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  • Mon, November 20, 2017 10:14 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    It’s ‘fundraising time’ in most Down syndrome associations. Of course, it’s also ‘budget time’ and ‘awareness time’ and ‘planning for the new year time’.  So, with all of that going on, why am I writing about customer service? Because it is ALWAYS ‘Customer Service Time’. And over the past year, I’ve been worried that some DSAs might not even be aware that precious communications and needs requests are not being addressed.

    Let me elaborate: DSAIA receives a call from a leader asking for contact information for a fellow DS support group. The conversation goes like this:

    Caller: “Hey, do you have another contact number or email for [Insert DSA name here]?

    DSAIA: “You mean, you think you have incorrect information from our directory?”

    Caller: “No, I’m going right off their website. I can’t get anyone to return my call or email and I have a family who's moving to that area. I wanted to get them introduced but now I’m starting to worry about the services they’ll get if I can’t even get someone to call me back.”

    DSAIA: “That is something to worry about, for sure. Let me see if I have any personal contact info for any of their leadership.”

    Yeah, I know. It is troubling. Now, this is not the only instance but just one that I’m recalling in enough detail to paraphrase the conversation. Which leads me back to a breakout session that Joe Meares and I presented quite a few times at the annual leadership conference and at NDSC’s LEAD pre-con. It was called Customer Service. For many, we just associate that term with for-profit businesses but you have to put it in the context that Joe and I did: it’s being responsive to your constituents (customers) and making sure that you are easily-accessible (phone/email/etc.) and that their needs are being met (resources at the ready, information available, access to programs).

    In response to this issue that keeps popping up within the community, I’ve decided to revisit that topic in an upcoming podcast. I hope you’ll join me as I discuss “customer service” in respect to operating as a Down syndrome association. And if you want to test your DSA's customer service, take this Customer Care Questionnaire and let us know how your organization measures up!

    Search STACKS for our customer services resources, including our archived presentation from NDSC.

  • Mon, November 06, 2017 12:52 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Jay Wilkinson, Firespring CEO

    The Overhead Myth: The idea that you can reasonably evaluate a nonprofit’s performance and trustworthiness by only looking at how much they spend (or don't spend) on overhead, including operating costs, administrative expenses and technology costs.

    No doubt you’ve heard about this, and like many good nonprofit leaders, have done your best to refute it. It’s dubbed a myth for good reason.

    Yet most nonprofits feel pressured to do as much as possible with as little as possible when it comes to running their organization. The Overhead Myth still exists, and donors still scrutinize nonprofits, wondering what percentage of their gift actually goes toward the “cause.” As if dollars that support infrastructure don’t also support the mission.

    Today, with continually evolving technology and marketing channels, it's crucial to invest in your brand, digital presence, community engagement efforts and fundraising tools. Not just once, but regularly. We may not always want to spend money on overhead costs, but if we didn’t, we’d end up with archaic communication tools and a website that looks like 2005 (which is not okay if you want to appear current and relevant today).

    Why do nonprofits struggle with this? Because of the stigma of operating costs. Donors want to believe every dollar they give goes directly to the people who need it—straight to your mission. They forget that helping the cause doesn’t happen if you don’t have a healthy enough organization to deliver.

    How can you help your donors and dispel the overhead myth? Be transparent about questions like these:

    1.       What are typical administrative costs for most nonprofits? Anything necessary to keep the organization running. Without them, we’d have more money to give to our cause, yes. But we wouldn’t have an effective organization to support the cause. Administrative costs include staff salaries, IT setup and maintenance, training, leadership development, strategic planning, marketing, PR and the like.

    2.       Why has overhead been viewed so negatively in the nonprofit sector? Organizations are required to show on their Form 990 how they allocate administrative, fundraising and program expenses. Donors see that and ask, “How do my dollars actually help save shelter animals or feed the hungry?” They judge an organization by the percentage of administrative costs out of the total expenses the nonprofit has for the year, or the overhead ratio. “Overhead” has become a dirty word.

    3.       How should donors and nonprofits more appropriately view overhead costs? An example in a popular 2013 TED Talk about the Overhead Myth was this: You can run a bake sale and earn $75 with no overhead. Or you can spend $200 on a radio campaign, reach more people and bring in $500 while increasing your exposure and donor base. Why is it wrong to spend more if you end up better off?

