Posts Tagged ‘boards’

PODCAST: Great fundraising boards start with your nominating committee

I had the pleasure of interviewing William Mott this week via webcast for our CausePlanet readers. Mott’s new book The Board Game uses fictional characters to tell the relatable story of a new school president and his working relationships with the board of directors. Though the president’s perspective, Mott helps you recognize the red flags in working with a board and presents proven tools to overcome them.

So, if you’re not a business book reader, you’ll find Mott’s fictional approach an enjoyable read and a painless way to get smarter about optimizing your board relationships.

Creating synergy between the board, chair and CEO is one of the most challenging aspects of our jobs as nonprofit leaders, according to Mott. What’s more, cultivating great leadership at the board level has bottom-line implications. A U.S. Trust study found among high net-worth donors, one of the top determinants of where they contribute money is respect for the organization’s leadership.

During the interview, one of our attendees asked, “I would love suggestions on how to motivate a small nonprofit board to apply their leadership and creativity—especially to fundraising.  How can I encourage this behavior with my board?” Here’s what Bill Mott had to say (podcast).

Join us for our next author interview on April 25 with fundraising expert and author, Cheryl Clarke, who will discuss her latest edition of Storytelling for Grantseekers.

See also:

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

The Nonprofit Leadership Team: Building the Board-Executive Director Partnership

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Finding common ground with your board chair

We’ve all been there. You’ve done the due diligence and checked all the boxes. You’re ready to take the plunge in a new direction and the board chair or a board member is standing in the way of progress.

Unfortunately, board chairs and members don’t present their obstruction to progress in a consistent way—their unwanted behavior comes in all shapes and sizes. If you’re like me, some of these situations keep you up at night as you try to solve the problems in your head. Right about now you could use the input of someone who’s already been through your particular situation.

Author William Mott has assembled numerous real board leadership scenarios in the form of one compelling and relatable story to engage the nonprofit leader in each one of us. There are many books and articles about governance. Mott’s purpose with The Board Game is to take the road less traveled by telling the story of David Andrews and how he coped with and eventually came to terms with his unfortunately common circumstances. You will identify with Andrews and discover red flags and their solutions right along with him.

In my interview with Bill, I asked him about problems stemming from the board chair as well as the most persistent problems that should be tackled first.

CausePlanet: Many of David Andrews’ problems stemmed from the board chair. Is there any recourse for CEOs who find the chair is standing in the way of progress?

Mott: One of the central themes is this issue of conflict between the CEO (in this case, the president of a school) and the board chair. All too often this is the case. Because of the structure of nonprofit organizations, it is very difficult to work around the chair.

The key is to try to communicate, collaborate and find common ground on which to move forward. What is it that you have in common or agree upon? Begin there and build on that. Depending on the agenda and the attitude of the chair, this may or may not be possible. One of the ways in which recourse can occur is to have some influence before the next chair steps in. The transition from one chair to the next is often overlooked by organizations. They don’t understand the consequences when there is a weak board chair attempting to lead the board.

CausePlanet: CEOs sometimes face a myriad of challenges with their boards. Are there certain types of problems that trump others and should be dealt with first?

Mott: The biggest problems are usually ones involving a lack of communication. Then that leads to a confusion of roles and responsibilities. The board’s role is to focus on mission, strategy, policy and planning. However, boards will slip into an operational mindset in which they believe it is their role to micromanage those given that responsibility, the CEO and senior leadership. This can mean the difference between living out your mission or going out of existence!

If you are seeking the strongest possible partnership, then you must have collaboration, respect, trust, shared vision, support and a great attitude. If these elements are given priority then most anything is possible. If they are absent, then struggles will ensue. It begins with communication and trust!

CausePlanet members: Register for our live author interview with Bill Mott on Wed, March 27 at 11 a.m. CST.

Not a member yet? Find out more.

