Finding the Board Sweet Spot
As someone who reports to a not for profit board, serves on boards, and has rated boards as part of accreditation reviews, I can attest that boards can be one of the greatest assets, or greatest challenges, facing a not for profit’s CEO or executive director. It’s all about finding the board sweet spot.
What do I mean by that? A number of years ago, my organization faced a crisis situation. A friend of mine worked at an agency in another state that faced a remarkably similar circumstance. My board stood behind us. Her board folded. Today, my agency is stronger than ever. Her agency closed.
I’ve also seen far too many situations where a board was either asleep at the wheel, never challenging the CEO until the organization was in such a deep hole its survival was in question; or, at the other extreme, I’ve seen boards get so mired down in trying to manage the day-to-day operations they drive out, or severely limit the effectiveness of, a capable CEO.
As an executive, how do you help your board find the sweet spot between blind trust and a gotcha mentality, between over-involvement and rubber-stamping?
- Clearly articulate the scope, and limits, of the board’s role. Most board members truly want to do a good job. However, if their role isn’t clearly stated, some may think “doing a good job” means micromanaging in a way that’s far beyond their scope of responsibility. If you have a governance board, clearly outline how this role differs from the operational role of the executive. Discuss that with individuals being considered for the board, have it in a board job description, review it during board orientation and repeat as necessary.
- Make it easy for board members to know what’s important. You want a well-informed board. That doesn’t mean burying them in details. If you distribute a packet of information that looks like it will take four hours to review, one of two things is likely to happen. Either they won’t read it and you lose engagement, or they will read it and then feel perfectly justified digging into the minutia because in essence, you asked them to. The balance point? Quick summaries or metrics on topics of importance. If they want additional details, they will ask. And make sure you give them the good, the bad and the ugly. Your board can only support you if they have the straight scoop.
- Keep the head and heart in balance. No money, no mission. That has to be a fundamental understanding for any not for profit board. If you focus only on the numbers, the board may make “business” decisions that jeopardize the mission. If you focus only on the stories, well, the organization is likely to be broke in fairly short order.
That’s it. Fairly simple. When you make it easy for the board to do their job, they will make it easier for you to do yours. Sweet spot, found.
- 2016 Industry Outlook Video: Not For Profit
- Protecting Your Organization's Directors and Officers
- How to Serve and Protect Your Nonprofit When Partnering with For-Profits
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