Dani Robbins

Posts Tagged ‘Board Committees’

Who Trained Your Board?

In Non Profit Boards on December 13, 2017 at 8:35 pm

The sentence I have repeated the most this month is this “your board will be as good as whomever trained them, which was possibly no one.” I’ve said that nine times, thus far, and it’s only the 13th.

Your Board will only be as good as whomever trained them, which actually may have been no one. The vast majority of Board members I have come across in my 25+ years in this field, including earlier in my career some of my own, have not been formally trained to their role.

Untrained Board members will do what they think is right, which may or may not be aligned with anything anyone else is doing, may or may not be aligned with the strategic plan of the agency and may not, in fact, be right.

Whose fault is that? It’s ours. Executive leaders are responsible for ensuring good Board process. Sure, it’s up to actual Board members to follow that process, but it’s our jobs to make sure it’s there to be followed.

We have a horrible history in this field of following the baptism by fire training model. It’s how I was trained. It’s likely how you were trained. It’s a bad model. Here’s the truth:

If you are frustrated that

  • your Board is not doing their job
  • they keep overstepping into your job
  • you keep having to overstep into their job
  • your board president is micromanaging
  • your board is not raising money
  • your board glazes because they do not understand the financials

It may be because they don’t understand what their job is- BECAUSE NO ONE HAS TRAINED THEM. If you want your board members to know what their job is, it’s your obligation to train them.

Just so we’re crystal clear, when I say trained, I don’t mean give an orientation on your agency (though props to you if you do that). I don’t mean handing new Board members a packet. Let me say once and for all: there is no such thing as training by Board packet. That’s not training. That’s reading. It’s not nothing, but it’s not enough.

I recommend you offer an actual Board training, annually or more often if you can get away with it, that outlines:

  • Board Role and Responsibilities
  • Duties under the Law
  • An overview of the intent of by-laws (called Code of Regulations in Ohio) and the specifics of yours
  • Officer Roles and the Executive’s Role
  • Committees structure, charts of work, goals and expectations
  • Conflicts of Interests
  • Board Governance Models
  • Basic Rules of Roberts Rules of Order (if that’s the model you follow, and it is for most agencies)
  • Meeting Structure
  • Governance Modes and Generative Governance Techniques

What do you have here? An opportunity! Float the idea. Ask about what your Board is interested.  What would they like to learn?  Make sure you offer options.

Here are some for your and their consideration:

  • Art of the Ask
  • Board Process – agendas setting, committees,  strategy, structure, engagement
  • Basic Board responsibilities- fiduciary and legal
  • Board vs Staff roles
  • Best Practices of Effective Boards
  • Mission relevant information

In the absence of Board training, executives are sometimes, either by choice or by vacuum, put in the position of fulfilling roles that are not their roles to fill. If you are doing their job, they are not. That also means you are not doing your job. Just because it needs to be done does not mean it needs to be done by you. Train your Board to fulfill their role, and then let them. If they aren’t doing what you want, it may be because you’re doing it. Stop.

It’s almost 2018, and as I mentioned in 8 things to stop doing in 2017, “the work of the Board gets done by committees. If you do not have committees, I encourage you to work to introduce them. Please click over to read Board Work via Board Committees.

In the absence of committees or even in the presence of them, you may still be doing their job. The easiest way to tell if you are is to consider who speaks the most at Board meetings. If it’s you, there’s your answer.

If they don’t do it and you do, you’ll keep doing it. You have to give it back.

How? By saying to each committee chair “I just learned that the Chairs of each committee should be leading the committee meetings and giving the committee reports at Board meetings. Would you be willing to do so? I’m happy to sit with you prior to the meeting and go over the report and help brainstorm the answers to expected questions.” “Oh, you don’t want to or won’t be there?”

Yes I know this is where you step into the breach. Resist.

“Ok, who should we ask to report instead?”

