Alice Korngold's fastcompany.com blog entry -- The Market's Toll on Charitable Giving -- offers up a short list of straight-shooting recommendations for boards to take to heart, especially during tough economic times. I think you'll agree that her list makes for an excellent standard no matter the external environment. I've added a couple of action steps to each to get you thinking about how you might move forward.
Boards matter now more than ever before. You must get your board in order. This is no time for foot-dragging with board members who do not bother to attend board meetings, make contributions, or ask others for money. Actions: kick your Nominating Committee or Board Development Committee into gear -- ask them to do some serious analysis of who's bringing what to the table; review and revise trustee job descriptions; set aside time at board meetings or in a retreat to discuss issues of board member commitment and engagement.
Now is the time for boards to sit down with the CEO, make sure the organization has a compelling mission (the reason you exist, the value you add), make sure the organization has a compelling vision (where you are taking the organization in the next few years), and determine how you will achieve success – strategically and financially. The CEO’s role is critical in providing the expertise to prepare the board for this conversation. Actions: schedule a board-staff retreat ASAP and start developing an agenda for it that focuses first on mission and vision.
Boards need to be comprised of people from diverse backgrounds and networks in order to ensure a full and rich understanding of the needs and interests of the community, the creation of a robust strategy, and a powerful case for support. If board composition needs to be strengthened, attend to this, and build the board. Actions: Scramble your Nominating or Board Development Committee by appointing board members (and possibly other stakeholders) who are committed to acting on this recommendation. At your next board meeting, charge this committee to use this recommendation as part of its criteria for identifying board talent.
Every board member needs to be involved productively in helping to accomplish the vision and advocating for the organization among his or her networks. And every single board member must make a contribution that is personally generous! Actions: Board and staff leaders must model this behavior before they require it of others. Board and staff leaders need to set a schedule for one-on-one conversations with every board member regarding levels of involvement and personal giving. This is a recommendation that requires conversation, not assumption.
Board meeting agendas must be focused on key organizational and strategic issues - what has been accomplished since the previous meeting, what needs to get done in the march towards the vision, and what is needed from the board. (Good preparation is key to good board meetings.) Actions: For your next board meeting, make it your goal to have standard reports in writing and distributed in advance. Restructure board agendas to focus first on issues requiring idea/strategy generation or problem solving; leave items requiring no action to the end -- or include them in a consent agenda. Put your vision and/or mission statement(s) on your agendas and order board discussion around them.
The CEO must be excellent – a highly effective professional, who is expert in the needs of the community and the work of the organization, and effective in building relationships with key constituents and funders. Actions: Make the criteria in this recommendation some of the key elements of your CEO's job description and annual review.
Excellent board leadership is also key – a great board chair who is the role model for board members, along with good board officers and committee chairs. Actions: What leadership skills does our organization need going forward ought to be a board-staff discussion that is made actionable by the Nominating or Board Development Committee. And for a quickie test of the water: ask yourself if your current board chair is a role model for board members AND senior staff.