See also:

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

The Nonprofit Leadership Team: Building the Board-Executive Director Partnership


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Get in the game and out of committee work

If you’re like me, you love a good story. And if you’re not a business book reader, you may have found your match in our new feature: William Mott’s The Board Game: A Story of Hope and Inspiration for CEOs and Governing Boards uses fictional characters to teach us about board leadership through great storytelling. The Board Game applies real life experiences to help you recognize red flags and employ useful tools when engaging the board, chair and CEO.

In each chapter, the story progresses candidly with its main character, David Andrews, who takes his first position as the head of a school, trying to muddle his way through relationships with the board. As readers we are privy to his all-too-realistic and sometimes painful challenges many of us will also face when attempting to align the board, chair and CEO. Mott uses the plot to provide us with teachable moments and guiding principles while attempting to prevent us from actually enduring some of the struggles ourselves.

Author Bill Mott concentrates on the single most important component of successful nonprofit organizations: the relationship between the CEO, the board chair and the governing board. He acknowledges, “To be successful, this demands a high level of trust, leadership, collaborative thinking and extensive cooperation.”

In my interview with Bill, I asked him about the common challenge we all share with boards that get mired in committee work at the expense of more visionary efforts. Here is what he had to say:


Have you observed CEOs who’ve successfully helped boards rise above committee work and delve into the organization’s vision and direction? If so, what did they do?

William Mott:

I have as a consultant observed and worked with many boards that do a wonderful job of understanding and embracing their role. The CEO has the leadership skills to guide the board toward an environment of teamwork and recognition that by working together, the opportunities to live out the organization’s mission and vision are improved. One of the components of the book I think has the potential to genuinely impact behavior is the chapter entitled “The Governance Promise.” It includes six statements that strategically reveal what is most important in building the strongest possible relationship between the CEO and governing board. Committing to these principles will make all the difference. The other contributing factor is education and training. Through retreats, orientation sessions, workshops and other professional development opportunities, boards can significantly enhance their governance skills and embrace what it means to be highly productive, contributing trustees.

Purchase the summary and full interview, subscribe to our library of summaries or read more about boards and CEOs in the related content below.

CausePlanet members: Register for our live author interview with Bill Mott on Wed, March 27 at 11 a.m. CST.

Not a member yet? Find out more about author interviews and other services.

See also:

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

The Nonprofit Leadership Team: Building the Board-Executive Director Partnership

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Ten ways boards can damage their organizations

This article was originally published on the Third Sector Innovations website.

1. Members join boards of organizations they don’t really care about. They fail to commit and fail to be engaged. The idea still exists that service on a board of directors is an “honorary” recognition, and it is not–it IS a lot of work and a serious challenge to lead through effective governance.

2. Members think showing up for board meetings fulfills the extent of their obligations, yet membership entails more. The rule of thumb for a well-run organization is a minimum of six hours per month should be spent inboard activity, according to Jeff Pryor, formerly at Anschutz Family Foundation:

  • 2 hours at board meetings
  • 2 hours in committee work
  • 2 hours in outreach (marketing, public relations, fundraising)

In reaching this level of commitment, members need to understand when they’re “wearing their board member hats” and when they’re “wearing theirvolunteer hats.” Additionally, they need to remember that efforts made by committees involve lots of hard work and should not be changed. Boards will often want to change the decisions of committees without full knowledge of committee research and discussion. Let the committees do their jobs!

3. Board members don’t prepare to do the job correctly. There is a general tendency to NOT prepare for board meetings (read materials, etc.)and a lack of understanding of the role of governance, which is to establish the proper controls to allow the organization’s work to be done in a cost-effective, responsible manner. Board members don’t always see “the big picture,” which should be the essence of their role in order to protect and promote the mission of the organization.

4. Board members don’t understand budgets and other financial presentations, leaving it to others to make sure funds are in place and wisely spent. These same members are shocked when the organization is in the red or worse yet, the victim of an ongoing misuse or theft of funds. Boards have a strong fiduciary responsibility within nonprofit organizations, and each member needs to have a clear understanding of how monies are accrued, managed and spent.

5. Members think the bottom line in an organization is its financial status. In any nonprofit organization, there are two bottom lines: the finances and the mission. All programs and initiatives should be weighed in financial terms as well as by how they serve the mission.

