The one consistent factor in high-performing non-profits is having a high-quality board.
Problems/Issues With Boards:
Boards tend to maintain the status quo rather than strive to be the best they can be.
It's easier to keep doing the same things the same way rather than risk doing something new and differently.
Solution: To help combat this, help provide training and educational opportunities for board members. Have the Board set goals for itself with high expectations of quality and good management.
Boards don't welcome differing points of view.
Board members are usually too polite. Those who ask questions are viewed as troublemakers or possibly adding more work for the entire board.
Solution: Boards should be empowered to ask questions and explore options.
Boards are pre-occupied with process.
In for-profit companies someone is given the responsibility to make a decision, gathers the information needed, then makes the decision. In non-profits, decisions are made by consensus, so decisions aren't made unless everyone feels comfortable with it, which can result in lack of efficiency.
Solution: Have the full board decide what the criteria should be for a "best" decision, suggest possible options, identify who needs to be consulted, and the process for making the final decision. Then have a committee follow-through on gathering information, doing research, and bringing back a report with ranked options for the entire board to vote on.
Boards and Lead Staff don't work well together.
Boards and staff tend to have conflicting views on what the board's role is.
Solution: In order to work together effectively, boards and staff must first come to a clear consensus on the board's role in the organization.
Concentrate on board roles that matter most
- Monitoring organizational performance.
- Ensuring financial solvency.
- Supporting & evaluating the lead staff
- Board self-improvement.
Focus the board on a few critical goals
- Agree on the most critical organizational priorities for both board and staff to focus on for the next 12 to 18 months.
- Agree on how the board can help the most with those priorities.
- Set three primary board goals that address the organizational priorities.
- Create a board work plan to accomplish the goals. The work plan should include a timeline, to-do action steps, and specify who will be responsible for what.
- Include on-going monitoring and evaluation in the work plan, so that the board can measure how well they are proceeding in accomplishing their goals.
Re-align board committees to match organizational priorities
- Often times, board committees aren't effective because they have no clear direction as to their purpose. Rather than setting up committees based on what's traditional, set up committees that fit the priorities of the organization.
Bring in fresh perspectives to rejuvenate the board
- Inefficient boards can be the result of burn-out. Recruit volunteers from outside of the board to serve on board committees. Board members can serve as the heads of the committees and be the liaisons to the full board, but filling out committees with other volunteers can add new energy. This is also a great way to develop potential new board members.
Use board meetings for decisions, discussion and development
- Send agenda and committee reports out in advance, so that board meetings can focus on discussion and decisions. All too often, board meetings are wasted in merely reporting what has already happened, rather than using them as a place for members to take action and move things forward.
- Provide board development time at every meeting - team building or education. This not only benefits the board by providing them professional development, but it also benefits the organization by creating a stronger board.
Empower the board to ask questions and explore options
- Add this to board job descriptions and expectations.
- Give an award or compliment those who ask the best questions at each meeting.
- Encourage multiple options to choose from in the decision-making process.
Create a board self-improvement committee to
- Create a list of board needs. What skills would be beneficial for the board?
- Nurture a pool of potential candidates for the board (these members can be placed on committees as part of this process). Introduce potential members to the organization, invite them to events, keep in touch with them.
- Recruit new board members.
- Provide orientation for new board members.
- Train new board members.
- Assess board member and board performance as a whole. Have board members complete anonymous evaluation forms. Or use the last five minutes of every board meeting to evaluate the meeting - What did the board accomplish? What could have been done to improve the meeting? Was the time well spent?