How Nonprofit EDs Lead Boards
How Nonprofit EDs Lead Boardsback

by Michael Davidson

I recently led a workshop for Executive Directors- “The Board: What Can I Do About it?”

Answers to a pre-workshop survey made it clear that the participants had solid ideas about where they needed to go.

• The board has become too inward looking, they need to re-engage the broader community for opportunities for mission and fundraising

• Increase dialogue between board members outside of meetings

• Create formal processes for on-boarding new members, evaluating current members and providing training for the board chair

• Foster more leadership from the Board Chair

• Enhance the relationship between the Board Chair and the ED

• Put processes in place for Board committees to deliver on stated objectives.

• Greater engagement with the life of the organization.  Spend time connecting with staff and programs

• Change board roles from operational issues to fundraising and vision

There was one very frank comment that expressed the fear that may be behind the lack of commitment of some EDs to engaging their board;

“I am concerned that increasing engagement will lead to board members becoming overly involved in management issues”

The survey also revealed that the boards were no place near where the EDs knew that they needed to be.

Boards work well to the extent that they are experienced by their members as groups that they want to be a part of; groups that provide the value they seek from group membership.

We identified the qualities of valued groups.
• Mutually supportive
• Willing to compromise
• Valuing differences in perspective and skills
• A place for learning
• Fun
• Collegial
• Achievable and clear objectives
• Mutual accountability
• Open communication

Creating this environment can only happen if the ED accepts an active role as coach for the Chair who has the primary responsibility for the working of the board.

The qualities of the Chair identified by the group, included:
• Mission focused
• Leading by example and setting expectations
• Providing recognition for contributions
• Managing disagreement and facilitating decision making
• Keeping members connected with each other and with the mission
• Holding members accountable
• Unflappable

Where the Chair’s ability to maintain the needed group dynamic falters, it is the responsibility of the Executive Director to coach the Chair in techniques for creating the group experience that will provide the motivation for the engagement of its members. 

There is simply no one else there to do it. 

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.