Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ideas That Work

Board Leadership and "Skin in the Game"

Last week in my rebranding post I wrote that my recent survey of chairs of our boards of governors garnered 29 responses. I went on to snipe a little about the 26 chairs who didn't respond, going so far as to opine that, "these are always the same Centers."

Well this small comment provoked a passionate response from one chair. While I don't think the chair's identity furthers the point, I will share with you key points of the message:

"This [the rebranding process] is one of the turning points in the Learning Center’s history that could have a positive or negative impact. The decision made in a few weeks will be with us for at least a decade or two, so it must be acceptable and workable to entice donors, future students, applicants for the scholars program, etc...."

"The purpose of this email is to say 29 Learning Centers out of 55 participating in the survey is not acceptable with something this important. This is the future of our Learning Centers and must be taken seriously... I am truly frustrated with this high number of non-responses."
This chair gets it. Unfortunately, I fear we are risking our program in places where our leadership may be complacent or ambivalent.

To our surprise, over the past two months, I and members of my staff have fielded a number of calls from Center Directors. They are calling in great distress because they believe their Learning Centers are being driven into the ground (and out of existence) because their boards are doing little or nothing to secure their financial needs. These directors have sought and continue to seek guidance and any advice and support we can give them so they could save their Centers.

This situation, while troubling, is by no means universal. In fact, a good number of our Centers' boards are very active, creative and committed. I think immediately of Columbus, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Nashua, and Central New York, to name only a few. But truly, there are others at risk.

In hindsight, we might have developed the funding system for the Learning Centers differently. The system that was in place through last year, with little reward for extraordinary activity and little punishment for inactivity by local boards, has contributed to the weakness now evident in the boards of some Centers. With a change of funding that is the rule for the foreseeable future, this weakness is dangerous. The Center Directors who've called believe they see this problem in their boards and are truly distraught.

Commander John William McNaughton often talks about people who have "skin in the game." He defines this as visceral commitment to any project. Center Directors are deeply involved in the activities of the Centers. That is why they are among the most concerned - often going above and beyond because they can't abide with the idea of their Learning Center closing.

As a board member, ask yourself, "Do I have skin in the game? Am I willing to do whatever it takes, whatever is within my ability, to assure that these children with dyslexia will still have a Learning Center next year and beyond?"

If so, the time for action is now. What your Center needs now is more - more local funds, more quality individuals who can share the load, more communication to the general community about who we are and what we do. Here are 5 things every committed board member can (and should) do to secure the future of YOUR Learning Center:
  • Participate vigorously in the business of your Learning Center, attending meetings and Center events
  • Speak to a service group using the DVD and guide provided by Scottish Rite Charities
  • Identify 2 people whose involvement in the Learning Center would help improve its financial success
  • Donate to your Learning Center as if this is one of you closest charitable priorities
  • Ask 3-5 people to join you in financial support of your Learning Center at a personally generous level
If you are willing to do all you can do, you can rely on the fact that those of us in Lexington supporting the Learning Center program will provide you all the support and advice at our disposal.

If you are not, you may be placing your Learning Center and the children who rely on it at risk.

Please add comments to this posting. This is a critical issue that deserves our discussion.


Anonymous said...

I am a relatively new Board member (less than a year) and there are a number of fellow Board members whom I haven't met because they don't come to meetings or to fundraisers. Having been on various committees in the past, I am all too aware that many people volunteer primarily to put the "service" on their resumes.

With that said, I think it would be great if centers with active, hardworking boards are rewarded but I also fear that centers with inactive boards would only become more vulnerable to disappearing.

I'll be interested to hear what others have to say on this subject.

Steve Pekock said...

Very astute observation. I also find that "resume polishers" don't even give well and are the first to complain when asked to do anything.

It is up to those board members whose colleagues are dead weight to establish some standards of participation based on the criteria I wrote about. For the sake of your LC, you can't make it easy to simply "sit" on a board.

betsytoledo said...

Our board does not like the idea of a name change
We wish to keep it simple We are trying to come up with ways to raise money It is a hard process when you have never raised money in the past We need ideas we need ideas how to get our parents involved We as a board are trying our butts off

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