    If you don’t pay for a good accountant, you won’t have adequate controls and the possibility of fraud is higher. If your IT system isn’t current, you’ll be limited by outdated technology and waste time doing things you could automate. If you don’t budget for new ways to raise awareness (SEO or SEM, anyone?), you’ll gain fewer new supporters.

    The truth is, the attitude of “do more with less” often doesn’t allow you to do much. Of course you want to make wise financial decisions and get the most value for your money. But many administrative costs are not expenses, per se—they’re investments. By allocating money toward the right things, you invest in your brand’s reach, influence, donor base and long-term planning.

    So, the “overhead truth” is this: Investing wisely in the right areas allows you to reach more people and create more impact, not waste more money.

    This is so important to consider as you plan your budget for the coming year and decide how to best allocate your funds. What will provide you with the best ROI and most effectively move the needle on fundraising? I would suggest starting with these five areas:

    1.       Your digital presence. Your website is your prime piece of online real estate. You probably have one, but how old is it? Does it look current? Are you able to update content? Is it mobile responsive, which is crucial now that people access the web more on their phones than their PCs? Does it cater to your community and allow them to do things like register for events and make online donations? This is important if you want to remain relevant in 2018 and beyond. Your website is not a “one and done” deal. It should be an evolving marketing tool—your most important one, in fact.

    2.       Community cultivation marketing efforts. Think email marketing, donor management, social media marketing, direct mail—anything that keeps you in touch with your constituents and fosters better communication and relationships. You can automate and personalize much of these efforts if you have the right tools, saving you precious time, and you’ll reap benefits for years by investing wisely in donor relationships.

    3.       Fundraising tools. The ability to take online donations is a must-have, but even beyond that, consider your donors’ giving experience: Do you take them to a third-party site in order to make a donation, or can they donate seamlessly right on your site where you have the opportunity to engage with them and draw them further into your organization’s story? Crowdfunding is another valuable fundraising tool your nonprofit may benefit from—have you researched platforms and how this form of fundraising could effectively move the needle? Investing in the right tools can both bring in more dollars and make giving easier for your supporters.

    4.       SEM/SEO efforts. SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) are often confused, but they’re slightly different. SEO is about driving traffic to your website organically through higher search rankings. SEM increases your website’s visibility through organic search engines results and advertising. SEM includes SEO as well as paid search. They both have this in common: They get your website noticed. You can have a brilliant website, but if you don’t invest in visibility and drive traffic to it, it’ll be brilliant alone.

    5.       Brand updates. This includes your logo, brand colors, website design, marketing materials—anything that conveys your nonprofit’s look and messaging. In order to stay relevant, it’s important to stay current, and that includes the way your brand looks and feels. Investing in your brand is a non-negotiable if you want potential donors to see you as an organization that’s worth supporting.

    This is not easy, and I want you to know that I feel your pain. Allocating your funds in a way that provides the best ROI can be a challenge, especially when you’re doing so under the watchful eye of your constituent base. At Firespring, we get you and we’re up for the challenge. We’ve been serving nonprofits for nearly 20 years, and we’ve learned how to help nonprofits make a bigger impact without blowing their budgets.

    The best news: As a member of DSAIA, you can benefit from Firespring’s services for even less through our preferred partner program. Investing in your organization’s capacity to raise money and engage supporters could be the wisest decision you make this year.

    About Jay Wilkinson

    Jay Wilkinson has been actively involved in the nonprofit community his entire life. He sits on the board of several nonprofits and is an avid supporter of programs that provide leadership and enrichment programs for America’s youth. As a philanthropist, Jay has raised millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations. As an educator, he has trained thousands of fundraisers, marketers and nonprofit executives and has appeared on CNN and other national news outlets discussing the important role nonprofits play in the U.S. economy.

    Jay is the founder and CEO of Firespring—a company that provides beautiful websites and essential tools to nonprofit organizations. Firespring helps nonprofits raise money, manage donors, organize volunteers and conduct events while presenting a powerful and professional online presence. Firespring is proud to be the first B-Corporation in Nebraska and is on a quest to transform the business landscape by encouraging all companies to leverage their people and profit as a force for good.

