Three things your Vice President could do

Are you wasting the talents of your Vice President?

In many nonprofits, the vice president of the board of directors is the heir apparent, slated to move into the top leadership position when the current president’s term ends.

So why doesn’t this upcoming leader have anything to do?

The laws of most states don’t require nonprofits to even name a vice president as one of their statutorily-mandated officers.

Tradition holds that nonprofits create a vice president position so they’ll have someone ready to step in should the president be unable to complete his or her term – in the same way we have a vice president of the United States. But your bylaws could just as easily mandate another officer to fill this role.

So rather than taking a perfectly capable board member and only ask them to hold their breath waiting for the president to expire, wouldn’t it be a better use of the VP’s talents to have something worthwhile to do? Especially if part of the process of choosing a VP is to groom that person for leading the board?

Here are three ways to use your VP:

1. Chair of the strategic planning committee

When I asked my networks about experiences of using the VP for something worthwhile, I received only one response. My Chicago-based colleague, Bonnie Koenig of Going International, said she’s seen vice presidents who are charged with carrying forward strategic planning and thinking in their organizations.

What a great idea. Why not make the vice president the chair of strategic planning. Strategic planning should be an ongoing process, not just a task that rolls around every three or five years. By doing so, you can improve the chances that your board is always looking forward. The committee can be the keeper of the strategic flame, promoters of the strategic plan, and surveyors of the changing landscape. I can’t think of a better way to groom your next board chair. And you improve the changes that you’ll have a leader who really understands and can champion your way forward.

2. Chair of the board’s governance committee

I promote this role for the VP. As the governance committee is charged with ensuring a fabulous board, again, this seems like another great place to train your board’s upcoming leadership. Tasked with recruiting great candidates, making sure bylaws and committees are suitable to the work ahead, mentoring board members and holding them accountable, governance committees have a critical role in creating excellent boards.

Given that the governance committee must have already decided that the VP would be the best next president, I don’t see many downsides (as long as the governance committee members are elected by the full board).  The VP could always recuse him or herself from evaluation of officers, if needed.

3. Project manager for the executive director’s annual performance evaluation.

Too many organizations put this vital task off and never get it done. It’s a lot to put on the President’s already busy plate, but that’s where it tends to fall. So why not have the VP be in charge of managing the process.

Note, I say “project manager.” I don’t mean to imply that the VP would ever conduct an evaluation all by his or herself (nor should presidents). Pull a small board team together to work with your executive director to create a true learning experience that gathers input from many constituents. And please ensure that the full board is in agreement on expectations, performance and next year’s objectives.

So stop wasting such a valuable resource. Find something for your VP to do.

P.S. I’d love to hear other ways you’ve put your vice president to good use. Please share any personal experience you’ve had with new roles for the VP.

7 responses to Three things your Vice President could do

  1. Amy Eisenstein

    Great points, Gayle! I would add – chair the development committee. There’s no more important role than fundraising for the leadership of your board, so get them involved ASAP. Also the VP could be responsible for planning an annual board retreat.

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