Lessons From the Second Mile


This article highlights — and provides some excellent suggestions — on one of the many reasons it is important for all Board Members and organization founders who are still involved with the organization to sign a conflict of interest policy. And, so important to make this document a living, breathing document — a document discussed at least quarterly in Board meetings, not “just signed and sealed” — How you LIVE the conflict of interest policy is more important than just signing it. Creating this discussion as part of your living, breathing, acting mission-driven culture builds strong, successful nonprofit organizations.

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Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results — Albert Einstein

As Boards and organizations, we inherit many things we do, because that is what we have always done.  Although because we have always done it a certain way, is that the best way?

  • When Boards value expediency over deliberation. Keep meetings short! We are on a time crunch. We don’t have time to have this discussion.  Maybe the reality is we don’t have time not to have this conversation.
  • Major decisions get made in Executive Committee; not full Board meetings. Executive Committees take on the role of “mini-Boards” where important decisions are made without meaningful input from the Full Board.  Granted there is a place for Executive Committees, however when the community you serve sees only the face of the Executive Committee, they will assume they are the ones “in charge” — not really good for either the organization or the members of the Executive Committee.
  •  Board Chairman who serves as the  “boss.” They see their role as in charge, (and this is certainly not all, or even many Chairs, but like a bad beer, you know it when you have to taste it).  This is the Board Chair with no boundaries with the staff and the staff doesn’t know who their supervisor is  — is it the Executive Director, The CEO, the Program Manager?  Watch for Board Chairs who like it this way, and have the Board address this issue.  If not addressed, it can turn very caustic.   Pay attention when the Board Chair does not see their critical role of  facilitator, mediators and supporters of all voices when making important decisions.  Particularly when it is obvious their opinion on the issue(s) was made long before the meeting started – This is not seeing the Chairman’s role as statesmen and allies of the whole organization.
  • Critical board decisions are delegated to committees with limited training, support or a  work plan provided to the committee of what the Board and organization expects the committee to complete, what success looks like and by when.
  • Staff is excluded from meetings… oh,no they are not invited, they are only staff…I am sure there are many schools of thought on this, so I will add mine.  Unless an issue is private, discusses a confidential or legal matter, invite the staff to participate.  Or host a short Executive Session with only the CEO and then bring the staff into the meeting.  They will be responsible for implementing the ideas, executing the strategy, staying within budget and fulfilling on deadlines.  They also know what is going on day-to-day, they can help a good policy decision become a great one, they can see a financial issue, and bring it up before it is too late.  And they are there and thanked personally for the time, energy and dedication they put into the organization, and they can thank you personally for your commitment and service.
  • What happens in our Board Rooms and on our Board Retreats model our values to the whole organization and to our communities. 

When I work with community organizations, I recommend we start with a conversation about some assumptions we have about our Board and our Board meetings and ask a couple of questions — and I do this with some creativity to keep it lively, fun, and not defensive. We do this for our co-trustees, our staffs, our supporters and ourselves. And, we all learn a lot about each other and ourselves in the process.

1. What are the things we do at every meeting?  Which of these work well?  Which could be changed, modified, or done away with?

2. What is the culture that drives our Board meetings?  Does this culture live our values? Our Mission? Our Vision?

3. What are three things we can do this year to improve our meetings?

4. And, how at the end of the term can we evaluate our success?

I know there is a great deal of wisdom among those who read this blog.  Would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and if you serve an organization or on a City Commission, or Board of Directors, please take a few minutes to add your thoughts.  Enjoy a great week!

The Most Overworked, Underfunded ‘Army’ in American History:   An example of the POWER of film in telling our nonprofit and community stories.

Some may wonder why I am posting a movie review today…. Movies are magnificent venues for sharing our stories with the world,  Where film can be very powerful:  A brief video presentation on your website, A short video of your community members, volunteers or clients talking about the work our organization does can engage a new supporter.  A five minute film telling the story of your organization, your people that includes a specific, genuine and moving ask to to invest (time, talent and/or treasures) can move someone to take action and get involved.  Using clips or soundbites from famous movies, television or video can make a  presentation say WOW to your audience.

