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Relationship Check-up: The CEO and the Board Chair

We can have a solid strategic plan, a clear concise mission, an ample donor database. But if the CEO and the Board chair don’t have and seek a strong working relationship, it undermines confidence of staff and rest of the Board and can limit the nonprofit’s capacity to succeed.
So what are some indicators that can help us know we’re good with this relationship?

    Conduct of Board Meetings

: The chair formulates the agenda, in consultation with the CEO. They discuss the agenda about a week prior to each meeting. The Board is the source of nonprofit governance. The CEO and staff execute the program and are accountable for its successful delivery.

    Communicating with Community.

There are roles that should be clarified on when the CEO speaks on behalf of the organization, and when the chair of the board does. This should become a policy, adopted by the Board and reviewed each time a new Chair is elected. So when the nonprofit takes a position on a matter that the community should hear about, we (insiders) know who will speak on a key issue.

    Assessing Performance of the Nonprofit

As a general rule, the CEO oversees performance assessment of staff. And the Board Chair or his/her designee conducts an annual performance review of the CEO. And that review is based on the job description and objectives agreed-to by the Board and CEO at the beginning of each year. This clarity of purpose helps avoid subjective assessments that are not based on pre-determined important factors.

We could discuss more. And I’m happy to have that conversation if you reach out and seek my advice and guidance in making leadership relationships work.

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The Networked Nonprofit CEO

I wrote a couple of years back, “It’s lonely at the top.” It’s a familiar quote, and I’m still seeking correct attribution.
I do know this: It’s as true today as it was when observed for the first time. Which in part is why Paul Harris started Rotary International in Chicago 100+ years ago. To develop a place for fellowship and sharing among business leaders in a community. To provide a place to do good work for the community, together. Yes, that certainly was part of it. But on another level, lunch at Rotary is a time and place for leaders of businesses, law firms, accounting firms and nonprofit organizations to gather and do some informal problem solving. Because really: Whom can you comfortably share a problem with? When you have an issue that needs resolution and you’d like to talk it out, it’s helpful to bring it to a group of peers who can serve as a sounding board to hear the issue and give you some feedback.
In a way, Rotary is a network, there for members to use. There are certain rules limiting self-promotion, and the famous 4-way test, including “Is it fair to all concerned?” In a set of parameters, Rotary can be a safe place to talk about anything. For the network to operate properly, it must be founded on trust. And free of cliques. So all feel welcomed.
Each CEO needs a safe place to talk about issues that might be getting in the way of clear thinking.
Board members should encourage nonprofit CEOs to join Rotary. Or, join a network of peers with leadership experience who can be helpful resources when the going gets tough.
Do you have a place to talk about challenging situations in the workplace, outside of your workplace?

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The Strategic Board

I am working now with a Housing Authority on a strategic plan. The most interesting part of this work is helping a group determine what needs to be done that isn’t getting done now, what stuff that is getting done needs to be stopped, and who are the customers and stakeholders to listen to to sort all this out.
I look forward to speaking at the Tri-State Housing conference in Meredith NH in September to explore how a group that’s relied for decades on federal $ can explore initiatives that will attract new money sources that can help get new stuff on the agenda. And deliver new service to folks who need it.
Complicated issues. Like sorting out elderly housing needs from housing for disabled from housing for the single parent household dealing with severe poverty.
Other than that, life is but a dream.

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Transparency and Accountability

For nonprofit organizations to achieve their highest level of effectiveness, there must be accountability.

Effective nonprofits adopt performance standards for the executive director and a self-assessment process for the Board itself.

Nonprofit executives adopt sound performance review process to assure staff are working to achieve their responsibilities.

And high-functioning Boards have an annual or semi-annual review process in place of their executive director.

Transparency is a value we should strive for. There needs to be sound processes of evaluation in place so we know we’re measuring what’s important, and report to our clients and supporters how we’re doing. Our successes. As well as areas we’re working to improve.

It’s continuous improvement that contributes to nonprofit effectiveness.

For assistance in putting such systems in place:

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Meeting the Challenge of Change: Leadership

Nonprofit Organization leaders know that a measure of their success is their flexibility and adaptability. Or, in other words: The constant in nonprofit governance and management is change.

Funders (particularly grantmakers) are interested in knowing, before they will award a grant, in the capacity of the particular nonprofit to roll with changes in its environment. What are some indicators of that capacity?

Diversity in Leadership. Does the board and staff of this nonprofit reflect the community it serves? Is the Board packed with baby boomers? Or are there Gen X and Gen Y representatives in governance as well as staff positions?

Training in Leadership. Are board and staff leaders provided education and training opportunities to learn about current trends in their environment? Is there evidence that the group is networked in the community and in organizations that have expertise needed by this nonprofit?

Customer Focused Leadership?Is there evidence that leaders at this nonprofit communicate comfortably and frequently with the clients/customers they are charged to serve? Do leaders know how to listen, or are they always in broadcast mode?

It’s in some ways, application of the “bend-don’t-break” philosophy from sports convention to the Third Sector.

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