Dani Robbins

The Best Advice

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards on April 15, 2013 at 3:39 pm

The best advice I ever received as a nonprofit CEO was “you will get the board you build.” Up until that day, which I will never forget, I thought that since I reported to the Board, I should stay out of it.  Boy, was I wrong!  In addition to giving up the power to influence who would become the future leaders of my organizations, and as such, my future bosses, I also passed on the chance to educate my board about their governance responsibilities.  I failed to use my position to strengthen the board and through them to strengthen my agency.  Up until that moment, I didn’t understand that building the board was my job.

When I finally clued in and began to participate in board development efforts, my agency benefited in spades: we created a vision that improved services, and the number of people receiving those services; we merged with another organization, did a capital campaign, built a new building, and renovated two more buildings.  And the board of directors became the board of choice in the community.

Now that I am a consultant, I field calls from CEOs and Board members alike looking for board governance assistance and using words like “under-engaged, overstepping, self-serving, and in-fighting.”  The solution is board development.

Board development is an intentional process that includes strategic prospecting, recruiting, and orienting for new board members and educating, evaluating and recognizing our current board members, coupled with a strategic plan (that is being followed) and the introduction of generative discussions.

Strong CEOs build strong boards.  As discussed in greater detail in the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives “the CEO’s role in board development is to understand the work of the board and its processes, and support the implementation of each. CEOs play a primary role in building the board. As such, they have the opportunity to assemble a board that can take the organization to new heights.’  ‘The CEO assists in building the board to which she will ultimately report and also makes recommendations, staffs board committees, and supports the board’s success.  CEOs do not have the authority to add board members.

In the case of board development, CEO’s should also:

  • Support the recruitment of potential board members; arrange and attend meetings with prospective board members and the board or committee chair, share the agency’s vision, mission, and board processes, including time, giving and getting expectations, and assess the capacity of the prospective member to fit on the team;
  • Manage the board development process, including spreadsheet of terms of office;
  • Ensure board training and evaluation.”

The most important thing a Board does is hire a visionary and talented nonprofit leader, the CEO.  I believe you need that CEO to (among many other things) build the board, and you need the board to (among other things) hire, support and evaluate the leader.  It’s a bit like two sides of the same coin.

Strong boards coupled with strong leadership can impact a community in a way that neither could do alone; and that impacts the issue, moves the needle and changes the world.  Isn’t that why we all do this work…to change the world?

  1. Pitch perfect, Dani. I’ve always described what you just did as a “waltz” where two dance partners switch off “leading” in mid-dance and sometimes multiple times before the song is over. I think I like your description better. Thanks for sharing.


  2. […] Monday, Dani Robbins’ Non Profit Evolution blog started off with these words, “The best advice I ever got as a nonprofit CEO was . . […]


  3. […] Remember you get the board you build.  Dani Robbins of Non Profit Evolution says in a refreshingly personal and honest post, “The best advice I ever got as a nonprofit CEO […]


  4. Thanks for sharing this – as I embark on launching a new board it is great to remember how important the CEO is in this process. It is great to be starting with a really strong CEO and you to help guide us.


  5. […] The Best Advice (Dani Robbins, Non Profit Evolution) […]


  6. […] have to be intentionally built, properly educated and evaluated. As included in The Best Advice you will get the board you build. “Board development is an intentional process that includes […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: