Interestingly, when we take a look at website analytics, we can tell which of our website topics (and self-penned articles) get the most traffic and what keyword searches bring people to us in the first place. The answer continues to somewhat surprise us.
Overwhelmingly, it is BOARD ISSUES—especially when it comes to Founders and their early concerns related to control (and fear of losing it), etc. This makes sense, since brand new Boards are likely to struggle at first, which is even more pronounced if proper infrastructure is lacking and expectations for Board members have never been clearly defined. Organizations that have been around for a long time are certainly not immune to dysfunctional group dynamics or compromised forward movement either. Indeed, bringing a group of people together for a common cause is wonderful, but, often times, it is ripe for conflict and disagreements.
How We Can Help
CEC support of Board officers and members takes a number of forms, from “sitting in” via conference call on actual Board meetings to discuss directional issues to in-person facilitation of preliminary strategic planning retreats. Executive Coaching with Founders, Board officers, and nonprofit Executive Directors almost ALWAYS involves some discussion about how the Board of Directors is currently functioning. And, when difficulties are present, we talk about strategies to diffuse interpersonal conflicts and best harness the unique talents of each member.
The majority of CEC customers come to us, initially, for grant writing services only. But, without fail, if problems exist within the organization, these will be detected by us during the assessment phase of this process. Often this prompts direct work with Boards, as they are sometimes the actual cause of the identified issues, and/or they need to actively engage in our efforts to resolve areas of concern. Most commonly, this involves fiscal matters, lack of a strategic plan beyond today (which makes it impossible to tell funders what you will be doing by the time grant money is actually awarded and makes it less likely you will even GET funding), and things as basic as Board members not personally donating to the agency each year—which is problematic for several reasons.
Interventions and supports needed by a particular Board of Directors can be as different as one individual is from another. Some Boards are overly-involved in the day-to-day, and manage rather than govern. Others have a hard time getting members to participate in any activities, let alone attend regularly scheduled meetings. So, Board Development is not just an issue of structures and processes for a NEW Board. It is also related to re-energizing and re-engaging an existing Board, and maximizing its effectiveness.
Training and Coaching go hand-in-hand with bringing about this productive change. While not an exhaustive list, here are a few considerations when determining your organization’s Board Development and Training needs:
- Do you have a Board member recruitment process and package, complete with position descriptions and formal handbook explaining expectations of members? And, how do you attract new talent when needed? Is the Board composition diverse? If not, why?
- Change is hard for most people (professionally and personally). As such, many are resistant to even the most positive of changes. CEC is very sensitive to this, and has non-threatening techniques for helping Boards feel in control of the process—such as structuring Board retreats in response to member (and other stakeholder) survey responses. Everyone needs to grow at their own pace. We respect that. We know when to gently or firmly push, and when the Board’s risk tolerance has reached its threshold—prompting tabling of an issue for the time being.
- Does the Board agree with (and even know) the full vision of the Founder? Does the Founder treat members as employees subject to termination at his or her sole discretion or refer to themselves as the “owner” of this “nonprofit business?” (Neither legal or accurate.) While at it, have you outgrown your “initial Board?”
- Does the Board micromanage the Executive Director on day-to-day decisions? Formalized structures like annual (and 3, 5, 10-year) strategic plans and approved budgets (including discretionary funds) can aid in reducing this unnecessary involvement. Ruling by committee or making decisions that only affect operations for 30-60 days at a pop are pretty strong indications that change is needed.
- Does the Board have a strong understanding of nonprofit norms and requirements, not only for how the Board of Directors should function, but also with regard to tax and legal filings? Also, does the Board know how interconnected overall track record and fiscal reporting is to successful funding outcomes of any kind?
- Beyond legal and fiscal oversight, the single greatest responsibility of the Board is to raise money for the nonprofit. How well is yours doing with fund development? Afraid to personally ask for money (especially with Major Gift requests)? There are options on that, and this is definitely an information and training issue. Do Board members engage in thanking donors, personally, through phone calls, emails, and handwritten notes?
- Do you follow and formally re-evaluate all organizational policies and procedures each year? Do you even know what is contained in your By-laws related to Board service and elections? Do you request that someone step down from the Board if they are not fulfilling their responsibilities?
- Do you make good use of committees, volunteers, and newest technologies? And, are you effectively measuring growth and successes all the way around?
- Is consensus hard to come by among Board members? How do you work through this, and what issue or issues remain sticking points? Is it time for new blood and new energy? And, is it time to get some help from a skilled, objective outsider… like Creative Edge Consulting? Training and supports can be customized to meet your precise needs… and your budget.