  • Mon, October 30, 2017 10:05 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Blog by Deanna Tharpe, Executive Director

    As the hashtag #metoo trends and more of my friends and colleagues are posting it as their status, I felt disheartened. I also took some time for reflection on my experiences in the workplace as well as in social settings. I hate to say it, but I actually looked up the definition of sexual harassment according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

    I won't bore you with the policy language word-for-word but to summarize, it is unlawful to harass a person in a sexual nature of make gender-based offensive remarks. And harassment is ILLEGAL when the frequency creates a hostile workplace. 

    So, yes, I’ve had comments made that made me feel uncomfortable. I never felt like my job was in jeopardy. I’ve openly spoken about it to other employees and supervisors (if there was anyone above me in that situation). I realize now how that I might be in the minority. However, I have been the subject of sexual (or gender) discrimination. I was once told (outright) that I could not hold a top-level position in a company because (and he chuckled as he said it) “you’re a woman.” 

    Personally, I hope that all of this attention will empower women (AND MEN) to speak out about sexual harassment and that it’s not something we just “live with” because it happens all the time.

    Professionally, I’d like to take a moment to encourage your organization to adopt a harassment policy (if you don’t already have one in place). If you need an example, I think DSAIA’s is very robust and I’m happy to share it outside of S.T.A.C.K.S., our members’ only resource library. One more thing about adopting policies such as these: Make sure your employees, your incoming board members, and your volunteers all are aware of its existence. That doesn’t mean “here’s the list of policies” but rather that you mention these types of policies in particular (such as your Whistleblower Policy) and help them to understand that you back them up with action.

    To download the DSAIA Harassment Policy, click here.

  • Mon, September 25, 2017 10:12 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Sandy Rees,

    “What do I do?”

    This question came a few days ago from a client.

    We’ve been working for months on a new virtual fundraiser for her global nonprofit, planning to hold the event September 30 (less than 3 weeks away).

    And in the past few days… a major hurricane-- on top of another major hurricane, brutal wildfires out west, an earthquake in Mexico, and thousands left homeless and hurting.

    It’s a good question.

    I know she’s not the only one with a fundraising activity coming up, so I thought I’d share my response with you, too.


    Fundraising options following a disaster

    If your nonprofit’s mission is to provide services after a disaster, this is your time to shine. Show lots of photos and videos of your team in action and ask for support. Remind people this recovery is going to take a while and you’ll need their support for months to come.

    All other nonprofits, proceed cautiously.  

    After a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey or Irma, you have two choices: you can choose business as usual, or you can choose to pause your fundraising.

    It really depends on your situation and where you’re located.

    If you’re not in an area affected by the disaster, you might wait a few days to a couple of weeks after the disaster happens, then move ahead with your plans. The eyes of the world stay on the affected area for a while, and if you’re promoting your bowling night while people are being rescued from flooded homes, you’ll look insensitive. it’s a judgement call as to when to proceed with promoting your event, but I recommend waiting just a bit.

    If you are in an affected area, it might be best to wait or postpone your activities at least until the initial emergency is over. Even then, proceed cautiously. You still need to raise money for your nonprofit, but again, you don’t want to come across as insensitive. There’s a fine line between being selfish and staying true to your mission, and this is your time to figure it out.

    If your organization serves those affected by the disaster (after school programs, food pantries, legal aid, etc.), you have a valid reason to tie in the emergency and say “Those we serve will need us now more than ever following Hurricane Harvey…”.

    If your nonprofit doesn’t serve people with basic needs, you should be very careful about tying in the disaster to your fundraising. Don’t jump on the “me too” bandwagon. Better to be real and authentic than trying to stretch things too far because you’re trying to tie in the hurricanes. If you’re having to try that hard to ask for money, you have a bigger messaging problem!

    Here are some tips that might help you as you start raising money following a natural disaster.


    4 tips for raising money after a disaster


    1. Be sensitive. 

    It’s not a good idea to ask for money while the death toll is still rising. Understand that people are suffering and lives may still be at risk, and your donors may frown on an email from you promoting your upcoming event while they’re still feeling the initial shock from the devastation.


    2. Stay focused. 

    When you decide to move forward with your fundraising activities, don’t give part of your donations to the disaster victims (unless that’s your mission). It dilutes your brand and can confuse people. Trust me - they’ve got plenty of opportunities to support nonprofits doing boots-on-the-ground work. You don’t need to send money to support recovery efforts.


