givingcircleYesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with individuals in a giving circle who are in the process of developing their funding priorities and considering potential nonprofit grantees.

Giving circles are growing in popularity, creating a flexible structure in which groups of individual donors pool their resources and have meaningful conversations together about the intentions and outcomes they wish to see in their joint philanthropy.

The group creates its own mission focus, reviews potential grantees, and makes a joint decision about who they wish to fund. By working in a focused group, they discover commonalities and fascinating discussion points while making a larger impact with their “together gift.”

In yesterday’s discussion, we talked about the wealth of information available through The Giving Partner and how profiles can be used to establish thoughtful dialogue with the nonprofits they consider supporting.

The group was fabulous. Giving circle members shared some amazing questions that provide valuable insights into what is important for them. Like foundations, businesses, and individual donors, every giving circle is unique and has different approaches, questions and interest areas.

Here is what they wanted to know:

  • Why don’t the profiles for all organizations addressing our giving circle’s interest area come up in an advanced search using The Giving Partner?
    We have some work do to here, friends! The advanced search draws on an organization’s name, mission area, mission statement, and the keywords entered in the profile behind the scenes. Each organization can choose its own keywords in the keyword field (statements & search criteria section). Does your nonprofit help a certain population or have a program keyword that is important? Re-visit this and list those words in the special keyword section. You want to be included in a search when donors are looking for you!

  • How important is 100% board giving?
    Many foundations and donors believe that an organization might not be ready for funding from outside sources until all board members are making personal monetary contributions. I saw lots of nods in agreement from those around the table. The amount an individual board member gives is not as important as 100% participation. This data point is provided in the governance section of each profile.

  • When organizations do not list specific items with dollar amounts in the needs statement section, is it because the agency is afraid to be bold in articulating its needs, or because there is no agreement about its greatest needs?
    This seems to come up continuously in conversation with donors. Donors are looking for organizations to articulate specific needs with a range of dollar amounts so they can better understand how a gift might be put to work at the organization.

  • What sources did nonprofits use for the statistics they share in the program section?
    Another great question. In one specific nonprofit profile the group was reviewing, the organization provided some compelling numbers to make the case for its key program, but there were no citations about where the statistics originated and whether they were local or national. Smart, inquiring donors and giving circles want to know.

  • How often can the organization update its profile in The Giving Partner?
    Some out-of-date information was included in The Giving Partner profile we were viewing together. Some individuals in the giving circle sat on the board of the organization or were otherwise involved and recognized this. Keeping profiles loaded with the most current information is so important. The giving circle learned that organizations can update profiles as frequently as they wish.

One final question from the group: “How can we make sure the organizations we care about have profiles in The Giving Partner?” Thanks to the great work of 350 nonprofits, many profiles are available, but others are waiting to be created.

The Giving Partner has helped us discover organizations new to us and new to donors. We want everyone to be represented.

Orientations take place every other month, and the next session is Friday, October 18. Organizations that would like to develop profiles in The Giving Partner and those who want a refresher are welcome to attend. For more information, contact Kaci Carroll at KCarroll@CFSarasota.org.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County


Doing any cooking this weekend? We have a delicious board meeting recipe for you, and all it involves is the right ingredients and some heartfelt mixing.

In a bowl sized just right for your organization, gently stir…

  • The right team members, representing the values, talents, backgrounds and resources most important to your organization
  • One juicy consent agenda
  • A dash of procedure
  • Several good sprinkles of humor
  • Half a cup of memory powder to infuse your reason for being there: your mission*
  • A full cup of the brilliant elements of your individual board members and their highest level thinking

*Hint: Try bringing your meeting to order with the melodious sounds of a fine instrument if you’re the Sarasota Orchestra, for instance.

If you missed the fabulous session with Dr. Sandy Hughes at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, “Energizing Your Board’s Potential with Better Board Meetings,” we want to provide a short recap of our very flavorful discussion.

We can’t hide the fact that we laughed a bit at first, reflecting on the plethora of negative quotes about meetings that live on the Internet, such as this lovely jewel from Dave Barry: If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be “meetings.” 

So how do we shift this paradigm in nonprofit board meetings? 

