Skip to main content

Can I Work with this Board?

MOST EVERY NONPROFIT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR HAS A BONE TO PICK with his or her board at one time or another.  If you talk to enough directors you soon have a lengthy list of complaints mostly clustered around the biggies:  the board doesn't do enough fundraising (that's probably #1), the board is unfocused, the board doesn't respect the work I do, the board doesn't seem to know or care about the work the organization does.  Perhaps you have a favorite I've missed that you'd like to share.
If you read those surveys where boards and staff independently rate the work of the board, the board always thinks they're doing a bang-up job, while executive directors almost uniformly think boards under-perform.  Definitely staff leaders have pretty high (and in some cases unrealistic) expectations for their boards no matter the size, mission or sophistication of their organizations.  What I suspect staff leaders don't always take into account is the fact that no board will perform to expectations if the basic ingredients of forward-looking, strategic-thinking skills, attributes and the supporting infrastructure aren't already in place.
I know for many staff leaders such a litany of complaints leads to the ultimate question: can I work with this -- my -- board?  After all, how does it happen that we work for the same organization, yet we're not on the same page?
Last fall consultant and blogger Gayle Gifford took a long look at the pros and cons of the nonprofit board.  The subsequent discussion she started at the BoardSource group on LinkedIn continues to elicit responses seven months later!  The issues Gayle so clearly and thoughtfully laid out will resonate with anyone working with or for a board.
It started me thinking about how an executive director candidate or new board prospect might ferret out just how complementary a specific board might be to work for or with.  I've concluded that the obvious place to start is with oneself.  A thoughtful, if perhaps not the most critical, examination of your approach to work and to play, to interacting with others, to opportunities and to challenges, to risk and to failure will help you to look for similarities and disconnects with an organization's governing culture.
Just as search committees and governance committees might ask questions to surface attributes, approaches and skills, so, too, should director candidates and board prospects ask similar questions of organizations before signing on the dotted line.  Not easy to do, I admit, when you're in the hot seat hoping to be chosen!  
Boards are dynamic -- they can and do change over time and they do so because of the board and staff talent that gets added to the mix (remember what I said about basic ingredients?).  If not now, do you see enough potential in a board to make your participation with it a satisfying experience?  Will your talents help a board to make positive internal change?  Or do you need to walk away?


Popular posts from this blog

Nonprofits and the Public Trust: No Excuses

Periodically, social media is ablaze with comments from nonprofit leaders bemoaning the fact that their organizations are too small to keep up with a seemingly overwhelming amount of professional and regulatory standards. While one may hear less outright complaining from big nonprofits when they turn a blind eye to the importance of standards, ethics, and the public trust, chances are we'll be reading about their transgressions in the headlines.

Whether nonprofits flaunt the public trust due to ignorance or by design, the performance expectation for all nonprofits -- no matter their size, discipline, or resources -- is grounded in the fact they have been incorporated to perform a public service. They have entered into a relationship with the public that fulfills a need for which they receive benefits in return. Chief among these benefits is tax exemption for mission-related activities and the opportunity for donors to make tax-deductible contributions. When a nonprofit honors its…

Why You Need a Personal Board of Directors

Today I'm meeting up with my career planning posse. We call ourselves the Gang of Five and we've been meeting periodically for about six years to share our career challenges and aspirations, our plans; seek and offer advice, support, and the critique as appropriate. The Gang is my personal board of directors, who collectively and individually I can call on when needed. As a result, I've advanced my thinking about my career journey, if nothing more than to make it far more intentional.

Earlier this summer, I got to talk with my friend and colleague, Greg Stevens at the American Alliance of Museums, about career planning. The result is this interview, published at Alliance Labs. Greg is a terrific proponent of career planning and development -- not surprising since he's the Director of Professional Development at AAM and the co-author of A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career. Whether you work in museums or some other type of cultural institution, check out the …

Nonprofit Board Resolutions for a New, Uncertain Year

I've written about resolutions for nonprofits before (see the infographic and read more here), but this year -- especially this year -- nonprofit boards will be put to the test in the face of civic dissonance, uncertain government support for education, arts, history, and science; and the continuation of dramatically shifting demographics.

So, here's my short list:

Know your organization's mission cold and I don't mean memorize the mission statement.  I mean deeply and fully understand the impact your nonprofit makes to those who benefit from the work you do. Understand how you meet the need, how you excel at doing so, and why that's important.  Be able to tell the stories about your organization's impact to anyone.

Get up to speed on what real governance is all about.  Set goals and success measures, exercise oversight, consider the future (a lot), strategize pathways to success, and keep at it.  Good governance is intentional and sustained.

Be the partner your …