    3. Adjust as needed. 

    You may need to tweak your timeline just a bit to give folks a chance to emotionally recover from the disaster. Compassion fatigue is a real thing and people do start to numb out after days on end of hearing about the devastation. If you’re not sure how folks are feeling, ask. Survey some of your donors to find out what they think and how they feel. If 3 of your top donors think you should wait a little longer before you hold your big fundraiser, then you might want to seriously consider that.


    4. Know your audience. 

    This is the cornerstone piece of advice for nearly all of fundraising. Most people will donate in some capacity to support recovery efforts from a major disaster. We all feel the tug on the heartstrings when we see the video of the people slogging through the flooded streets with babies in their arms, having just lost everything. Knowing your donors and how likely they are to stay glued to the media in the wake of the disaster will help you judge the right time to resume your fundraising.


    Back to the original question my client asked: What do I do?

    Honestly, she was still finishing up the registration page on her website for the event, so we weren’t ready to go live yet anyway. She decided to wait a few days and is now slowly starting to let people know about the event and how they can get involved. It’s a fun, feel-good event, and I think people are ready for something like that in the wake of all the sadness, so I think she’ll be fine.

    Back to the original question my client asked: What do I do? 

    Honestly, she was still finishing up the registration page on her website for the event, so we weren’t ready to go live yet anyway. She decided to wait a few days and is now slowly starting to let people know about the event and how they can get involved. It’s a fun, feel-good event, and I think people are ready for something like that in the wake of all the sadness, so I think she’ll be fine. 

    Other Advice 

    I asked some of my colleagues what they are telling their clients. Here’s what a couple of them said: 

    Marc Pitman of 

    If you're not in an affected area: 
    (1) Stop if you feel you must - use the time to thank donors. 
    (2) Be confident in asking - and respectful. The devastation is real yet 
    your nonprofit's work is still needed. (I wouldn't tie it to "10% of your 
    money goes to hurricane relief" - that seems odd.)

    In 20 years of economic busts and natural disasters, the knee-jerk 
    reaction seems to be to under-value your own work and to stop 
    fundraising because it feels "selfish" or "wrong." But the reality is 
    the groups that get stronger out of recessions or disasters keep some 
    level of fundraising going throughout. 

    Carrie Rice of 

    While I know everyone's thoughts are on other things (hurricanes, 9/11) right now, the organization still needs support now and in the future. While 
    I hope donors will be generous in relation to what's happening in the 
    world, they also need to consider their own backyard. It's not either/or, 
    it's stretching a little more this year to help both a local community 
    benefit org and to try to help with these disasters. 

    I believe that is the crux of it all – the world isn’t asking your donors to stop giving to you and only give to disaster recovery efforts. It’s about giving just a bit more and support your work AND helping those recovering from the crisis.


    Reprinted with permission.

    Check out the latest and greatest from Sandy's GetFullyFunded blog:

    4 Ways to Spice Up Your Fall Fundraising Appeal

    5 Things You Should Never Write in a Thank-You Letter

    Fundraising Lessons From the Inspired Fundraising Retreat

  • Tue, September 12, 2017 10:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Heather Sachs

    Chris Rodriguez and I are personally familiar with the challenges and expenses of having a family member with a significant disability, and the barriers to saving money in their name. When my daughter Leah (who has Down syndrome) was born 12 years ago, we were shocked when our attorney told us that we needed to write her out of our will and not put any funds in her name, as saving more than $2,000 in assets could disqualify her government benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Chris has experienced the unfairness of these barriers to saving from a sibling perspective. His brother TJ has a significant intellectual disability, and he has watched his parents struggle all his life to meet his brother’s needs while carefully avoiding saving “too much” money in TJ’s name so that he could receive Medicaid and SSI, among other benefits.  Chris and I are both on a personal mission to address this unfairness in the government benefits system.


    Chris is the Executive Director of the ABLE National Resource Center (ANRC), and I am the ANRC’s Senior ABLE Advisor. We have worked together with the rest of the disability community for years to create an easy, affordable savings mechanism where people with disabilities and their families could actually save for the future without jeopardizing public benefits. In December 2014, these efforts were realized when the Stephen Beck, Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (PL 113-295) was passed at the federal level. Chris and I have worked tirelessly over the past few years to help over 48 states pass state versions of the ABLE Act and to provide support and guidance to over two dozen of these states to set up their own ABLE programs.