6. Board members fail to speak up when every indicator says that s/he should. Members fail to ask questions. Members fail to “rock the boat” as it sinks deep into the ocean. It is the responsibility of each member to ask questions and speak his or her mind, leading to knowledgeable and informed decisions.

7. Board members don’t do their duty to give, get AND get off! This means giving personally (money, expertise, time), getting others to contribute the same, and getting off the board when it’s time. Yes, fundraising and term limits are minimal expectations of the job.

8. Board members hire, retain and tolerate the wrong executive director. They expect too little of this person. They know they’re micromanaging, and it’s because the director isn’t getting the job done. The board needs to set roles that are clearly defined and regularly check in to make sure the board is doing board work and the staff is doing staff work.

9. Board members fail to be involved in long-range planning, sometimes not looking to the future at all. Board meetings are spent talking about past progress and what already has happened. The board needs to take its responsibility of long-range planning very seriously, setting a course for the future, and then spend significant time looking forward at board meetings.

10. Board members engage in parking-lot conversations. It is frustrating for both staff and other board members when conversations occur and “unofficial” decisions are made after or between meetings. Board members’ opinions need to be heard at meetings, not in closed-door or under-the-table discussions.

See also our Page to Practice book summaries related to board development:

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members by Julia Ingraham Walker

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In the board room with Walker and Grace: Part II

Last week we provided you with the first installment of blended observations about what makes an effective board in light of two recent Page to Practice™ book features.

This week, we continue with compiling advice from two expert authors, Julia Walker (A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members) and Kay Sprinkel Grace (The Ultimate Board Member’s Book).

Fundraising with boards

Both acknowledge the longstanding difficulty in engaging board members in fundraising. For most members, like all people, asking for money does not come naturally, but the authors both stress the necessity for all board members to be integrally involved because of their shared fiduciary responsibilities.

Board members have too much valuable information and can preach the mission better than anyone. So, even if you only have a few who can make the actual ask, the others have a variety of ways to get involved.

Walker gives an extensive chart on these tasks, including cultivating prospects, leading efforts in stewardship, communicating, etc. Grace addresses Walker’s chart of tasks in three categories of involvement (3 A’s): ambassador, advocate and asker. Both authors agree the most effective way to train board members in fundraising is to pair them up with staff and experienced askers.

Two studies on donor motivation—the importance of boards

In Walker’s book, she references a study that found high-end donors’ motivations for giving lie in their feelings (making a difference and feeling financially secure) and the efficiency of the organization.

In Grace’s book, she references a study that found high-end donors must respect the organization’s leadership to donate.

If the studies reference leadership and efficiency, the board should epitomize both to donors. The board is the only entity within the organization that can ensure these qualities.

The message from both experts is explicit—the board is the leadership in the organization and as such, must be the body that adheres to the mission in every way financially. The authors challenge boards to a higher calling and a serious, comprehensive understanding of fiduciary responsibility. No small task, but one that can make or break your organization’s mission impact.

See more about boards

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In the board room with Walker and Grace

Since we’ve been talking about effective boards so much recently, I thought it would be helpful to compile some advice from two of our Page to Practice™ expert authors on boards. They complement each other well, reinforcing the main points and going deeper in different areas. With two lifetimes of experience, Julia Ingraham Walker in A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members and Kay Sprinkel Grace in The Ultimate Board Member’s Book give it to us straight.

Primary function

Walker insists the board members are leaders and role models who carry the mission forward through communication, giving, fundraising, advocating.

Grace calls board members “keepers of the mission,” like Walker. She emphasizes board members should not be managing daily operations, but ensure all resources are used effectively. She also asserts, “Development, or relationship building, is the most important role for a board member…If all board members were committed to developing relationships, fundraising would not be a challenge.”

Role of board members vs. staff

Walker states, “Boards are reflective of their leadership. The best boards have active, involved leaders who encourage board engagement in the nonprofit’s fundraising activities but stop short of micro-managing the development operation. Open communication, sharing of goals and mutual respect between the board and staff are also big factors in forming strong board relationships.”