You can set committee chairs up to succeed. You can call and ask them to set a committee meeting. You can even suggest times, date and write the agenda. You can send out the invitations. You can prep them to chair the meeting. You can whisper in their ear during the meeting and even type up the minutes afterward. But you can’t lead the committee meeting or report out on it at the board meeting.

If you have tried and failed to give back the work of the committee to its Chair, you then can go to the Board Chair and/or the other Officers and ask for advice. Like this “Committee X hasn’t been meeting and /or seems to be having a hard time achieving their goals. Would you mind checking in with them and nudging them along?” “Oh, you have and nothing has changed? How would you like to handle that?”

While it is your Board to help develop, it’s not your Board to run or to manage. It’s not your committee and it’s not your meeting. It’s a Board meeting. The Board members should be talking; you should be there to listen, answer questions, present your report, make recommendations and offer support and guidance. You should not be the person in the room talking the most. If you are, they are not. We want them to lead. That may mean you have to let them.

Set your Board members up to succeed and they will help you lead your agency to heights you can’t even imagine today. Your agency will be stronger for it. As an added bonus, you’ll be less frustrated.”

Executives get a lot done by sheer willpower. Strong executives coupled with strong Boards, can lead our agencies to places no leader can get alone. Together, we can be unstoppable and because of the strength of our nonprofits, our communities can be stronger.

How have you trained your Board?  Board members, how were you trained? How has either improved your agency? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats

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Creating Board Buy-In

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Strategic Plans on March 18, 2016 at 9:00 am

I have found myself uttering this statement more than a few times in the last month: “If you include your team- board or staff- in the direction setting process, they will be more willing and likely to execute the strategies needed to accomplish the goal.” The only way to get buy in on a plan is to create it and the only way to create it is to involve people in the process, and then continue to engage them in the execution.

I know dozens of nonprofit CEOs, maybe hundreds. Each and every one of them gets up every day to do what they believe is best for their organization. Yet, they don’t always build the buy-in to accomplish the goals. Then they get frustrated because the board doesn’t participate. Or the board gets frustrated because they believe their time is not being valued or their input is not being sought. Or the staff gets frustrated because they’re being instructed on what to do without being told why, or sometimes how.

Why is this happening so consistently in our sector? Because many of our leaders have been trained on a premise that is inaccurate. The premise is that it is the CEO’s role to set the strategic direction and everyone else will fall in line. That is just not the case. It may be the case in the for profit field and because our field reflects so much of that field it gets very confusing. In the nonprofit field, one of the 5 roles of the Board is to set the Mission, Vision and Strategic Direction of an agency. That is not a role that can be farmed out to the Executive Director.

Here is some evidence of the faulty premise based on actual statements I have heard people say over the last 10 years, paraphrased and possibly softened or hardened over time and repetition. (I could go back further, but why?)

I Don’t Want to Bother Them

“My board is busy.” “My board is powerful” “They don’t have time for this.” All of which may be true. That is probably what attracted them to you and you to them, but they have the job. They have been appointed to govern your agency. This is governance.

I Don’t Trust Them

“This is my agency; it’s my baby.” “They may choose to go a different direction than the direction I want to go.”

One of the hardest pills to swallow for founders and executives who didn’t come up through our field is this one, very large, point: We are professional nonprofit leaders working for a Board that may not be as well versed in nonprofit law, the issue our agency exists to impact or Board process.

That Board has collectively been appointed to govern our agency. They speak with one voice and with that voice can fire us, the agency’s leader, change the agency’s mission and do whole lot of other things, some of which has the potential to be damaging, and not only to us.

It’s why building and training the board is so important. It’s why professional development for you and your team is so valuable. It’s why setting a strategy that everyone has bought into is critical.

Without each, there is the very real potential for chaos.

Why is my Board not more involved?

“Why don’t the committees meet?” “What are they not helping me raise money?” “I don’t have time have to stop what I’m doing to help them do it.” “Shouldn’t they already know this stuff?”

