Minutes of Fourth Meeting of VINN

Thursday January 23, 2003, 3:30 – 5:30 pm
Burlington - Waste Water Treatment Facility Conference Room

1. Participating were representatives of 9 different organizations:

The following 6 members sent their regrets:
2. Networking: We welcomed new participants: Animals Asia, Vermont Law School, Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, and Vermont Teacher Diversity Scholarship Program. Everyone described some of their recent activities.

3A. Shared Information: Practical Issues – Board Building
Most members are interested in ways to make their boards more effective.
Among needs identified were:

  1. more diversity among the Board members;
  2. ways to avoid board micro-management of staff activities;
  3. the need for face-to-face meetings, though these are difficult and costly when Board members are geographically dispersed;
  4. ways that Boards can take on more responsibility and help move away from ‘founders’ syndrome’ as an organization matures
  5. balancing the demands on Board members to provide guidance and financial oversight, and the realities of individuals’ time commitments to this process

Suggestions for making boards more effective included:
  1. The importance of engaging new and current Board members more fully. This can often best be done through personal meetings, including meetings between Board and current staff members. Developing a packet of materials for new Board members, and by having an orientation procedure, were also recommended.
  2. If an NGO feels the need for new Board members, a Board-Building Matrix can be useful. Set up two columns: Mission expertise, and Means expertise. (“mission expertise” is content knowledge and contacts related to the long-term goals of the organization; “means expertise” includes knowledge and skills such as fundraising and budget management.) List the current Board members on the left-hand side, then fill in the strengths of each individual Board member. The resulting completed matrix will highlight broad areas of Board strengths and weaknesses. Recruitment of new Board members can then be planned, to fill the gaps.
  3. A Board Development Committee can be a useful way to recruit new Board members. Such a committee would communicate clear expectations to potential Board members, and develop their skills (such as reading a budget) and knowledge about the organization.
  4. The National Center for Non-Profit Boards, in Washington DC (website: www.boardsource.org) provides reference materials and links. This may be a useful starting point for Board related issues.
  5. The Vermont United Way maintains a clearinghouse for Board Members.

3B. Making VINN Minutes widely accessible – posting on website
Participants at this meeting were concerned that practical information such as the above be made available to all VINN members, including those not at the meeting. As VINN develops, we will have a wealth of give-and-take on each of our Practical Topics, which should not be lost. We have the following suggestions on the table:
A. Post the minutes from each meeting on the VINN website (currently the VINN website is at www.virtualfoundation.org/support/VINN.html)
B. All VINN members would have time to review the minutes and make corrections before anything was put on the website.
C. Whoever proposed a particular topic shares responsibility for writing up and reviewing that Shared Information topic in the minutes, with the primary minute-keeper (right now, that’s Carolyn Schmidt).
A separate poll by e-mail will be taken to see if VINN members agree or disagree with the above suggestions.
Note: Members who responded were in favor of posting the minutes on the website. So, here they are.-CS

4A. VINN Public Relations and Publicity – International Theme Dinner / Events

1. VINN’s purpose in organizing any public event was reaffirmed as primarily awareness-education – concerning the activities of VINN members specifically, publicity about the existence of VINN as an organization, and the importance of international connections for Vermonters generally.

2. Given the relatively long-term time frame and demands of planning a major dinner, the group decided that in the near future (next three-six months) we should concentrate on a dispersed, decentralized model of public outreach activities rather than one large dinner event. The idea is, sooner rather than later.

3. Our goal is to participate in at least four events this year (2003), each event to be organized by VINN members in a particular regional area. The working idea is to co-sponsor an international event (such as a visiting speaker) with a local university. This would establish a VINN presence. VINN members would attend, and would each bring a friend who is not yet involved with international issues. Introducing people to international affairs through the work of their local NGOs has good potential for expanding the scope of international interest among Vermonters. VINN members attending the event would be available to discuss their organizations and the work of VINN on an informal basis after the event (at a dinner or reception, for example).

4. What VINN has to offer such institutions: connections with the world of international non-profit activities (as opposed to academic research); possible internships with VINN members for students.

5. Possibilities:

6. DINNER: Overwhelmingly members indicated public awareness/education as the most important purpose for any VINN event. As one questionnaire respondent put it: “I really feel that education of the public as to the importance of NGOs in Vermont is vitally important. We especially need to make clear how internationally focused NGOs contribute both culturally and financially to the State.” .If we did hold a VINN dinner, items members considered “very valuable” in organizing a VINN-sponsored dinner were: speaker of state-wide (rather than national) prominence, display tables/booths set up on lobby area before dinner (not 3-minute presentations by each VINN member) and cost kept below $25/person in order to be as inclusive as possible

Those present were a bit divided about the potential value and scope of a VINN-Sponsored Dinner. The publicity impact and morale boost of having a large dinner need to be balanced against the risks of committing time, energy and money to a single event. Members present at this meeting supported the decentralized alternative for getting going soon on specific public outreach events. This does not in any way exclude the large dinner originally envisioned, but it postpones specific planning for it to a later time.

4B. VINN Publicity - Brochure
The dinner / event discussion reaffirmed the need for materials about VINN to hand out. Specifically, we focused on starting with a tri-fold color brochure which would explain VINN’s mission, and include brief descriptions and contact information for each member. Meg Harris from Salzburg Seminar will price lay-out and printing costs. The suggestion was made that we divide up the costs among all VINN members (organizations who want to be listed in the brochure, and are willing to contribute to cover the cost). We will get a separate e-mail message out to all members once we have the estimates.

4C. VINN Publicity – Incorporating mention of VINN in members’ own publicity ECOLOGIA included a mention of VINN in its December display ads in Seven Days. – at the bottom in small print: “ECOLOGIA is a member of VINN (Vermont International Non-Profit Network).” Including such mentions when appropriate is a no-cost way of getting the word out about VINN’s existence.

5. Financing for VINN Activities

  1. The Wyndham Foundation turned down our request for funding for $10,000 to cover one year’s communications, printing and staffing expenses. We do not have any other proposals out at this time.
  2. Freeman Foundation might be interested in supporting VINN public education/outreach events when we can have very specific planned events to describe.
  3. The question of an annual VINN membership fee of $50 was raised, but not voted on at this time.
  4. Brochure financing could be covered by dividing up the total cost by those organizations wanting to participate and to be included in the brochure.
6. Next meeting – Monday April 7th, 4 – 6 pm at the Salzburg Seminar, Middlebury. Tel. 388-0007 (detailed driving directions will be sent closer to the time).

7. Tentative Agenda for April 7th Meeting

  1. Networking/introductions
  2. Shared information – Practical Issues (Topic A: the challenge of fundraising for international programs; Topic B: challenges for organizations in transition (NGOs starting up, or engaged in a major shift of personnel or funding streams).Topic B was chosen be members who responded by e-mail - CS
  3. Shared information – Regional Focus – China (continued)
  4. Plans for Brochure
  5. Progress Reports on events co-sponsored / organized by various VINN members locally
  6. Planning for future events
  7. New Items
  8. Schedule next meeting