Walker gives a clear distinction between the board and staff:

The board members are the leaders who represent and communicate the mission and vision of the organization.
The staff supports the board’s directives and implements the programs.
The board with its fiduciary responsibility needs to ensure all activities feed into the mission and vision, are transparent and accountable, and have no conflicts of interest.

Grace focuses on a positive relationship between the board and staff as well:

Communication between the CEO and board is critical to set clear expectations. The CEO runs everything but has to report to the board, so an honest relationship is critical.
The board should not get involved with the staff too intimately or there will be a feeling of “too many bosses” and it will strain the relationship with the CEO.

Watch for next week’s blog when we’ll compare and contrast the two authors’ views on recruitment, fundraising and donor motivation. You can download either of these book summaries at the Summary Store or subscribe to CausePlanet for access to the entire library of titles and live author interviews. For Grace’s book, visit and for Walker’s book, visit


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Get better fundraising results from your board

We’ve all been there. And if you haven’t been there, you’ve at least heard about someone who’s been there. Yesterday, during our live author interview series with board fundraising expert, Kay Sprinkel Grace, we had a nonprofit leader ask, “What recommendations do you have for getting better fundraising results out of your board?”

Most commonly asked

How to get everyone involved in fundraising is the most common question Grace is asked and this author interview was no exception. In fact, Grace has written a book about her answer to this popular inquiry: The AAA Way to Fundraising Success.

A board fundraising idea is born

The inspiration for Kay’s book was a client she worked with 12 years ago. The nonprofit client said, “I’ve got seven askers on my board.” Grace congratulated her for having seven folks who were willing to step up and make “the ask” on behalf of the nonprofit. Then the client said, “No, I have 39 on my board and only seven askers. What am I going to do with the other 32?”

How it works

This scenario became the brainchild for a management tool that Grace actively uses today. The process begins with asking your board to choose from three different roles in fundraising: 1) Ambassador, 2) Advocate, and 3) Asker. Then you spread the choices your board members have made on a matrix and develop a plan based on who will ask, advocate or serve as ambassador. “Because board members have chosen the role they want to play, their willingness to fulfill the identified role is amazing,” says Grace. Grace’s number one rule in this AAA program is that everyone is at least an ambassador.

Who makes the ask

Grace also impressed upon yesterday’s interview attendees that having a volunteer (advocate) and someone from the programming staff join you or the director of development on the ask proves essential. The program staff can speak specifically and intelligently about how the gift impacts outcomes. The board member (volunteer advocate) can speak from a mission and vision perspective.
More info

More info about Grace’s books

You can find out more about Grace’s AAA program in her book, The AAA Way to Fundraising Success at or her other six books at Grace’s latest book, The Ultimate Board Member’s Book, is currently featured at CausePlanet with a Page to Practice book summary.

See also :

Exposing the Elephants: Creating Exceptional Nonprofits

The Nonprofit Leadership Team: Building the Board – Executive Director Partnership

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Board fundraising: Ask people to act on their values

When I read Kay Grace’s The Ultimate Board Member’s Book, I was reminded of some very gratifying as well as excruciating moments in my service as a nonprofit board member. An example of the less than stellar was, you guessed it, board fundraising. I happened to be on the receiving end of the ask as a board member and was excited to make my commitment. I knew it would make for easier solicitations in the community if I could demonstrate that my personal gift had already been pledged.

I remember the executive director asked me for a stretch gift (stretch for me anyway). The ask was by phone and felt, well, phony. Without the board chair present and without looking into the eyes of the asker to whom my hard-earned dollars would be going, I felt deflated and unappreciated. As soon as I said “yes,” the phone call was quickly ended and she checked me off the list. Or so it seemed. In the defense of this executive director, I’m sure she would have been horrified to know her ask left me feeling that way. Fortunately, for other CEOs and executive directors, Grace’s book addresses a useful process for going about development, fundraising and stewardship of the board and community. I say these three words because Grace has a specific reason for separating each function. I’ve excerpted my interview with Kay below which elaborates on the topic–

CausePlanet: Your section on philanthropy, development and fundraising is excellent, and I like how you break down each component so that everyone has a role to play.

