Friday, April 16, 2010

Executive Committees Walk a Fine Line

WHEN I READ THIS TWEET "The only board members who like the exec. comm. are the ones who are on it!" I had to admit I agreed with it.  Afterall, what's the point of serving on a board if all the important and interesting discussions and decisions are had by a few leaving the rest of us to suffer through report meetings?  Who wants to be just another pretty rubber stamp?
Executive committees walk a fine line.  Typically consisting of the board's officers, they are often indispensable in times of crisis.  Big organizations with big boards quite rightly find that smaller "steering" committees serve important oversight functions.  In this instance, the make-up may go well beyond officers to include committee chairs and others (and the size of a steering committee could be as large as a small full board).  But as a routine decision-making body acting on behalf of the full board, an active executive committee can alienate or isolate the rest of its board.
I have worked for and with many organizations where the full board meets every other month or quarter and the executive committee meets on the intervening months.  Or where the executive committee AND the full board both meet every month -- how's that for duplication?  Any one of these scenarios begs these questions:  If there's so much board work to be done that the executive committee needs to meet just as often or MORE often than the full board, why isn't the full board meeting more frequently?  Or is the executive committee working on a specific crisis or issue that was not assigned - or could not be assigned - to another committee or task force?  The distinction is very important and must be made clear.
And then there's the issue of burn-out.  Meeting after meeting, particularly if duplicative, is such a waste of energy and talent.  Since great board members are seemingly hard to come by, why intentionally overburden them?
If your executive committee is a stand-in for full board meetings, making decisions that a full board should be making, stop the practice for a few months to see if it makes any difference.  If work gets backed up, that's an indication that the full board needs to be meeting more frequently.  If your full board meetings become more engaging, then you've become the beneficiary of "less is more".  Who wouldn't love that? 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Meaningful Outside

I JUST FINISHED READING THE REPORT from two focus groups conducted by one of my cultural clients.  This client, like many of my clients, had never talked with constituents in quite this way before.  It's funny that a concept so basic to the for-profit world is so largely overlooked by the nonprofit world -- at least in the cultural corner.  
I've even had clients tremble with fear at the thought of talking to stakeholders about what their nonprofit does.  In one case, a client was barely able to identify a group of "non-member" community leaders to invite to a focus group.  Despite all the talk about how the current economy is forcing nonprofits to rethink their work and their relationships, many, it seems, remain in a curious bubble of isolation.
The two focus groups in question raised a wide array of perspectives about my client -- a lot of it good; some of it critical.  Some of it, I'm sure, is well known to the client.  Others of it might be complete revelation.  Each group offered suggestions for creating or strengthening community connections that ran the gamut from working more closely with the Chamber of Commerce to offering affordable family oriented special events.  The specificity of their suggestions will be helpful when the time comes to act upon them.
Another client met for the first time with a group of nonprofit leaders in its community and found a fertile ground for possible future collaborations.  Community conversations held by a local children's museum resulted in several new representatives joining the planning team.
In each instance, focus group participants were encouraged and pleased that an organization was reaching outside its four walls to tap into the meaningful outside.  After all, no nonprofit lives in isolation of its external environment.  Now that the hurdle to the outside has been successfully jumped, the organization must live up to the expectation that it will act on what it has heard.

Photo:  Streets Ahead Week of Action focus...from Hillingdon London