New Year’s resolutions for nonprofit boards – Five things to STOP

IMG_20141231_144159Happy New Year!!


May 2015 bring you joy, peace and prosperity.

And amazingly fabulous times for your nonprofit!!

Yesterday I shared the first five of my 10 resolutions for nonprofit boards  – Five Things to START Doing. Today’s post, Five Things to STOP, are the top five mistakes that make me crazy about the way we work with our boards.


1. Describing your board as “dysfunctional.

Cognitive scientists tell us that “expectation shapes reality.” If you carry around a mental model of board failure, you will have a difficult time seeing individual board member strengths and how your board functions pretty well. Most boards I’ve encountered are working at a level of  acceptable to good. Our sector’s extraordinarily high – and maybe unrealistic — expectations of the busy volunteers who are our directors can cloud our thinking and undercut movement to building a great board. (Okay, okay. I concede there are a few boards that are truly “dysfunctional.” But let’s stop throwing this word at every board that may have temporarily lost its way).

2. Inflating common practices to “best practice.”

While the amount of research on effective board practice is growing, for the most part, it is confined to small samples and is still hard to extrapolate to all boards. And when you start trying to link that practice to improvements in organizational effectiveness, it gets even more tenuous. So from optimum board size, to whether to sunset board terms, to the use of executive committees, there isn’t yet “one right way, most effective way.” Your organization has to determine what is right for your board at this time in the life of your organization. Of course, you always need to observe legal requirements and act ethically. But board design will always be evolving. See #1 in Five Things to Start Doing.

3. Assuming and taking for granted.

In the words of my very thoughtful colleague, Debra Beck, “board members are not seats, they are human beings.” (I highly recommend Debra’s blog, Laramie Board Learning Project). Just because you filled a seat on our board doesn’t mean the new member is miraculously equipped with new super powers like fundraising, strategic thinking, meeting management skills, personal leadership –you name it. You can’t change the obligations of board members in midstream and expect they will all conform. Or spring hidden expectations on them.

4. Wasting board member time.

In our sector, there are very few board members who are being financially compensated for their board work. This usually means that these volunteers will put family and paid work above their board obligations. So, consider every moment you have precious and make sure it matters for your board members. Members should walk away from each meeting feeling that the content mattered and their participation made a difference. Clean away the time wasters (like routine committee reports). Be prepared to offer members real tasks, in realistic chunks, that can move important work forward.

And finally, this might seem like a small thing, but

5. Don’t forget the food!

I can’t tell you how many meetings I attend at breakfast, lunch and especially dinner, when there is no food or even beverages. Rumbling stomachs and anxiety about reaching dinner on time don’t do a lot for focusing attention on the matters at hand. A little TLC (tender loving care), can go a long way to reinforce attendance at meetings and show members they matter.

Truly wishing you all the best in 2015.

Please resolve to write now and then. And let me know: What are the resolutions for your nonprofit board this year?

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