Kay Sprinkel Grace: In my longer work, Beyond Fundraising, I go into detail on this and am happy to do it here.

Imagine three (3) concentric “eggs” or ovals. The largest, which surrounds the two smaller ovals, is philanthropy. Philanthropy is all voluntary action for the public good (Payton, 1989) and includes giving, asking, joining and serving (and for board members, it is NOT multiple choice!). We know through research and experience that all philanthropy is based in values: people and institutions do not give to, ask for, join or serve organizations whose values they don’t share. So, it is critical to create a “culture of philanthropy” in an organization based on the values of the organization.

The second oval is development, which is the process by which we get to know people and institutions and uncover the values we share with them. Development, or relationship building, is the most important role for a board member. It requires using the anatomical ratio of two ears: one mouth–listening more than we speak. If all board members were committed to developing relationships, fundraising would not be a challenge.

The smallest of the ovals is fundraising, which I define as “giving people opportunities to act on their values.” When we know what values donors share with us (and we with them), our conversation around the ask is made easy: “You and I both care deeply about continuing independent living for seniors as long as possible to ensure their sense of dignity. We have been successful at keeping our seniors at home because of the investment of people like you. As we look to the aging of America and the growing number of seniors in our community, we see the need for our services increasing. This year, will you consider increasing your investment in these programs that we both care so deeply about?”

See also:

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

Beyond Fundraising

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Donations follow high performing boards

According to board member, Chris Boskin, “A U.S. Trust study found that among high net-worth donors–those with $5 million or more in assets–one of the top four determinants of where they contribute money is respect for the organization’s leadership.”

Stability, growth and impact: Think of the board members you know and the organizations they serve. Now ask yourself who’s raising more money. In the nonprofit world, contributions are king. Donations follow the high performing boards. These boards have core attributes that author Kay Grace underscores in her book, The Ultimate Board Member’s Book, below. When these competencies are in place, Grace says there is stability, the opportunity for growth and the potential for impact. In her words, “Work gets done.”

• Understanding boundaries
• Respecting each other and staff
• Mastering the mission
• Communicating the vision
• Living the values

Recruit with a rudder: Without an organizational plan, board recruitment suffers from irrelevant professional guidance. Recruitment must be a direct response to the organization’s strategic plan.

Four steps to enhance the recruitment process: 1) Your board members shouldn’t leave brainstorming exclusively to the board development committee (a.k.a. nominating committee). Everyone should be a source for nominating ideas. 2) Fellow board members outside this committee should recommend, not recruit. Respect for the process will protect the board and the candidate from any well-intentioned mismatches. 3) Fellow board members should also participate in the recruitment process by getting to know recruits through coffee, lunches, tours, etc. 4) When someone’s officially on board, other board members should reach out. Even if there’s a “board buddy” or mentor program, they should let the new member experience what a friendly organization you have. You don’t want diligently recruited and worthwhile board members to feel disconnected.

What’s in a name? Everything. According to Grace, the board development committee is the most important committee on the board because it determines the vitality of the board, scope of talent and future of the organization. Furthermore, Grace recommends calling this committee “board development” rather than “nominating” because the proper fulfillment of duties extends far beyond nominating names. It includes preparing a policy plan and procedure for recruitment, soliciting potential candidates from fellow board members, preparing a slate and enlisting those elected, running board orientation, shepherding new and flailing board members, and spearheading the board evaluation process.

See also:

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

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Evaluating the executive director


Are you sighing just from having read the title of this article? Why does this topic make us all feel so tired?

Virtually everyone agrees that boards should conduct performance reviews of executive directors (EDs or CEOs). Even so, the predominant practice is neglect, and the predominant feeling is resentment. The neglect comes from the board: only 45% of nonprofit CEOs have reviews, reported CompassPoint’s recent Daring to Lead 2011 study. Resentment comes from the executives, who are too often either resentful of the review process or even more likely and paradoxically, disgusted with the board for not conducting one.

