Having Fun Building Organizational Infrastructure (Really!)

Legal and Financial Oversight: Flip ChartIt’s official: Creating the Future is building its infrastructure and becoming a real live organization!

Not that our efforts haven’t been “real” so far. It’s just that we have always felt like we’ve lived in two worlds.

On the one side, we have always believed in our hearts that the Community Benefit Sector holds the keys to creating a healthy, vibrant future for our world. And yet we weren’t actually a full-fledged, tax-exempt, Community-Benefit organization ourselves. Somehow it has felt like we were looking in from the outside.

All that is changing, and we are so excited – the seat of our souls feels well-seated for the first time in a long time. Every single day we feel as if we are home.

Because we have vowed to share what we are learning along the way, we wanted to take some time to catch you up on our doings. It seems we are turning even the seemingly dull “legal and financial infrastructure issues” into tools for aiming at this organization’s fullest potential. How cool is that?

Building the Legal Infrastructure
It has been a kick so far, building this organization by transparently engaging the wisdom that is around us. One result of that effort is that we’ve found an attorney who wants to help us build that way of being into the legal infrastructure that will “be” the organization!

Ellis Carter is perhaps the most creative, innovative and knowledgeable attorney this sector could know, and we feel honored to have her guiding us in this process. Her Twitter name is @CharityLawyer and there is no more apt name (except perhaps CommunityBenefitLawyer, but that would take up almost all her 140c!) If you need both information AND wisdom, subscribe to her blog, follow her on Twitter, or better yet, hire her!

We have been working with Ellis on all it will take to file for tax exemption – describing the core purpose of Creating the Future, defining our fundraising plans, our budget.

But then there is the part that is the most exciting – the part we will be sharing over the next few months. And that is the whole issue of governance structures.

Some of what we are hoping to build into the bylaws are the answers to questions such as…

• Is it a good idea to build recruitment criteria into the bylaws, to guide future boards with some of the wisdom you all have shared at this post here? And if so, how to do that?
• How do we build into the bylaws the process of openly engaging the world at large in all major strategic decisions, as we have been doing all this year?
• How do we build into the bylaws provisions that prevent the organization from being hijacked by a powerful individual – something virtually every governance consultant has experienced, along with the sinking feeling that comes with having no choice but to helplessly watch as disaster unfolds?
• How do we ensure that core values will guide the decisions of future boards?
• And many more questions and issues that each of us has encountered in so many organizations.

As we tackle each of these issues, we will be coming to you for deep discussion (and if you have thoughts now, let’s hear them!). The result will be samples that will be freely available online, where we intend to share the final product of our own bylaws as well. After all, you will have helped create them!

Our first step in this process has already garnered 20 comments and growing – the question of what criteria we should use for recruiting board members. If you haven’t read that whole discussion – especially the comments – there is a rich resource of information, ideas and wisdom in the thoughts people have shared. Go there now and read it, or at least print it out for future reference. (Tip – if you make a brief comment, you can then click to follow as additional comments are added. With a thread like this, I would absolutely recommend that!)

Financial Infrastructure
Another brilliant mind is helping us build the financial accounting side of this organization. Carolyn Sechler doesn’t just dabble in accounting for this sector; she is the CPA to 300 organizations! She is creative and wise, and she finds deep joy in cutting straight through the BS (yeay!).

Also, she is wacky and whimsical. Yes, a wacky, whimsical accountant. Totally takes my breath away.

Carolyn is setting up the initial books for Creating the Future, and she is advising on other simple things we can do to create financial policies and other necessities. Carolyn believes in using and sharing as much free stuff as possible (you can see a ton of stuff at her site here), and so again, as we develop policies, we will be asking for your experience with these same exact issues. And then we will share back out with the world whatever we develop!

The exciting news for us, though, is that we now have an EIN number and a bank account, and yes – a PayPal account just for Creating the Future, so we can officially accept donations. And that is just in time for the projects I will be sharing in the next few days, where yes, we could use your help!

Operating Transparently
This sector has, in the past, kept discussions about finance and legal issues behind closed doors. While our experiment in operating openly is still very new, we just want to report that so far, we cannot find one good reason to hide – and we can find many many reasons to openly engage.

We hope you are learning along with us on this adventure. If you have stories to share about your own efforts at working transparently, especially when it comes to finance and legal issues, I hope you will share them here. We want to learn along with you!

4 Responses to Having Fun Building Organizational Infrastructure (Really!)

  1. Hildy,
    You asked for some ideas on the building of the CTF board. While I still haven’t a lot of time to consider the answer – sorry! – there is one obvious thing to me, and it doesn’t really fit on the board page that deals with characteristics you want/don’t want. It fits here under infrastructure. I would really encourage you to look into Community Engagement Governance™ because it fits so closely with the entire CTF philosophy. The Governance Affinity Group of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management has continued to grow the framework since you first were exposed to it. We have used it successfully with a range of different organizations around the country. As you probably remember, this is a very flexible framework.

    For those not familiar with it, the framework exists as a series of concentric circles, with community impact central to everything. The constituents are in the next circle, then the board and staff and then other stakeholders. The board functions are done across all these circles. It means that even a vendor might be making critical decisions to move the organization forward toward the highest potential. It requires that the board share its power with all those other groups – difficult for many boards to get (or should I say “be?”) – but I would think not difficult at all for CTF people. Central to all of it is things like continuous learning and strategic thinking. It’s perfectly legal, since the board’s job is to “ensure” the functions get done, not necessarily to do it.

    In the case of CTF, I would suggest a small board (the specific responsibilities of which would be determined), but to then tap the best minds from around the world to work on different functions, long-term or short-term as required. Again, we would have to determine where each decision would be made and how permeable each group would be. But this would allow you to stay true to your philosophy by gathering the information from and having the work done by the greater community as is your wont. It would also relieve you from the burden of finding “just the right people” “right now” for the board. What would be mutually beneficial, I believe, would be to have CTF actually serve as a pilot from which we could gain valuable insights.

  2. So glad to have you join the fun, Tom! I hope you’ll stay connected, as the party’s just getting started!

    And Terrie, this is SUCH good stuff. Do you have a link you can share, that gives a more in-depth look at the how-to’s of the Community Engagement Governance framework? The last I examined it was several years ago, and I’m sure it has evolved since then. Please send a link so we can all check it out!
    HG

  3. I got your message through my e mail.You really have wonderful ideas,good vision for the future.I’moptimistic that you are going to do much in the future.Leave me some times to think on how I can assisst you in this program.Write you in future