    Now that ABLE accounts are available nationwide and there are many options from which to choose, we are focusing on educating the public about ABLE accounts – what they are, who qualifies for one, what the funds in the account can be used for, and how to choose the ABLE program that is right for you. The ANRC’s recent nationwide ABLE awareness campaign, #ABLEtoSave, saturated the nation with information about ABLE, yet there is always more education to be done. 

    We invite you to join us for our webinar that DSAIA is co-hosting with the National Down Syndrome Congress entitled “ABLE Accounts: People with Down Syndrome are Finally ABLE to Save for the Future,” on Thursday September 17, 2017 at both 1:00pm ET and 8:00pm ET. The webinars will be identical, except that Heather Sachs will be featured on the 1:00pm one and Chris Rodriguez will be leading the 8:00pm one. Register for the one that best fits your schedule at

  • Thu, August 10, 2017 9:33 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Last month, I flew 2,500 miles from Baltimore to Sacramento, Calif., to attend my first NDSC Annual Convention... as an exhibitor, representing DSAIA. (Full disclosure: this was only my second convention, and I was so happy to be back.) Exhibiting at NDSC can prove challenging because the attendees - mostly family members and self-advocates - are not DSAIA's typical audience. Yes, there are DSA leaders in attendance, but they can be few and far between. So this year, instead of addressing just our leaders' niche, we took our message to the grassroots to show the abundance of amazing local Down syndrome support in nearly every corner of the country.

    NDSC attendees were drawn to our booth by a giant U.S. map generously dotted with the names of DSAIA's 80 member organizations. We encouraged passers-by to find their local DSA on the map, and mark their community with a pin as part of the #PinIt2WinIt challenge (obvious objective: most pins wins). At the end of the exhibition Saturday afternoon, nearly 300 people showed their love for their local DSAs. Cities and communities across the country colorfully erupted with pinheads representing the collective outpouring of support. Two DSAs, Down Syndrome Connection of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley Down Syndrome Network, emerged as the leaders of the #PinIt2WinIt challenge, and both organizations each received a comped registration to the DSAIA Leadership Conference in February. Congratulations!

    As more and more people visited our booth, I noticed a disturbing trend: the vast number of people who either didn't have a local support group nearby or didn't know their DSA. I didn't see any particular area most affected - the trend traveled more or less across the map. In many cases, we were able to introduce the families to the DSA that served their communities. It felt incredibly satisfying to guide a new parent to their home DSA, which also just happened to be a neighboring exhibitor - instant gratification! DSAIA is also proud to have on its website what we believe to be the most comprehensive listing of local DSAs around the U.S. Because we directly serve the local Down syndrome organizations and their leaders, we want to be known as THE place where people find and gain access to the DSA that serves them and their Down syndrome community.

    For some map pinners, a local Down syndrome support group was far from "local," showing the ever important and continuous need to foster leadership in communities with little or no local and direct support for Down syndrome. Our leaders have done an amazing job creating and growing local support groups that number in the 300s - it's an extraordinary feat evident by the hundreds of thousands currently served by Down syndrome affiliates. It's all the more reason we must continue our mission to increase the organizational capacities of all our DSAs - from the million dollar clubbers and seasoned associations to the nascent collectives and the passion of one. Because we all have the same mission for Down syndrome - and our vision is to make your mission come true.

  • Thu, July 13, 2017 7:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By: Deanna Tharpe, Executive Director, DSAIA

    I just moved back to Texas and guess what I did tonight!  

    I killed a snake.

    Ok, I ran over a snake with my car.

    Ok, I'm pretty sure I killed it.

    I mean, I think I killed it. It looked pretty dead in my rearview mirror.

    And what does that have to do with DSA leadership?  Just give me a few minutes. I promise, I do have the navigation on. Plus, I told Catherine McDonnell-Forney of DSA of Minnesota I could write a blog post on this topic.

    Think of the snake as that part of your job that is scary, repulsive, and maybe sometimes even can sneak up on you. You totally just run over that task with your "car" and leave it writhing on that Texas country road, hoping that it really is "dead" or completed to a point that it won't be bothering you again anytime soon. Hey, maybe it just slithered off and now it's someone else's problem.

    So, is it wrong to run over that snake and cross your fingers it is out of your life? No, we all face issues or job duties that we just have to address quickly and move on. But we can't go through our days in our organization doing this every time a task rears its ugly head...hissing at us.