And the agreement that ED evaluations should happen forestalls us from reflecting on why. In fact, in contrast to most performance appraisals, the key goal of ED evaluations is not performance improvement, but instead: a) the chance to reflect on the performance of the entire organization (not just the individual), and b) to spark a calibration of expectations and goals between the ED and the board.

Board evaluations of ED performance are radically different from any other type of performance review and must be thought of differently. For example:

While most staff reviews are between two individuals, the ED evaluation is a collective, committee review of an individual.

An ED review appropriately is more about the organization’s achievements rather than about the individual’s completion of a series of tasks.

Board members seldom (if ever) see the ED other than at board or committee meetings and are typically highly unfamiliar with either the building blocks or the nuances of the internal and external leadership roles that EDs play.

But despite these obstacles, there’s a firm belief that ED evaluations “just should be done!”

But while board members drag their feet, many EDs are seething.

“If I didn’t make them give me an evaluation,” fumed one former executive director, “I would never have gotten a raise.”

Many executives feel similarly: the route to a raise — or sometimes simply to recognition for the organization as a whole — requires going through an evaluation which will document the strong performance of the organization and the board’s approval, support, and affection for the executive.

When board members are unhappy with the CEO

On the flip side, an all-too-common scenario unfolds when a board is dissatisfied with its executive and some board members raise the question of termination. “But we haven’t done an evaluation!” other board members cry, and so first an evaluation process must be devised and then implemented.

We know one national nonprofit at which the board chair — faced with nearly instant dissatisfaction with a new executive — felt obligated to initiate a thorough process “to be fair to her [the executive] and to get all of us on the same page.” Worthy aims, but during the year it took to complete that process and fire the executive, the organization’s reserves were squandered and its reputation was damaged.

Executives who know they are in trouble often stall the evaluation process by making it too complicated or by continually calling the process into question. They even often succeed in delaying the evaluation until the disapproving board members have given up and left the board.

Not mainly about performance improvement

We know that many board members have relatively little appetite for ED performance appraisals. But maybe it’s not just laziness. Too often boards undertake executive review only when they are unhappy, or even only when they are considering termination and want to establish a paper trail for doing so.

Second, there is often uncertainty about how to conduct them.

And third, hidden reason for the lack of appetite for executive evaluation is that board members suspect that such a review won’t change the flawed behaviors of an otherwise adequate (or even superior) executive, nor will it lead to a sharp turnaround for a seriously underperforming executive. So why do it?

Going back to the limited view of the ED’s work that board members have, it’s not surprising that the review process isn’t an effective vehicle for the kind of coaching and feedback that often occurs in other performance reviews.  This is true even when evaluation teams try to conduct interviews and seek input from members of the staff and others who work with the ED. Since board members only observe directly a fraction of the ED’s work, they can only judge or play an effective coaching role when it comes to the ED’s relationship with the board.

When asked what positives came out of their evaluations by the board (other than a raise or praise), most executives struggled to find an answer, and only a couple could think of an instance in which the review resulted in changes or improvements in their own behaviors.

Surprisingly, we did hear over and over again that positive results came from the executive review, not necessarily related to the executive’s performance. We learned that the ED evaluation turns out often to best serve as way for getting everyone — board and staff — on the same page about organizational goals for the year. And then, proceeding from those goals, there may be some supporting goals for the executive director as an individual.

Alignment of goals

Veteran executives often realize that a mutual alignment of goals is the real purpose of ED reviews. Such alignment usually occurs no matter what process or instrument is used. Inevitably, a discussion of performance brings up issues of why organizational goals for the last period were met or not and what is expected for the future. Of the many goals and objectives within the plan for the year, the discussion almost always moves to what board members and the executive see as the most important and the most crucial.

So a key message is this: don’t worry so much about finding exactly the right instrument or process to assess the ED’s performance. But use it as a vehicle for aligning expectations and goals for the coming year — for the organization as a whole, for the board, and for the ED.

Special thanks to where this article was originally published.

See also:

The Nonprofit Leadership Team: Building the Board-Executive Director Partnership

Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Talking About Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior

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