What Keeps Women Association & Nonprofit Executives Up At Night?

By Anna Maltabarow

On the 41st floor of the McGraw Hill Building, a group of 30 female association and nonprofit executives recently met at the offices of the International Council of Shopping Centers as part of NYSAE's Executive Women in Nonprofits Shared Interest Group.

Linda Ferm, CAE, of Ferm Strategies, facilitated a discussion about what is keeping these women up at night. Topping the list appeared to be rogue board members, which was closely followed by insurmountable to-do lists, dealing with growing expectations, and stretching diminishing budgets.

Rogue Board Members
Outspoken in meetings, advocates only for their own personal agendas and regularly caught bullying staff, rogue board members were serial offenders when it came to keeping women association and nonprofit executives up at night. As Ferm explained to the group, "Dealing with a bad recruit should be a learning process for the entire board." Strategies put forward included training, orientation, and education to empower the board chair in taking back control, breakout sessions to avoid a group-think mentality, and learning how to relate ideas back to the strategic plan to ensure the board stays focused on the association's mission. Not only should this help keep meetings on track but it also has the "added benefit of depersonalizing the issue and keeping you out of the crossfire," explained Ferm.

Doing More With Less
You are almost at the end of a particularly onerous board meeting, and there is one final item to discuss: new business. Suddenly, 15 new ideas have sprung forth and you find yourself, with no additional staff or resources, agreeing to take them all on. Said Ferm: "It is tough for women to say 'no,' but we need to realize that sometimes it just isn't physically possible to do it all."

What can be done when the board's expectations seem only to continue to rise? One group member suggested making technology your friend in order to improve efficiency. Another suggested walking the board through the creative process, the organization's mission, uncovering how it envisions its execution. This helps to refine the idea, as well as lets the board understand what resources will be required to implement it successfully. In this situation, often the idea becomes smaller and more manageable, without you ever having to say no.

Other ideas put forward to help combat sleepless nights included building a network of mentors, learning to decompress after board meetings, exercising at night, using breathing techniques, and using the natural hormone melatonin. If all else fails, one CEO suggested "visualize cramming all of your problems (or people) into a box; then throw it off a cliff, and keep it there."

The next meeting of the Executive Women in Nonprofits SIG will be held on July 18. Farra Trompeter, Vice President of Big Duck, will facilitate a discussion on Mixing Business and Pleasure: Managing Your Personal and Professional Brand.

Anna Maltabarow is a Marketing Associate with Kellen Company. She can be reached at amaltabarow@kellencompany.com.