The most strategic conversations we have at our organizations take place at the board level, and board work happens during meetings. Sandy will tell you that key policies and procedures must exist, but they are the basics; the human elements drive your potential.  Four of the focal points we discussed (among many) are as follows:

  1. Culture.
    Establishing a culture of accountability and excellence for the organization begins at the board meeting. Want to dwell on the “small things?” Form your agenda accordingly! Want to focus on the direction of your organization and strategic or generative discussions? Use a consent agenda.

  2. Careful selection and evaluation.
    At a minimum, does your board conduct a board self-evaluation every 2-3 years? Does your board thoughtfully select new board members based on written board selection criteria?

  3. Board chair as facilitator.
    The board chair role is not something awarded to a person based on tenure on the board, nor is it a role passed off to the unlucky gentleman because no one else will do it. It’s a big deal. The board chair works with the CEO to develop a meeting agenda including stimulating conversations about your big picture issues. He or she facilitates the meetings in a way which encourages everyone to contribute. And he or she establishes norms around respectful debate and stays committed to segments in each meeting covering organizational learning and good governance practices. These personal skills are critical to every successful meeting and for setting the right tone.

  4. The complexity and varied experiences of individuals.
    A hidden gem waits to be discovered as you fully get to know the individuals on your board team. We all have stories, preferences and experiences. How well do we know each other? By taking the time to do this as a board, we can operate more fully as a respectful and dynamic group.

    Consider opening your next meeting by asking, “What have you changed your mind about this month and what made you change it?”  Such a question can stimulate good conversations and help you really get to know the faces around your board table—a key to developing the kind of trust necessary to do exceptional group work.

Many thanks to Sandy Hughes, a voice of wisdom and experience in governance and all things nonprofit.

And special thanks to Joe McKenna, CEO of the Sarasota Orchestra, and Anne Folsom Smith, board chair of the Sarasota Orchestra, for their guest appearances at this session. The willingness to share how their exceptional working relationship has developed over time was a powerful testament to what can be accomplished together. How fortunate we were to have them join us in a surprise opening, complete with beautiful instruments to focus our attention.

Would you like Sandy’s handout or more information on the consent agenda? E-mail me at Susie@CFSarasota.org.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

leafSarasota Magazine hosted its annual Guide to Giving party last week–a celebration of philanthropy in our community.

The Giving Partner collaboration and its funders were so pleased to once again be part of the magazine edition and the event itself. What a lovely night of nonprofit friends and colleagues at The Francis!

The cover of the Guide to Giving featured the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, an organization committed to preserving land in Southwest Florida. The accompanying black and white photo by the one and only Clyde Butcher is stunning.

If you are like me and enjoy immersing yourself in our natural treasures, maybe taking a photo every now and then along the way, you understand the mystery of the unexpected, ever-changing outdoors.

Just at the moment when you have almost captured something extra special with your camera, the wind moves it or the light changes. Something or someone walks in front of your lens at the beach. A car passes in front of you.

Our connection to philanthropy is impacted by changing circumstances constantly—severe cuts in government funding, generational differences in giving patterns, the rise of volunteers who also want to be involved in our organization’s decisions, and the many choices each of us has for giving time, talent and treasure.

There are so many challenges—exciting challenges, if you perceive them that way. When you can relax in those challenges, adventures are great, creativity expands possibilities, and new opportunities are created.

We have to stay ahead of the curve so that the images others capture of our organizations tell the right stories about who we are in this moment. The Giving Partner allows us to do that.

Hundreds of local nonprofits have made it a priority to develop and update profiles in The Giving Partner, our community’s source for in-depth information about charitable organizations. Through our relationship with GuideStar, we can offer this service locally. Across the country, places like Kansas City, Boston, San Diego, Orlando and New Haven are also committed to their own versions of The Giving Partner through GuideStar.

Today we are different from who we were last year, with more than 330 updated nonprofit profiles—each offering a choice for giving to businesses, foundations, donors, citizen philanthropists.

Thank you for sharing your most recent program accomplishments, needs, finances, board and staff member information in The Giving Partner. Together, we’re becoming better at keeping our community informed about who is doing what and how.

Our sector and those we depend on to sustain our good work have led the way in creating positive change. I see it every day and know that you must too.

What appreciation we owe to partners like Sarasota Magazine for being so committed to telling our stories with us, for us and through us so that we capture the complex and beautiful landscape of our social sector!

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

Let’s talk about a person who can be overwhelming on some boards: The Chronic Curmudgeon.

