Dani Robbins

Board Development Done ….. Less Effectively

In Non Profit Boards on April 6, 2013 at 10:44 am

Earlier this week I wrote on post entitled  Board Development Done Right.  Let’s talk today about the other side of board development: what it looks like when it’s done…. less effectively.

In the absence of a board development plan that is being followed, most organizations do some combination of the following:

A board member or member of the senior staff meets someone in the community who they think might be good for the board.  They pass the name on to the Board Chair or the CEO who later meets with the prospect and may or may not invite them to join the board.  If they do, and the person says yes, they bring the name up at the next board meeting, and that person is voted upon and becomes a board member, usually but not always without an orientation as to what the expectation or requirements are of board leadership.  It’s a process, it’s not great, yet it is the process that is fairly consistently followed by a lot of organizations.

Will that process build a great board?  Probably not, but it works – to a degree – and it’s much better than the alternative.

The alternative is this, same beginning: a board member or senior staff meets someone in the community who they think might be good for the board and asks them to join the board.  They say yes. That person shows up at the next board meeting and is voted upon while in the room and voila! They are a board member.

Lest you think I am exaggerating:  I attended a luncheon not too long ago where I was seated next to a nonprofit CEO.  He asked what I did and I shared that I was a nonprofit management consultant, primarily working with organizations on board governance, executive coaching, system development and planning.  He immediately asked me to join his board.

As I’ve written before, strong boards beget strong organizations.  It works the other way too: less effective boards beget less effective organizations.  Those boards hire less talented CEOs or the wrong CEOs, for whom they don’t set goals and whom they don’t evaluate anyway.  They do not have a written strategic plan or a board development plan, or many other plans.  There is no orientation process, no education and no board evaluation.

Here’s the rub:  Board strength isn’t just an internal issue that is invisible to the community.  It is clearly visible.  Here’s what it looks like:

  • The organization has had a revolving door of CEOs.
  • The CEO has had a revolving door of senior staff.
  • The CEO has a very strong personality and does the work of the board, which the board allows either because they don’t know they shouldn’t or worse, because they are afraid if they challenge the CEO she or he will leave, which they don’t have the time, the inclination, the ability, or a plan to deal with.
  • The Board Chair has a very strong personality, and may also be a big donor, and other board members are afraid to alienate him.
  • There are quorum issues.
  • Board members tend to stay only one term.

Just because it’s like this today, doesn’t mean it has to stay like this.  Organizational transformation is possible and even probable with the right plan and the emotional fortitude to implement that plan.  Like any other challenge in life, if you don’t like the path you’re on, pick a new path:  Get your board together, or at least your executive or nominating committee, and come up with a plan.

Start by answering these questions:

  • Who do you have around the table?
  • Does everyone look the same?
  • Is everyone, in fact, the same?
  • Are there gaps in skill set, faith, race, capacity, interest, thought, ability, orientation, age, and gender?
  • Are there leaders in your community who can fill those gaps?
  • Who can get in front of those people, introduce and engage them in your organization?
  • How will you decide when and to whom to offer board seats?
  • When will you vote on new members?
  • What will you include in your orientation?
  • What type of evaluation will the board conduct of itself and how often?
  • What type of education does the board need and want?

Board development is the intentional process by which the board is perpetuated, evaluated, and educated.  Let’s get to it!

What’s been your experience?  How have you built a board?  As always, I welcome your experience and insight.

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