Does 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.