared to the extraordinarily meager investment.  I mean, c’mon – $9.6 million from Goldman Sachs?  It’s barely a rounding error on their balance sheet, so where is the real risk?  Nevertheless, I am rooting for its success.  The fact is, as a society we need to employ out-of-the-box thinking to more seriously address such social issues, which is pretty difficult in these resource-constrained times.  Investing a few bucks to reduce recidivism?  Let’s give it a shot – it’s gotta beat banning large sugary sodas at the bodega!

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Peter B. Lewis was not a household name, but Progressive Auto Insurance, the company he ran for 35 yeapeter-lewis-marijuana-died-progressive-insurance-300x300rs certainly is.  Peter died on November 23rd at the age of 80.  Beside his extreme success, what made Peter so special?

He was one of the 122 billionaires who signed the Giving Pledge promoted by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

The Giving Pledge is an audacious and ambitious project on the part of the Gateses and Buffett to invite (cajole?) the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their lifetime or at death.  It is not a pooled iGiving_pledge_logonvestment approach nor does it favor a particular charitable sector.  The idea is to steer the philanthropic discussion among people of means, thereby drawing more folks into philanthropy, and to lead by example.  Families and individuals who make the pledge do so publicly, issuing a statement explaining their decision.  It is a moral, not a legal mandate.  Basically, the Gateses and Buffett are trying to lead wealthy donors into the marketplace of philanthropic impulses, without putting any specific restrictions or conditions on those impulses.  It is a fascinating story about which I have blogged before.  The whole thing started in June 2010 with 40 signatories.   When I first blogged about it (4/26/2012) there were 81 participants.  This past February there were 105 and today there are 122.  Since inception, 6 of the signatories, including Peter Lewis, have passed on.   For more information, check out this recent story on 60 Minutes.

Getting back to Lewis – he was quite a character, and I don’t mean that necessarily in a good way!  Just yesterday, one of our clients told me that he knew Lewis personally and, although he was very smart he was also a real S-O-B.  From what I have read of him, I don’t doubt it.  Lewis’ approach as a philanthropist was apparently the same as his approach as CEO – tough, no-nonsense, take no prisoners.  He once told the New York Times that at Progressive he had “fired more Harvard Business School graduates than most other insurance companies have hired.”  (And you thought fellow billionaire Donald Trump (NOT a member of the Giving Pledge) was a tough guy….)  Similarly, when the charities Lewis supported did not do things the way he liked, he was not above taking his marbles and going home.  Ask the folks at the Guggenheim Museum, where he donated $77 million over 11 years before resigning as the board chairman in 2005 over the strategic direction of the museum.  Or the board at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where Progressive is based.  He once staged a year-long boycott of cultural and charitable groups in Cleveland because of his discontent with the progress and rising cost of a Frank Gehry-designed building he was underwriting on campus.  Although he ended up contributing $36.9 million to complete the building, it was not without causing plenty of angst in town, even demanding the resignation of the entire board!

To which Lewis replied:
“I have no mandate to give a dime to anybody.”

According to the New York Times, Lewis has already given away about half of his $1 billion estate to various organizations such as the Center for American Progress and the ACLU.  Lewis’ alma mater, Princeton University, has received more than $220 million over his lifetime.

One of the fun things about the Giving Pledge website is that it publishes the members’ statements about philanthropy, giving the reader an opportunity to better understand the pledgers’ motivation.  To paraphrase Lewis’ thoughts on the subject:

“Taking the Giving Pledge comes naturally for me. I began giving with nickels to my Temple when my father explained to me that giving to help others is a Jewish tradition. Those nickels, contributed to nonprofits over the years, now total nearly $500 million. Having already given away nearly half my net worth, I plan to keep on going…The catch phrases that drive my life and philanthropy include: Enjoy every day; Think outside the lines; Risk, learn and grow; Ideas are easy, execution pays off; Constantly improve; Admit mistakes, fix them and move on; Problems are opportunities; Hard work makes winners.”

Lewis was obviously not a warm, fuzzy kind of guy.  Many of those who knew him couldn’t stand him.  Colleagues, employees, charitable organizations – all may have quaked in his presence.  But at least he gave back and for that we are grateful.  RIP, Peter Lewis.

