9 Common-Sense Tips for Nonprofit Executives to Be in Partnership With the Board
The relationship between a nonprofit board and the CEO/executive director is frequently referred to as a partnership. Most governance literature cites that the board and executive partnership is a goal where there is a clear distinction between the roles and a relationship that is equal and balanced. Presumably, a partnership that matches this definition produces a collective effectiveness in the pursuit of mission.
The reality I hear from many executives is more often quite different:
- “The board is little more than a figurehead or at worse a stumbling block tgetting the mission accomplished.”
- “Members do not engage at board meetings.”
- “Members often are absent in the form of missing meetings or just not being present in meetings.”
- “Members will not raise money.”
The latter is of course a debatable fail, but you get the picture.
Despite these experiences, creating a strong and positive partnership can be a win-win-win for the board, executive and mission. Toward that end, here are my nine common-sense tips.
1. Understand You Do Not Own the Board
Recognize whose organization you are leading. A CEO does not own the nonprofit board. The board recruits the CEO as the leadership staff responsible for carrying out a mission that the board or members “own” on behalf of the public.
It is worth noting that nonprofit founders may perceive that this and the remaining tips may not apply to them. Admittedly, while in the startup stage, the board may be leading less and simply serving as a cheerleader, networker and, occasionally, offeror of advice and counsel. Developing a partnership with the board is an important long-range sustainability strategy and the remaining tips apply into that.
2. Utilize Board Meeting Agendas
Plan meeting agendas with the board chair or other board-designated individuals. Recognize that board meetings are the setting for board members to become informed, discuss and explore options, and/or act in fulfilling the fiduciary business of the board.
3. Communicate to and Develop Relationship With Members
Throughout the year and in regularly scheduled meetings with each board member, learn what a member wants or needs and whether these are being met. A partnership is relational and transactional, and acknowledges that transactions accomplish more when relationships are strong and positive.
4. Provide Reports to the Board
Prepare reports that inform, excite, are clear and stimulating, are accurate and timely, and, most importantly, may be actionable or the foundation for action by the board. Graphics help explain many matters. Building knowledge, trust and confidence are three results if the reports are designed with the board in mind. Remember that board members do not just want to be listening posts.
5. Be a Resource at Board Meetings
Do not dominate board meetings. Be responsive, yes, but be a resource, not the lion in the room. Always support the chair in engaging members in discussion and possible action. Creating a level playing ground is a hallmark of an effective partner.
6. Avoid Recruiting All of the Board Members
Do not be the primary recruiter to fill board seats. While executives may be very efficient in recruiting board members, it is the board’s responsibility to identify and attract new folks to join its table and share the mission.
Full board independence, objectivity and support is likely never to occur beyond lip-service if the board is composed of all of the friends of the CEO. And, as many CEOs can testify, being the friend of the CEO does not inherently mean that action matching the CEOs goals will follow.
7. Allow the Board Onboard New Members
Do not lead the onboarding of new members. Onboarding is the job of the board, one which provides new board members a full understanding of their roles and relationships with other members. The CEO serving as the leader of board onboarding sends the message that the board is not responsible for itself.
8. Partner for Performance Measures and Appraisal
Collaborate with the board to develop annual performance measures and fully participate in an annual review. Clear expectations are a key component of a partnership. Combined with the board’s own annual performance review, both parties will be more aligned as equals in their pursuit of the common goal of mission.
9. Participate in Resource Development and Advocacy
If the board recruits a CEO with the intent that resource acquisition is central to the job, the CEO should be clear on their personal capacity and willingness for the task and/or advise how to fill the role if it is not them. Like all that goes into recruitment, expectations must be clear by both parties — this is a partnership.
I recognize that the tips I have presented here may appear as novelty to many. I stand by them with a deep and profound belief that if a nonprofit’s mission is to be truly accomplished and boards are to play a role in this outcome, both the executive and board must take steps that recognize and live out a bipartisan partnership.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.