Does Your Boss Have a Boss?
The board had been very frustrated over the CEO's performance, and obviously systems were not in place to safeguard the public trust. Each of the last three board chairs had left fatigued by the CEO, and all each could muster the strength to do was require him to have an executive coach — and then he chose one of his best friends to serve in that role.
As a nonprofit CEO, I had a board chair who was incredible. He supported and defended me when needed, but I can assure you that behind the scenes, he challenged me to improve and was a great strategist and mentor. Not every board chair can or should play all these roles. In any board chair-CEO role — even stellar like I enjoyed — there should be a positive dynamic tension because at the end of the day, the board chair is the final steward of the public trust.
One of the most common sins of a board chair is conflict aversion, especially when dealing with personnel issues relating to the CEO. When the chair sees a CEO not performing — or even with ethical lapses — he or she knows confronting the issues will take a lot of time and be downright unpleasant. This is when the chair either takes the lead to make change or counts the days until his or her term expires. If the board chair chooses the latter —kicking the can down the road — it leaves the growing mess for the successor(s).
With the approval of a new board chair, we were retained by an organization's major donor to craft a development plan. Soon, we realized that the donor really wanted an objective view of the organization and especially the CEO. As we interviewed former board chairs, it became apparent that they all tried to hold the CEO accountable, and when the CEO fought back and developed allies on the board they just fled, instead of fighting. Each left the board after serving as chair. The CEO complained that she had not received a raise in seven years. She also did not have a performance review in seven years and was already being paid above scale and was seldom at work. The sad reality: While we diagnosed the trouble, it was too late. The organization filed for bankruptcy a year later.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.