Monthly Archives: March 2011

Conflict of interest: not always clear-cut

A well-connected businesswoman sits on two nonprofit Boards.  Her best friend is a local philanthropist. At lunch one day, the friend asks which nonprofit she’d recommend for a donation.

Another nonprofit’s Board member has a daughter in the organization’s after-school music program. The program has poor attendance and is losing money, plus there are other organizations in town with bigger, more-established programs. The Board has to vote on whether or not to close the program.

Should a nonprofit put its reserve in a bank where the Chair is President?

Is it OK to hire a highly qualified candidate who is married to the CEO’s first cousin?

Can a Board member legitimately throw her hat into the ring for the Interim Executive Director position?

We all know when we see certain kinds of conflicts of interest (COI), like a Board member paid as a consultant, or the Executive Director hiring her husband. These are the obvious, glaring, double-dealing circumstances that at best undermine effectiveness and lead to gossip, and at worst make the headlines and send people to jail.

But most COI scenarios are subtler and more complex. In many cases COI issues arise despite all parties having the best interests of the organization in mind. These can be unforeseen, and not addressed in the organization’s COI policy, and very difficult to resolve.

How can your nonprofit prevent even hazy COI situations that can put the organization, and its staff and clients, at risk?

First of all, if you don’t have a COI policy, you need one. Immediately. At a minimum, the policy should include requirements that 1) Board members sign disclosure forms that identify potential COI on an annual basis; and 2) those with potential COI be excluded from all discussion and voting concerning financial relationships with their affiliate business or interest.

COI policies are not one-size-fits-all. We’ve compiled a list of online sources for templates to help create and refine COI policies.

In addition to having a policy, there are specific ways that nonprofits can create procedures for openness that will help avoid COI. Board Chairs should regularly remind members to consider whether they may have a COI before discussions about financial transactions or organizational partnerships.  Also, Boards should be sure to get multiple bids on any product or service that they are considering purchasing from a member’s company (or a Board or staff spouse’s company, etc.) Finally, there are many sources for legal advice and other expertise that can help your organization sort out potential conflicts. Don’t hesitate to call on trusted experts for support.

Once written policies and procedures are in place, consider the culture of your organization—attitudes, communication habits, emphasis on personal integrity. Just because Board members sign a form each year doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Many potential conflicts are subtle and unexpected. Modeling and promoting openness and fairness is a key responsibility of leadership and a necessary tool for everyday life in a nonprofit.

To inform ongoing research and program development, the Alliance would like to hear from you about your experiences with COI. Have you seen or been part of a COI scenario? Did it resolve, and if so, how? Rest assured that any information you provide will be held in strict confidence. Please email with your thoughts and experiences, and thank you in advance for sharing.

Ten ways to build your nonprofit’s public speaking capacity

We pay a lot of attention to our nonprofits’ online voices these days, but are we neglecting an older and more essential form of communication?

Public speaking skills are overlooked as a core capacity in many organizations. All nonprofits need good in-person communicators, whether they present at national conferences, provide community talks, call on funders, or meet with partners and clients. Unfortunately we tend to think good public speakers are born that way, and hope we get lucky enough to hire or work with them.

Many books and classes teach the principles of effective public speaking, but there’s little guidance for nonprofit leaders who want to build it as a competency across their organization. Most of us are left on our own when we “have to speak” in public. And most of us wait until the last minute, whip out a quick Powerpoint, and suffer through.

But what if nonprofit leaders matched their nonprofits’ important work and impressive outcomes with a commitment to continuous learning and building of presentation skills? Below we suggest some ways to do this:

1. View public speaking as teamwork, even if it’s a solo job.
Assemble a group to brainstorm about stories and concepts that will interest people and presentation content and themes. Make sure that less-experienced staff works with senior staff as a learning experience. Likewise, senior staff can benefit by rehearsing in front of those who are newer to the topic and issues and may be more like a general audience.

2. Develop scripts.
Create scripts that describe your organization, its impact, key programs, and related issues. These can serve as templates and be adapted for specific audiences and events.  Develop boilerplate presentation aids, like Powerpoint slideshows, to accompany your scripts.

3. Rehearse.
Rehearse early and often. Set specific times for staff to present in front of colleagues, or bring in peers, Board members, or others to serve as mock audiences. Rehearsals should be “dress rehearsals” that simulate the event conditions, such as time, equipment, question and answer sessions, etc.

4. Use video.
Use a video recorder to tape and review presentations. Hearing and seeing yourself speak is a tremendous eye opener.  You’ll have a different perspective on what you sound like to others and your unique body language.

5. Learn PowerPoint.
There are rare people who can give a compelling presentation with no slideshow, but most of us need at least a few slides and most audiences expect them. Make sure everyone in your organization is comfortable with Powerpoint (including navigating forward and backward and clicking on hyperlinks.) There are many other software tools you can use as well, but Powerpoint is “spoken” across almost all venues and audiences. Invest the time to develop a slideshow that enhances, rather than overwhelms or distracts from, a presentation.

6. Buy good equipment and train people to use it smoothly.
How many presentations have you been to where the speaker spends five minutes or more trying to get the equipment working properly? You can’t always use your own remote or electronic pointer, but whenever possible use trusted equipment and make sure speakers are trained to use it.

7. Invest in training.
Look for public speaking workshops and courses. Skills like eye contact and body language, voice control, storytelling, and the “power close” can all be taught and practiced. They can be especially helpful for those who have been giving presentations for a long time and may have developed bad habits.

8. Hire a coach.
A coach can be well worth the investment to help staff become confident and effective public speakers. The one-on-one feedback can be immeasurably helpful at both the psychological level (e.g., confidence) and the physical (e.g., voice control.)

9. Join Toastmasters.
There are many Toastmasters clubs in the Mid-South. Members meet on a regular basis to present, listen, and evaluate each other’s presentations. These learn-by-doing workshops are a popular way for participants to hone their speaking and leadership skills in an encouraging atmosphere.  Nonprofit leaders can help their employees find a good fit and pay the membership dues.

10. Create opportunities to speak.
So many of us dread public speaking and only give presentations when asked. But if we invest in collaboration, training, coaching, and technology to build capacity, we’ll improve our skills and find it more enjoyable. The only way to get better is to practice. Look around your community for volunteer, business, religious, senior, and other types of groups that host or sponsor presenters or panels.  You never know what else they could lead to.

Are presentation skills a core capacity in your organization? Leave a comment–we’d love to know how you practice public speaking or help employees improve their skills. We’re interested in great books and videos or local classes and coaching resources for public speaking too.

Welcome to the Open Doors blog and an important note about subscribing

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