    I know - you think I'm just talking to staff. Oh no! Board members are guilty of this as well. For every time a staff member doesn't update a database completely or hastily codes the bookkeeping entries for the accountant, there is a board member who only tried to make that member call one time or really only talked to that potential donor or board member once (and then drove off hoping that snake was dead).

    So, I ran over a snake. I think it's dead. But to be honest, I'm really not sure.

    But our duties as DSA leaders are NOT copperheads or rattlesnakes or water moccasins (Catherine stops me at this point and asks again why I moved back here). No, they are not. So no matter how badly we want to wipe our forehead and drive on to a more enjoyable activity, it's worth it to take the time to do it right.

    This is the craziest blog post I have ever written. I hope you are both appalled and impressed by it. 

  • Fri, June 16, 2017 9:28 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Laura Hathaway, Down Syndrome Guild of Southeast Michigan

    Why become DSAIA accredited? Great question! You will be asking yourself this a few times during the DSAIA accreditation process. And, your reasons will change. We started with "because it looks really good to prospective DSGSEMI members, potential endowment funders, grant makers, and individual/ corporate donors". It makes a difference in their eyes when Down Syndrome Affiliates in Action, a well-respected national organization, recognizes you as having differentiated yourself among its members. In retrospect, that's just the tip of the iceberg. The real benefits go far deeper.

    Accreditation requires the thoughtful examination of every aspect of your organization from both a human and a business perspective. Are you doing the right things for those you serve in the right organizational way? It's a balancing act. One that will continue long after your initial evaluation. Perhaps, it is more accurate to say that "becoming accredited" is not a single event but rather an intrinsic change to the lens through which you view your organization and, consequently, to your future decision making.

    I have an outstanding board and ED. Really. I could not have asked for more committed or more brilliant traveling companions. Our year long accreditation journey required each and every one of them to bring "IT" to the table. Finance and insurance, human resources and organizational development, marketing and public relations, non-profit management and resource expansion, technology and security, and, advocacy in every sense of the word. That's the true value of the accreditation process.

    My passionate stakeholders seized the accreditation's opportunities to collaborate and to create a more sustainable DSGSEMI that thinks long-term as well as efficiently manages its day-to-day operations. That's the desire that initially brought them to the DSGSEMI. It's not a bad legacy either.

  • Thu, June 01, 2017 9:39 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Written by Deanna Tharpe, DSAIA Executive Director

    If your board meetings are so long that you fear you will lose board members because of them….then you have a problem.  Ask yourself these two questions:

    1. Are we meeting often enough?
    2. Do we (as a board) have THAT much business to handle?

    If your board meetings are spanning hours and you are meeting quarterly…maybe it’s time to move to a monthly or bi-monthly meeting schedule.  But more often than not, that is not really the issue.  That is when we move to the second question.  Do you really have that much business to handle….OR…are you perhaps spending too much time on committee business?

    Solution: Consider moving toward a consent agenda.  What is a consent agenda?  A consent agenda, sometimes called a consent "calendar," is a component of a meeting agenda that enables the board to group routine items and resolutions under one umbrella.

    As the name implies, there is a general agreement on the procedure.  Issues in this consent package do not need any discussion before a vote. Unless a board member feels that an item should be discussed and requests the removal of that item ahead of time, the entire package is voted on at once without any additional explanations or comments.

    Because no questions or comments on these items are allowed during the meeting, this procedure saves time.  Routine, standard, non-controversial, and self-explanatory are adjectives that well describe consent agenda items. The following are some examples.

    • Committee and previous board meeting minutes
    • Office reports
    • Routine correspondence
    • Minor changes in a procedure (E-mail is added as an acceptable method of communication to announce a change in a meeting schedule)
    • Routine revisions of a policy (Changes in dates or dollar amounts due to changes in laws)
    • Updating documents (Address change for the main office)
    • Standard contracts that are used regularly (Confirmation of using the traditional in-house contract with a new vendor)
    • Confirmation of conventional actions that are required in the bylaws (Signatory authority for a bank account or acceptance of gifts)

    As a single item on the agenda, the consent agenda is voted on with a single vote - to approve the consent agenda. The key to the Consent Agenda’s effectiveness, though, is that there is NO DISCUSSION of that item! That’s right. All those things that would have taken 2 minutes here, 5 minutes there, 1 minute here - they are off the table in one vote. The vote sounds like this:


    I move to approve the consent agenda.


    I’ll second that motion.


    There is a motion and a second to approve the consent agenda. All in favor, signify by saying “Aye.”

