Board Development

Board Development

You are nice people, but you may be holding your organization back

Every nonprofit board of directors on which I have ever served is comprised of dedicated and committed people. I am sure your board of directors is the same. You were attracted to the mission of the organization and the good work it does. You enjoy getting together regularly with like-minded people and the fellowship around board meetings enriches your life.

But nonprofit boards also face many challenges. Perhaps there are personality clashes among board members. Perhaps there are internal power struggles in which some board members express feelings of either entitlement or assumed influence and leadership. Maybe your board lacks sufficient experience, knowledge, expertise or diversity to provide the kind of support every high quality nonprofit organization needs. Perhaps your board meetings tend to devolve into discussions of management rather than staying focused on strategic vision. Maybe you or your fellow directors have difficulty understanding the complex financial and performance data of the organization. Or maybe your board has trouble supporting its CEO and his/her vision for the organization.

The challenges facing nonprofit boards of directors are of four major types:

  1. Recruitment and onboarding of qualified board members with the needed experience and skills,
  2. Training and ongoing development of boards to make sure they understand their roles and responsibilities,
  3. Ongoing evaluation of board and director performance to ensure board effectiveness, and
  4. Attention to the working relationship between the board and its CEO to ensure mutual support, effective communication and shared vision.

I have been on both sides of the table. I have seen just about every kind of challenge to effective governance you can imagine. As a board member and as a board chair, I understand the importance of group coherence and shared values around the organization’s mission. I also know how hard it is to deal with difficult board members. I have seen meetings which result in hurt feelings, angry outbursts, or worse, diminished trust in the CEO. I have also had the pleasure of working with excellent CEOs and have seen firsthand how an effective partnership between the CEO and the board chair can elevate the entire governance process.

As a former CEO, I know how important ongoing communication is to board development. I have had to define the lines of demarcation between management and governance and help the board understand the delicate balance that has to be maintained between the two. I have worked with excellent board chairs, all of whom brought different skills to the table and from whom I gained support and insight.


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