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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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Orientation of the New Board Members

February is here, Punxutawney Phil saw his shadow, so we have six more weeks of winter (line the calendar tells us). So what will we do on the days we’re snowed in?
I suggest that the well-informed nonprofit executive director will organize an orientation session for new board members. It’s always good when the new kids on the block know what’s up and feel they can participate with some helpful knowledge.
So our new members of the board get the update bylaws, a copy of the most recent audited financial statements, a staff directory, a board directory with contact information for each member and their affiliations, a copy of the nonprofit strategic plan. And maybe a few additional items.
At the orientation session, perhaps over lunch with 2 to 2.5 hours set aside, there can be some free flowing discussion of highlights from the key documents so we all know who’s on first and what’s the score.
Because a knowledgeable board is a more effective board.

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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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Five Tips for Board Bonding

The Board of Directors is an odd species.
Customarily, there are twelve to fifteen members. They meet regularly: Quarterly. Monthly. Alternate months.
Some Boards grow and develop nicely. What’s the correct potting soil mix? Amount of sunlight? Fertilizer (there’s usually an abundance of that available)…that fosters a thriving healthy Board to keep your Nonprofit mission in proper focus?
From my experience, and training at BoardSource and Leader to Leader and NH Association of Nonprofits, these are five of the keys to Nonprofit/Board success:
Active Governance Committee These are the keepers of the Holy Grail. They are on the lookout for new Board members who can contribute to data-driven decision-making. Who enjoy working with people.
Focused Meeting Agendas Once in a while, the discussion can get off-track. And once in a while this can be beneficial. But generally, Board leaders keep things moving and the give-and-take is targeted to issues that will help this group make intelligent, well-informed decisions.
Strategic Direction The Board knows where the organization is headed and stays focused on helping it accomplish the mission. At each meeting we hear about progress in achieving goals the Board has set.
Time for Play The Board takes time now and then for some social activities. Dinner and conversation. A learning experience that sheds new light on one of the nonprofit’s goals. It’s not all about the formal meetings.
Be Prepared Members come to meetings having read the attachments to the agenda. Leaders know that they can’t overload the work, or members will drift off. Keep agenda do-able in 2 hours.
Following these few steps can put you on the road to higher levels of effectiveness. And along with it, higher levels of Board member satisfaction. And that’s the truth!

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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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