    That’s it. NO  discussion. And all those items that previously took ½ hour or more have now all been approved.

    Because there will be no discussion of these items individually, using a consent agenda requires that board materials be provided in plenty of time  - at least seven days - for board members to read them all. AND it requires that they read those materials!

    Seems easy enough, right?  But, wait, you say…..put our committee reports in the consent agenda and NOT have a 45-minute discussion on the color of our walk shirt?  Yes.  Let your committees do committee work!  See…there is usually the big issue.  So, 3rd question:  Are you micromanaging your committees?  If you are having 3-hour board meetings, you probably are.  Even in a small organization with no staff and small board, you have to create committees and then let them do their job.  The board provides oversight and direction.  (This is a whole different blog post in itself so look for it later!) 

    So, what if you see something in a committee report that makes you uncomfortable or you have questions about?  Questions are answered prior to the meeting.  If you disagree or feel that an issue requires further discussion, then pull that item from the Consent Agenda and put it on the regular agenda to discuss.  It’s not lock-down….it’s a tool to make your board meetings more productive.  Because you should be spending time on oversight and direction and not on the color of your walk shirts.  Trust me…you’ll thank me later when your board meetings drop to a reasonable time period and your board turnover drops.

    You can institute a consent agenda at your next board meeting. Use this consent agenda proposal.

  • Thu, May 18, 2017 10:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    For the last two years I’ve served as board president of the Chesapeake Down Syndrome Parent Group in Baltimore. I transitioned into the position closer to three years ago from a burned-out president who was more than ready to move on. He asked me as vice president to take on more of the president’s duties so I could get acquainted with the roles and responsibilities of the position. When I started writing the agendas and leading the meetings, he started checking out. Don’t get me wrong, my predecessor is a great guy who led the board with fervor and determination for a long time, so I understand that when he got his chance to take a break, he made a break for it.

    At the time of his early departure, I was not intimidated or overwhelmed. I was ready to take the helm. I had ideas and a passion for the mission and charged to inspire our leaders and volunteers to do great things for Down syndrome.

    It’s two and a half years later, and I’m nearing my exit. I think I’ve been an effective leader, and I’ve had a lot of fun. But I’m also tired and want to move on to other things (like being director of membership and marketing for DSAIA). When I took the position in 2015, I knew I wanted to serve only two one-year terms. At the time, Chesapeake was an all-volunteer association and the commitment is extremely time consuming. I saw countless past board members burn out after their many, many years of service, and never return as a volunteer. This was not going to be me.

    I started to search for the next president at least a year before my time was up. Every board member who I thought could successfully transition into the president position received my best pitch. Not an iota of interest. Some board members (like the ones who said no to president) encouraged me – even begged – to stay on one more year. But I held true to my initial commitment. I didn’t believe anything was going to change in that year that would inspire one of our leaders to emerge as president. Plus I wanted to stay on good terms with my family.

    About two months before my term would end in June 2017, I made a last-ditch call to an incredibly qualified candidate: a board member who had only been on the board for less than a year but a long history with the Chesapeake Down Syndrome as well as in leadership outside the organization. I made my pitch. I was going to convince this guy no matter what that he was the best person for the job. There was silence. And he finally said “I was actually waiting for you to contact me about this.” Needless to say, he took the job.

    I’m just weeks away from stepping down, and I’m actively working with our incoming president to inform him of important issues, go over protocols, share some dirty laundry and of course answer his myriad of questions. I have committed to stay on the board as immediate past president, to further help our new president step up with energy and confidence as well as take on a couple of small board development projects. My previous transition experience has certainly influenced my involvement in this transition. My presidency has been marked by many accomplishments and met goals, but I know I could have been even more focused and effective if I had access to continued guidance and support of the past president.

    >>> Do you have your own transition story? Are you anticipating a transition at your association? Need to vent about a transition gone wrong? <<<

    On Wednesday, May 24 at 8 p.m. ET, DSAIA member leaders will be talking transition during the Topical Call: Dealing with Board/Staff Transitions. 

    REGISTER NOW to guarantee a spot on the call because space is limited. Topical Calls are for DSAIA Members ONLY and will not be recorded or be available in the listening archive.

I want to tell you what WONDERFUL time I had at the conference. I learned so much and came away with lots of ideas for our organization. -Barb Waddle, The Upside of Downs of Northeast Ohio


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