by Michael Davidson
An often heard plight of Executive Directors, and Board Chairs, is a lack of nonprofit board performance. A major concern voiced frequently is “Why doesn’t my board raise money?” The lack of engagement in fundraising, however, most likely applies to other areas of board responsibility as well.
Common answers are:
• We have the wrong board members
• Our board has too much dead wood
• We lack enough people with leadership initiative or the right skills
• Not enough of board members have the ability to give, etc.
A framework for Solutions
While there may be some truth to each of these, I suggest that underneath it all is a failure of management.
In a world of competing demands, the best intentions are not always accomplished. It is the intentions that have a management process that are the most likely to be achieved.
The effective management process is simple – – clear objectives and accountability. We apply this to our work and home life. For some reason we do not seem to think that it should apply to nonprofit boards.
The needed structure for nonprofit board management is fairly straight forward:
• Clear expectations for each board member upon joining the board and at each year anniversary.
• A process to evaluate their performance of those expectations
• Specific deliverables for each committee; made new every year.
• A process to check on committee progress
• Regular reporting to the board of progress towards its objectives
What impedes us from applying these obvious management structures?
We act as if nonprofit board participation is somehow different from the rest of our lives where flexibility is the norm. Consider these inflexible assumptions:
• The nonprofit board is “in charge” of the organization. No one has the “right” to tell “it” what to do.
• The Executive Director “reports to the board. The Executive Director cannot tell the board what to do.”
• The Chair leads the meetings but has no more “authority” than any other board member.
• The Chair is, automatically, the best person to facilitate all board meetings.
• Board members are “volunteers.” No one should tell them what to do.
Acceptance of these assumptions leads to unproductive boards.
The solution is not complicated. The Executive Director and the nonprofit board leadership (Chair and/or Executive Committee) should develop a management plan to propose to the board.
There will, of course, be resistance, but there will also be support. The discussion needs to focus on the role of the board in achievement of the mission. Not on the “prerogatives” of the board.
There may be board members who believe that they are the ultimate authority and, therefore, should not be “managed.” This may just not be the job for them.
Michael Davidson, is a consultant specializing in nonprofit board development. He is the former Chair of Governance Matters and lead consultant for the BoardServe NYC program of the United Way of New York City.