One of my clients, Gideon’s Promise had the opportunity to have a documentary film maker follow their organization for three years, and the result is the beautiful and powerful film, Gideon’s Army. The young lawyers featured in the film are truly — everyday — the heros they are in this film.

Part of their success is that they are supported by a dynamic 501 c 3 nonprofit organization. Gideon’s Promise trains, supports and mentors the lawyers featured in this film, and many more to be able to stay in the work. Gideon’s Promise is building a network and community for build a new cadre of talented, supported lawyers who have a rich community of peers, faculty, alumni and community leaders investing in them, as lawyers and as people.  Since the film just came out it will be interesting to see what the long-term benefit will be to support the field of indigent defense.  I am interested in following this, studying it and really learning about what it means for a community organization to become an “overnight film sensation.”  And with so many deserving lawyers how will attorneys be selected from such a deep pool of talent.   Even prior to the film being made the requests to join the training far outweigh the limited resources needed to fund every DESERVING, talented and passionate young lawyer who wants to participate in the program. To learn more and to get involved go to http://www.gideonspromise.org.

I would look to share this film with you and 1) Hear your thoughts, ideas and stories 2) hear you ideas about what you can do to support your cause with photos, film, stories and 3) what you thought about the film.  I would personally LOVE to hear for you, your colleagues, your friends and families.  Please share.

I know the folks at Gideon’s Promise would love to hear from YOU!

The Most Overworked, Underfunded ‘Army’ in American History
HBO premiered the documentary Gideon’s Army, a searing look at the ways courts fall short on the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.  Gideon’s Army is still available on HBOGO/HBOOnDemand and is playing at film festivals across the Nation.  (Martha’s Vineyard this week!)

highlighted  below is the Trail from Gideon’s Amry  and a 8 minute Op-Documentary the New York Times created about the film.  Check they out and PLEASE take a minute to let me know your thoughts and impressions.  Looking forward to taking to you.  Glorious Mondays All.  Enjoy a great week.

Gideon’s Promise – Gideon’s Promise|

http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99HMxN94bEcNew York Times Op-Doc -True Believers in Justice


Foot Soldiers in the Battle for a Fair Shake

Defending the Underclass, in ‘Gideon’s Army’

NYT Critics’ Pick



Brandy Alexander is a public defender in the film “Gideon’s Army.”

Published: June 27, 2013

The title of Dawn Porter’s stirring documentary,“Gideon’s Army,” refers to the legion of idealistic public defenders fighting for equal justice in a land where not everybody can afford a high-priced defense attorney. That army is named after Clarence Earl Gideon, who was arrested in 1961 for stealing soda and a few dollars from a pool hall in Panama City, Fla.

More About This Movie

Gideon’s Army


Travis Williams, a public defender in “Gideon’s Army.”

Convicted of theft after representing himself at trial, Gideon appealed the verdict to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in a landmark 1963 decision, Gideon v. Wainwright, that the right to counsel in criminal court is fundamental to the American system of justice.

The decision ushered in a nationwide system of public defenders representing clients who are too poor to pay for their legal defense. Today the disparity between the haves and have-nots is such that most of the 12 million people arrested in the United States each year will be represented by one of the country’s 15,000 public defenders.

The processing of these cases, in which most of those arrested plead guilty to reduce their sentences, lacks the high drama of television shows like “Law & Order” and its spinoffs. But thousands of lives are in the balance and can be destroyed even before trial. June Hardwick, a Mississippi public defender, cites the case of a skilled laborer who lost her house, job and possessions while in pretrial detention because she couldn’t afford bail. (Ms. Hardwick has since left the profession to go into politics.)

The film devotes most of its attention to Travis Williams and Brandy Alexander, public defenders in Georgia who dedicate their lives to representing America’s underclass. It is emotionally grueling work in which both struggle to maintain their humanity. In the words of Mr. Williams, who handles 120 cases at a time and has no room left for a personal life, “Everybody’s in an emergency state.”

