Does this sound familiar? You are leading your board in a discussion about the 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 is a deep dive into the organization’s operations, culture, community perceptions, and the value/worth of the whole effort. 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 is also an important area to cover in the assessment. 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 feel they are being 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.
It is only through this effort that they will find the necessary hidden issues and opportunities and design the solutions that work to improve their performance and the organizations.