Senior Vice President
Last year, I wrote an article entitled “Nonprofits, Boards and Managing Expectations: A Two-Way Street.” My effort was intended to share with the fundraising professional a few insights on what it takes to transform a Board from “good to great” (in the words of one terrific author, Mr. Jim Collins).
I wrote about my experiences over the past 40+ years of working with a multitude of Boards—all different, all unique—and I specifically addressed the importance of creating clear expectations (of Board members and of staff) and the great importance of having a comprehensive Board Member Job Description.
In reviewing that epistle, I realized there is even more to be said focusing on a few other insights I believe might be helpful to you as you continue the process of creating the very best Board possible. My hope is that the following will assist you in this regard.
Primary Responsibilities Associated with Board Membership
Beyond what is found in the Board Member Job Description, it is important that Board members are aware of the importance of the following:
- Having an understanding and keen appreciation for the mission, motive, purposes and objectives of the organization
- Becoming familiar with the function of and services provided by the organization
- Providing the organization with support, encouragement, counsel and guidance
- Becoming familiar with the means by which the organization operates—its sources of income as well as its areas of expense
- Assisting the organization’s leadership in program and financial planning
- Helping advance the organization within the community through personal advocacy and promotion—in becoming a bona fide AMBASSADOR
- Supporting the organization as a charitable organization, realizing its dependency upon charitable support of its programs, services and overhead
- Helping plan the maintenance and expansion of the organization’s properties and facilities from which it renders its programs and services to the communities it serves
- Participating in the planning, preparation and operation of a capital campaign, if and when such is deemed appropriate
The Role of the Organization’s President/CEO with the Board
I believe wholeheartedly it is absolutely critical for Board members to feel that the organization’s top leader is interested in the efforts of the Board and has a very real appreciation for their many efforts. And then shows it. Too many times, this is either neglected, relegated to a lesser staffer or given “lip service” by the organization’s chief executive. I know that this can result in a Board having less than the optimal level of enthusiasm for the organization we all want to see.
With that in mind, here is my list of “Top Ten Responsibilities” of the CEO when interacting with the organization’s Board members:
- Share information about the organization’s programs and services with Board members so they are prepared to be even more effective AMBASSADORS within the community
- Educate the Board about the organization’s policies
- Make certain that Board members are communicated within a timely manner about developments/issues which may impact the organization within the community (this includes the good, the bad or possibly the ugly); most Board members really don’t want to be surprised by hearing of issues “after the fact”
- Attend as many of the regularly scheduled Board meetings as possible and if not possible, assign a significant member of the leadership team
- Share with the Board the organization’s financial position and help identify specific needs requiring specific funding
- Ensure that the Board holds an annual meeting—the “care holders” meeting, and attend
- Be available to accompany Board members on visits with those in the community possessing great influence and affluence
- Make certain that the Development Department has the necessary resources to support the Board in its awareness and advocacy efforts
- Within an appropriate period of time, make the effort to meet each member of the Board one-on-one
- Be a personal donor to the organization—“practice what you preach”
Why Board Members Lose Interest
Lastly, one of the laments I have heard far too often over the years is about how difficult it is to not only recruit great Board members, but to keep them. If you fit into that category, you might want to ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I assigning members realistic goals?
- Are they receiving sufficient detail for carrying out their responsibilities?
- Am I allowing Board members sufficient opportunity to provide feedback? And am I listening?
- Am I adequately recognizing/appreciating their efforts?
- Am I providing ample opportunity for them to make a decision?
- Is the work they are tasked to accomplish truly challenging?
- Am I providing members with sufficient preparation and training to ensure they are successful?
No one ever said that managing volunteers was easy, especially when it comes to Board members. They can be demanding or complacent, overbearing or invisible, fully engaged or there just for lunch (if a Board member calls in advance to ask “what are we having for lunch” you most likely have a problem on your hands!).
Your task in managing these fine people is to do all you can to see their experience is a time of real enrichment, both for them and most relatedly, for your organization.
Want more tips for effectively managing Board members? JB+A Senior Vice President John Marshall has more than 40 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. You can reach John at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 816.914.3780.