In a room filled with governance gurus and nonprofit capacity builders, the overwhelming consensus was that our current board model is stuck in the industrial past. We need to constantly evolve – or totally transform — governance structures to be smart, nimble, responsive and adaptive to the new world order of uncertainty and rapid change.
Too often, I meet boards that are extremely reluctant to quantify the community impact they’d like to make, fearing they’ll fall short of the goal. When asked to set a goal for how they’ll enhance their community, too many boards hedge. It’s tempting to think about your organization only in terms of what you are
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Gayle’s newest book was just released by Emerson and Church, publishers of Contributions Magazine.
It’s an updated version of How are we Doing? her one-hour read to help your board start a conversation about its own effectiveness.
We’ll be sharing excerpts from chapters in future blogs. Meanwhile, here’s what the publisher said:
A high-performing, diligent board that takes its responsibilities seriously is the Holy Grail of nearly every nonprofit in the U.S. Such a board means more money raised, swifter policy decisions, steady governance, and less ibuprofen for the CEO.
But can you realistically get there from here? Can you put your average or good board on the road to greatness? Indeed you can, says Gayle Gifford in How to Make Your Board Dramatically More Effective, Starting Today. And you’re closer than you think.
Gifford’s approach is ingenious. She doesn’t lecture, doesn’t scold, doesn’t harangue. Instead she challenges your board to transform itself by answering a series of trenchant questions. Here’s a sampling:
- How well do we know our community’s needs?
- Do we know if our programs are having an impact?
- Have we given our CEO the necessary support?
- Have we decided the board’s role in fundraising?
- Do our committees improve the functioning of our board?
- Does our board govern and resist the temptation to manage?
- Is our relationship with staff what it should be?
In Recruiting Board Members? Ask for Help, I described how one small nonprofit held a gathering to ask members of their community for help in thinking up names of possible board members. As I was cleaning out their folder for filing, I spied the invite letter our recruitment team prepared.
“I went onto the board of a few nonprofits as part of the expectation of my job. It seems it wasn’t enough that I was attending board meetings, and bringing with me a pretty significant corporate gift and my own personal donation. In not sure order, I started getting requests from the staff for all kinds of needs from serving on committees to attending events to requests to help open doors or solicit others. I was overwhelmed by the hidden expectations of serving on a board. I had no idea what I was getting into.”
It’s ideal to have your next board recruits ready-to-pick from an in-house farm team of committees volunteers, and donors. But most boards that find themselves asking for our help to build a stronger board haven’t created that team (if they had, they probably wouldn’t need our advice, now would they.) Or, even if you have built a farm team, it may be pretty homogeneous, lacking the rich diversity of backgrounds, ethnicity and experiences that you desire. So many boards benefit from recruiting members beyond their inner circle.
I believe that we would have much stronger boards if the board chair spent more of her or his time mentoring and engaging the other board members rather than focusing all of his or her attention on the relationship with the CEO. And vice versa… if rather than focusing all of his or her attention on the board chair, a CEO’s time is better spent getting to know, strategizing with and enabling other board members.
Maybe it’s because too many directors of development don’t act like it really is a profession with a body of knowledge that requires training and professional development. Case in point: why do development directors and executive directors believe that their board members have risen up out of the primordial ooze fully animated to be fundraising solicitors?
1. We don’t have great “word of mouth” working for us on the rewards of board service, mainly because most board members don’t experience any. Instead of engaging board members in the exciting, strategic work of community change making, we stick them in meetings where they fuss over ministrivia or get reported at.