Some of the defenders’ strongest support comes from the Southern Public Defender Training Center, whose charismatic leader, Jonathan Rapping, offers practical instruction and group sessions at which the public defenders air their frustrations and share their war stories. Mr. Rapping praises them as “foot soldiers” who will eventually change “this unjust, cruel, inhumane criminal justice system.”

The public defenders know only too well that many, if not most, of their clients are guilty. Ms. Alexander recalls that one threatened to kill her if she lost the case. Another bragged about raping his 12-year-old daughter. She muses out loud that some people seem to be born bad.

Gideon’s Army” examines two cases of armed robbery, for which conviction in Georgia carries a minimum sentence of 10 years without parole and a maximum of life imprisonment. In both cases, the movie doesn’t try to assess innocence or guilt but to show its lawyers mounting the best defenses possible with minimal resources.

Mr. Williams represents Branden Lee Mullin, a young man who robbed a pizzeria of $96 with his best friend. Ms. Alexander’s 17-year-old client, Demontes Regary Wright, is arrested by a swarm of police officers in a raid and charged with armed robbery. Mr. Wright, she says, is exceptionally bright. If he succeeds in avoiding prison, she believes he has the potential to lead a productive life. The film’s last 15 minutes are devoted to his trial, at which she tries to establish “reasonable doubt” about his guilt.

“Gideon’s Army” is a bare film with no narrator and a minimal soundtrack. That’s all it needs to grab you by the throat.

Gideon’s Army

Opens on Friday in Manhattan and will be shown on HBO starting on Monday at 5:20 a.m and 9 p.m.

Directed by Dawn Porter; written by Ms. Porter and Matthew Hamachek; directors of photography, Chris Hilleke and Patrick Sheehan; edited by Mr. Hamachek; music by Paul Brill; produced by Ms. Porter and Julie Goldman; released by HBO Documentary Films. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. This film is not rated.

Thinking of donating or getting involved in a nonprofit? Here are some suggested questions to ask nonprofit organizations before investing in them. The answers can help you determine which charities to give to and evaluate the performance of the philanthropies you already support.

1. How are you REALLY collaborating with other organizations on a local, regional, or national level? What are some examples? How would you like to enhance these efforts?

2. What are the main obstacles that inhibit the fulfillment of your mission? How are you planning to overcome them?

3. How much turnover have you experienced of employees and board members in the last two years? Especially in the CEO/Executive Director position?

4. To what degree have you attracted NEW people and new ideas to your organization and board?

5. Do you have an active – we live this with our heart and soul – Conflict of Interest Policy with your Board of Directors and Organization Founders? How is this document supported and discussed?

6. How well have you used your funding? How do you actually HELP people? What does community impact look like to you?

7. How efficiently is your organization run? What are the key investments your organizations have made in the last year?  How diverse is your Board? How do you SUPPORT your volunteers?

8. Who are your main competitors and how do your results in recent years compare to theirs? How do you reach out and collaborate with them to create a greater common good?

9. How do you express appreciation?  How do you thank people?image001CEOPerspectives15CEOPerspectives11

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What’s Your ROT – Return on Trust?.

These young lawyers are truly — everyday — the heros they are in this film. Each of them is supported by a dynamic 501 c 3 nonprofit organization, Gideon’s Promise. Gideon’s Promise trains, supports and mentors the lawyers featured in this film, and many more to be able to stay in the work. Gideon’s Promise is building a network and community for Public Defenders. However the requests to join the training far outweigh the limited resources needed to fund every DESERVING, talented and passionate young lawyer who wants to participate in the program. To learn more and to get involved go towww.gideonspromise.org. I know the folks at Gideon’s Promise would love to hear from YOU!
The Most Overworked, Underfunded ‘Army’ in American History
On Monday, HBO premiers the documentary Gideon’s Army, a searing look at the ways courts fall short on the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.Gideon’s Army Premiering ON HBO This Month. Learn more about the cause!
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