This is the person who says “no” to everything, obstructs any and all attempts at positive change, and who derails conversations based on personal biases and of course, past experiences on the board.  He or she may be the world’s authority on everything and offer many ideas but not take leadership on moving the situation forward.

Believe me, we hear about this all the time.  And it’s a tough one–especially if the board member has social or political clout at your organization.

However, at some point, if the disruption being caused is too great, it may be time to say goodbye.

The Chronic Curmudgeon is Not…

The Chronic Curmudgeon in your board room is not someone who simply stirs the pot–gets you to think differently, brings up the counterpoint. Considering all sides of issues at the governance level is extremely important, and it’s the job of board members to avoid the group-think mentality.

The Role of the Board Chair in Coaching and Encouraging Discussion

Effective board chairs help maintain a delicate balance during meaningful discussions about big picture issues centered on the organization and its mission.

On a strong board, diverse perspectives are present and welcomed around the table. This means that everyone will not agree all the time.

Sometimes, board members need some gentle coaching in how they disagree or offer the counterpoint. With some Chronic Curmudgeons, the problem is not so much what he or she says, but how it is said.  It is possible that these folks may not even realize how they come across. A good board chair can approach them with a conversation about it.

When It’s Time to Leave

When The Chronic Curmudgeon’s behavior becomes toxic to your organization, he or she will cause good contributors to leave. The board chair may have to ask the individual to step off the board if he or she:

  • Is demeaning to the executive director or other board members.
  • Prevents the organization from moving forward on key issues.
  • Leaves board meetings after decisions are made and shares his/her different and personal viewpoints on the issue publicly.

Weaving It Into Your Board Selection Criteria and Board Expectations

Starting with your board selection process, consider what different points of view your current board has and what new perspectives you might want potential board members to bring.

As you develop or revise your organization’s board member expectations, you might consider including the following requirements for board members:

  • Help foster a positive environment during board meetings in which diverse perspectives are encouraged.
  • Offer diverse perspectives with respect.
  • Uphold board votes and decisions in public conversations.
  • Honor the conflict of interest policy at all times.

Get registered for the free session at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County this Friday, September 13, “Energizing Your Nonprofit’s Potential with Better Board Meetings.” Dr. Sandy Hughes will be exploring some of these issues and many others.

Have a great week!

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

When a 64-year old person swims 110 miles from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage, it’s pretty amazing. Everyone is celebrating.

Here are a few things from Diana Nyad’s recent journey that provide food for thought if you work, volunteer or give in the third sector.

  1. The success of someone else can be just as powerful as your own.
    We all feel good for Diana Nyad—great for her. Her accomplishment feels like “one for the human race,” right?  In turn, it feels good to be proud of her accomplishment.

    We can do more of that here. Celebrating the successes of other local organizations builds our community.

    Share other organizations’ positive status updates on Facebook. Call up your colleagues after they were featured in a news story or after they hosted a successful special event. Be genuinely happy for their “win.” Believe me, it helps all of us. We may “compete” for donors, volunteers, talent, attention with our messaging, but we work and volunteer in this sector because we care about a better world.

  2. Never underestimate the importance of recognizing your team.
    One of the first things Diana said when she got out of the water was that her sport is not a solitary one, though it appears to be. A team of people helped to prepare her, guide her, encourage her. And so it is in our world.

    We may see many of the same faces in the society columns and featured in the spotlight. But the best leaders sincerely recognize their team in ways that are personally meaningful. Everyone from board members to donors, volunteers, receptionists, caseworkers are more likely to stay with organizations through thick and thin when they feel appreciated by the leader.

  3. Unless you’re really lucky, there will be setbacks–personally and organizationally.
    Diana’s setbacks were pretty crazy–jellyfish, asthma, and dealing with unpredictable seas (for hours and hours). And by the way, she had tried this before. Four times before.

    I’m sure Diana had her fair share of local acquaintances who chatted behind her insisting that she could never do it. But this woman has determination.

    Even the most successful nonprofits have big moments when they realize a program did not meet the projected outcome. The fundraising event didn’t make the goal. Budget cuts impacted possibilities and long-standing offerings. Etc.

    They adjust their strategies, and although difficult, they view setbacks as temporary and keep going.

I am always grateful to incredible people like Diana Nyad who are all about endurance. The small, simple victories are worth celebrating too, but we’re in this work for the long haul.

How do you recognize your team, communicate setbacks to your board or stakeholders in a positive and affirming way, and share in the successes of others?

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County