Tagged: board development

In Defense of your Board . . . Let Them Lead.

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One of the most prevalent challenges for the nonprofits we work with is board development.  The conversation usually starts like this: 

ED: “I really need help with my board.”
HDG:  “What kind of help?”
ED: “They don’t actually do anything. They come to the meeting, I give them reports, they listen, then they give me ideas that I can never implement and they go home. And they don’t support us financially at all or not nearly enough.”
HDG:  “So what do you want them to do?”
ED: “Raise money:”

In defense of your board, you cannot expect them to perform at level that has not been clearly articulated.  The first steps toward rectifying this situation is a review of the organization’s board governing documents, processes, major giving program and cultivation events, and the board’s understanding of their role in the organization.

And, this is what we often find:

  • No role and responsibility documents outlining what each board member is expected to do, when, how, and with whom.
  • A role and responsibility document is in place, but it does not state how much the board member should give, nor what they should be doing or how they should help fundraising.
  • A role and responsibility document that is visionary, but not concrete i.e.”The board member will advocate for the organization in the community.” Huh?
  • A board agenda that has the Executive Director talking 90% of the time.
  • No, or very few, sub committees to do the heavy lifting of the board.
  • A board that is led by the Executive Director, who makes the agenda, sets the tone and runs the meeting.
  • A board chair who has no idea why he or she is there, and what to do once they have arrived.
  • An organization that has not developed a strategy for how their board will govern, and what outcomes and outputs they will expect and measure from the board.
  • A board that is not allowed to lead.

So often we hear from organizations that are challenged by their board’s inability or unwillingness to lead and govern or get involved in moving their organization forward. Most of the time, though, we find that it is the organization that is at odds with what to do with its board. There is a fine line between a board that governs and one that meddles. But even their meddling is often just their way of trying to be relevant in a situation that leaves them feeling lost.

Getting a board development strategy in place, and getting your board working effectively requires only four components:

1. An articulated vision for why your board exists and what you want them to achieve (outputs) and impact (outcomes).

2. A relationship (shared partnership) between you and your board chair. Build this together.

3. A set of governing documents that not only covers legal requirements,  but also communicates your expectations.

4. Programs that give your board freedom to engage Now back away and let them lead.

That’s it. Building your board as a program, with strategy, actions, timeline, expected outcomes, immediately strengthens your board’s position and their leadership role in your organization. Taking the time and investing the resources in board development can, quite often, be the most important thing you do for your nonprofit’s mission.

Empower your board to lead. Free yourself. Improve your results.

Lead or Follow?

lead or followDoes this sound familiar? You are leading your board in a discussion about strategy for fundraising, outlining what is known about your organization’s current philanthropy program. As you ask them to take some time to review the strategic imperatives recommended from the findings, one member raises his hand and says “I think we should just do two mailings a year, no more, and then focus on doing more events. And I think we need more publicity, no one knows about us, that’s the big problem.”

 Somewhere along the line your board was lead to believe that their role is to problem solve. And by problem solve, I mean to direct the organization’s fundraising. And by directing fundraising, I mean doing your job. But, if this sounds all too familiar, how do you refocus your board on the important role they play in governance and oversight?

Getting boards focused, all looking in the same direction, and looking towards the bigger picture is not for the faint of heart. If you don’t have the intestinal fortitude, I suggest bringing in a professional. If you are up for the challenge, however, you need to begin with a self-assessment. A self-assessment must be completed and reviewed by the board, and it is only through this effort that they will find the necessary solutions hidden in the information they uncover as they move through the process. Finding an assessment tool is easier than you think. There are a lot of boxed self-assessment tools out there, and Harvest Development Group offers one on our website.

Keep in mind that it is important that the assessment process is driven from within. Board leadership should be suggesting and encouraging the process, not you or the organization. Assuming you have a good working relationship, with authentic dialogue and shared vision with your chairperson (if not, that’s another blog post), then having a candid conversation about the challenges you experience working with the board, accompanied by justification, both qualitative and quantitative, is the starting point. Suggest that the organization will benefit from a board self-review, just as the rest of the organization is reviewed annually. If everything else in a nonprofit is to be measured, it is unwise to exclude the board. With the chairperson leading the effort (or a board development committee, if you are that sophisticated), the medicine may go done a tiny bit easier. Expect some resistance and some sensitivity, because no one likes to be judged, least of which people who have come to not expect it. Once your board is committed to the self-assessment, ask your chairperson to recruit an Assessment Committee who will:

• Review the self-assessment tool and make recommendations on changes. You should provide them with findings showing why certain assessment sections are necessary

• Communicate to the full board the reason for the assessment, the process and the expected outcomes

• Implement and calculate the assessment

• Report on the findings and lead the discussion of the board on the actions to affect change.

Tai chi, is the ancient practice of war by submission. Letting go, allowing leadership in others, encouraging action through quiet movement, can change the board’s role in the organization, improve their performance and enhance the value they bring to your mission. In the end, they will be proud to be a part of your effort.