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Over the past 20 years, I have sat on several not-for-profit (NFP) boards, three of which I had the distinct honor of serving as president.  (It was certainly my distinct honor; how the boards and members-at-large may have actually felt may well have been another story.)  Anyway, these three boards could not have been more different.  My first board, that of the Nassau Shores Civic Association of Massapequa, Long Island was absolutely chaotic, probably because I presided over it incorrectly.  I felt that (1) every member of the board should always be heard; (2) whatever they had to say was worth hearing and considering and; (3) informality was better than formality.  (Ok, I know, I know, but give me break, I was young and idealistic!)  This was a small board of maybe 8 or 10 members which met on a monthly basis in various members’ living rooms.   While I believe our organization was ultimately effective in representing the community regarding civic improvements, engaging residents in volunteer activities, and providing social activities, especially for young families, the board itself left a lot to be desired.  The good news was that our budget was miniscule, so there was little we could really screw up.   The bad news was that the board did not govern or lead as it should, and my vice president and I ended up spending 15 or 20 hours a week for the three years of my term running all over Massapequa and the Town of Oyster Bay trying to do what a better managed board could have done.

Lesson # 1 – Boards need to be managed and kept on track.  Don’t be afraid to shut members down who are not adding value, and maintain order using Robert’s Rules.  Everyone wants to feel that something is getting accomplish – and they want to get home at a decent hour, too!  

businessman wearing  paper bagMy second experience as president of an NFP organization came about 11 years later when I served as the last president of Temple Judea in Massapequa and as a founding co-president of Temple B’nai Torah (TBT) in Wantagh.  TBT was formed when TJ and The Suburban Temple merged, with the new organization settling into the home of legacy Suburban.  In so many ways, this merger was one of my finest moments; we combined two great but struggling religious communities into a strong and sustainable, “reinvented” synagogue.  My experiences with both the board of legacy Judea and the board of the new TBT were remarkably similar, to wit – they were both populated with smart and passionate people who tended (myself included at times) to check their brains at the door and let their emotions take hold.  The religious boards, at 20+ members, were much larger than the board of the civic.  They, too, were difficult to control, but the larger size made the task more daunting.  The term “herding cats” comes to mind.  Everyone had an opinion on every topic, sometimes two or three, and every topic had to be debated, even on those rare occasions when everyone agreed!  (It’s always interesting to see people argue with one another using the same arguments.)  These were the most challenging boards I ever served on.  From my observations and experiences, I tend to think that religious boards may just be like that.  People serve because the passion that motivates them comes from deep within and, unfortunately, it does not always get distilled by the brain before being processed to the public.  As emotional and difficult to manage as these boards were, they were ultimately effective, successfully completing a much needed merger.  We were able to control them just enough so that work actually got done.  Five years later, life is good!

Lesson # 2 – Passion for the cause motivates board members to get involved.  Unchecked, however, it morphs into emotion and gums up the works.  Insist on respectful interchanges between board members and, echoing Lesson # 1, don’t be afraid to shut down those who are moving off track.  ImprovementsBearcat

My current gig is as the president of the Binghamton University Alumni Association.   In so many ways, this board is the most professional of the boards on which I have served.  Admittedly, unlike the other two organizations, we have the luxury of a professional director and staff to support our mission.  This enables us to truly focus on the business of the board.  For example, we recently spent a couple of years re-inventing ourselves.  Our previous president felt that we were adrift, so with the help of an outside consultant, we took a good, hard look at ourselves.  We defined and stated our mission and vision (not an easy task), and began working on implementation.  In other words, we reengaged the true business of the board from which we had strayed in recent years.  Through appropriate delegation of duties to board members, recruitment and engagement of nonboard committee members, and decentralization of service delivery into national and international chapters we do the work of a truly functioning board, overseeing operations, setting policy, and working in partnership with and giving direction to the professional staff to implement that policy.  We guide and oversee but don’t get bogged down in minutia and administrivia.  It works.

Lesson # 3 – Board members often roll up their sleeves and “get their hands dirty” helping to do the actual work of the organization.  That is okay for individual members, but it is not the purpose of the board itself.  The board exists to determine mission and vision and to guide the stakeholders in realizing that mission and vision.    

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