Tag Archives: Board of directors

Three Ways to Improve Board-Staff Communication

nonprofit board, nonprofit communication, chair – CEO relationship, board meetings, SaadandShawEngaged and effective nonprofit board members are the dream of board chairs and executives. “Ah, if only our board members were more engaged….” is a common refrain. “I can’t keep fighting my board,” is another. Board members also have concerns, “I don’t know why we have board meetings: the executive makes the decisions, and expects us to rubber stamp them.”

One perspective reflects a desire for board members to attend meetings regularly, to come prepared, to work with other board members between meetings, and to provide guidance and oversight that reflects a deep understanding of the organization or institution’s work. The second reflects a frustration, usually on the part of an executive, that board members are not in alignment with the executive’s vision and strategies. The third speaks to board members confusion and disengagement.

There is one tactic that can assist with these three challenges: open, honest, in-person communication. Scheduling and thoughtfully preparing for conversations prior to a board meeting can change what happens at the meeting. It sounds simple, but it takes time, requires preparation, and needs to be applied consistently.  The following are three suggestions for how to employ this tactic.

First, if you are a board chair make sure you know the vision of your executive. What is she seeking to accomplish? How does she want to accomplish it? What will be the impact? What will it cost? What does she need from the board for the organization or institution to bring her vision to life? Take time to learn her leadership and communication styles. Meet with her regularly and strategize how to best engage the full board and committees in advancing her vision. Work with her to create the board agenda, ensuring the concerns of both board members and the executive are included.

Second, if you are an executive take the time to meet regularly with your board chair, to share your strategic thinking, to ask for counsel, and to provide updates on operations. Form a partnership that acknowledges and respects your board chair’s leadership, vision, expertise and position. Asking for guidance and creating a shared agenda can help surface best thinking and create a strong partnership.

Third, both the executive and the board chair should take time to meet individually with board members prior to each board meeting. This is especially important if the board meets quarterly, or less often. Each of you need to personally share updates, gain insights and involvement from individual board members. Take the time to share organizational updates and challenges, successes, strategies and potential challenges. Listen to each board member’s concerns, interests and ideas. Act on those you can.

It takes time to have these meetings. It also yields results. A nonprofit’s board is one of its most valuable resources. Take the time to strengthen your relationships.

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.


Evaluate your nonprofit from a funder’s perspective

Empty Conference Room --- Image by © Bill Varie/CorbisDonors and funders don’t necessarily tell you why they won’t fund your nonprofit. Many will make their evaluation based on your organization’s presentation and reputation without sharing their objections. But, if you know the criteria by which you will be judged you can proactively prepare.

We recently had a candid conversation with corporate representatives to learn what they look for when investing in a nonprofit. Not surprisingly, the conversation started and ended with a focus on the role of the board of directors. Funders assess the board in determining whether or not to give, and the level at which they will give. That assessment includes a look for corporate representation. They want to know who is on the board, how they are involved, what they collectively give, and how much they raise. They look at small cues that communicate an organization’s capacity and board engagement: who circulates throughout the community with the executive director? Is he or she accompanied by other board members or senior staff when attending meetings or events? Do board members identify themselves as such  they circulate personally and professionally?

The funders we talked with see the board as the party responsible for sustaining and growing a nonprofit. They want to know if the board can provide the resources and funding to grow the organization, with or without the executive director. They won’t invest in nonprofits where the board does not demonstrate the leadership required to guarantee growth. Having a strong executive is not enough.

Related to current board involvement is the issue of “the bench.” Funders want to know how the current board is engaging and cultivating future board members. For community-based organizations the questions relate to the process of growing from a community board to a diverse board that integrates, welcomes and engages professionals and corporate representatives. Those we talked with mentioned the importance of boards knowing what type of leadership model they seek to emulate. While concerned about funding for today, these funders are equally focused on an organization’s ability to succeed in future years. They want to know about succession planning: who is capable of ensuring continuity of operations should the executive abruptly leave. They want to know if and how the board surrounds the executive director with professionals who can help attract people resources.

Finally, they made it clear that they invest in nonprofits where their employees provide board leadership: funding and resources follow employee board engagement.

The bar is set very high. But you can’t meet the mark if you don’t know what it is. If you have been struggling to grow your organization to a new level of operations, and seeking corporate support, you may want to consider looking at your nonprofit from the perspective of a corporate funder. What will they see?

Is Your Board Bored?

Empty Conference Room --- Image by © Bill Varie/CorbisHere’s a question for our readers who are nonprofit executives and board members: is your board fully engaged? Does the structure of your board meetings encourage members to bring their talents and abilities to the table or does it stifle members’ creativity and create a “bored board?”

If you are a nonprofit executive, do you really know who is serving on your board? Do you know their skills, strengths, talents and relationships? Do you have a strategy for how to engage each board member in advancing the agreed upon goals of the organization? Have you met with each to share the current strategic plan and ask how each would like to be involved in bringing it to life?

Do you provide board members with information they need to serve as advocates and fundraisers? Have you met personally with members who tend to miss meetings, come unprepared or are otherwise disengaged? Have you reflected on what you know about their skills, personality and relationships and considered strategies for involving members in ways that are in line with their interests?

Do you typically create and circulate the board agenda? Do board members agree with the majority of your ideas? Do you have challenges getting a quorum at meetings? If you answered “yes” you may want to look at doing things differently.

Encourage your board chair to work collaboratively with you in crafting the agenda. Ask her to pose questions of the board; ask for their insights to challenges and opportunities the organization is grappling with. Find a way to creatively release the talents of your board. A “yes” board is not an asset: no one of us is so wonderful that all our ideas are perfect. Encourage dialog and diversity of opinion.

If you are serving on a board take a moment to reflect on your involvement. Why are you on the board? Is the reason you joined the board the reason you continue to serve? Are you serving at the request of your employer? Are you filling a seat that is reserved for a representative from your business, agency, church or organization? Is your board service an obligation or a challenging joy? Do you attend the majority of board meeting? Do you participate or are you bored? Can you summon the courage to talk with the board chair and find a way to contribute to a positive change in how the board operates?

Here’s what we know – talented, respected and well-connected people are often asked to serve on nonprofit boards. But, the structure of board meetings can work against their active involvement. A board’s talent is lost when meetings are filled with reading of reports and discussions regarding the next time to meet. Consider working with a consent agenda and time allocated to strategic discussions regarding operations, growth, partnerships, and delivery of services. No need to be bored.