You’ve heard me say it before: You will be subject to whomever trained your board members before they came to you, which may be no one. If you want your Board to speak with one voice, to understand their role and the expectations of that role, to understand your role, and the responsibilities within each, you will have to train them.

Board work is primarily done by committees. Executive Directors support, which sometimes means encourages the Board to adopt, a committee structure. Once they have, you will then have to support them in fulfilling their expanded role AND- this a big and – go back to doing your job and stop doing theirs. (This is much harder that it sounds!) For more information on how to do that, please click here to see the last point in this post.

Creating Board buy in is the difference between a plan that gets written by you in your office or in a room in which everyone is proud to be. It’s the difference between the final product sitting on a shelf or getting executed. It’s the difference between your agency moving forward or spinning in circles. Build the buy-in. Create the plan. Move your mission forward!

What have you done to build Board buy-in? What are some faulty premises that you’ve seen? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

For My Executive Director Friends: Three More Things to Stop Doing

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on October 11, 2015 at 10:53 am

As I mentioned in my original post, the fascinating thing about being a consultant and people paying you to make recommendations is that they generally listen to your suggestions. They don’t always implement them but they at least consider them. Friends, on the other hand, call when they’re trying to figure things out, but do they listen? Not so much!

As such, for my many friends who serve in executive leadership roles in nonprofits, here are a few more things that you should stop doing. I hope that in doing so you will find the role more rewarding and also less frustrating.

  1. Postponing your own paycheck

Just to be crystal clear, I’m not talking about unpaid executive directors. I’m talking about executive directors who usually get paid but are not paying themselves this week (or possibly this month or this quarter). I totally understand how it seems reasonable to you to pay your team but not pay yourself. I get that there isn’t enough money in the bank. I get that it’s a cash flow issue. I get that it feels like the right thing to do, but it’s not.

I have been in the room when Board members are told that their execs have made this choice and they are, for the most part, not generally amused. They do not feel it’s honorable. They do not feel it’s noble. They think it’s nuts, dangerous for the agency and a liability for them. And they’re right.

If you truly do not have the cash to pay yourself, work with your Board to come up with a plan. Do not make the decision on your own to forgo your own paycheck in the hopes of saving your agency. It’s not fair or reasonable for your family. It’s outside the bounds of the labor laws. It’s also not your decision to make.

This is an issue to take to your Board. Don’t spring it on them at the last minute. And do not feel like it’s all on you. Nonprofits are run on a shared leadership model. Share the information and work with your Board to come up with a solution.

  1. Personally guarantee anything

You should not personally guarantee a loan for your agency. You should not personally secure an agency credit card, a line of credit or put anything you own up as collateral. You lead but do not own your agency.

This is not your company. Even if it was, companies put systems in place to protect their owners. This is your baby and it is your responsibility but not yours alone. You report to a Board and that Board can – and likely will -make a decision with which you don’t agree. You could quit or get fired tomorrow. If either of those eventualities occur, you will be still be liable for whatever you personally guaranteed.

Don’t do it. Work with your Board and your lending institution to find a solution to secure the resources you need.

  1. Owning the Work of the Board

If you are frustrated with your board, the answer may be looking back at you in the mirror. If they aren’t doing what you want, it may be because you’re doing it. Stop.

The work of the board gets done by committees. If you do not have committees, I encourage you to work to introduce them. Please click over to read Board Work via Board Committees.

In the absence of committees or even in the presence of them, you may still be doing their job. The easiest way to tell if you are is to consider who speaks the most at Board meetings. If it’s you, there’s your answer. Yes, I can hear you yelling at me through your computer but it’s still true.

If they don’t do it and you do, you’ll keep doing it. You have to give it back.

How? By saying to each committee chair “I just learned that the Chairs of each committee should be leading the committee meetings and giving the committee reports at Board meetings. Would you be willing to do so? I’m happy to sit with you prior to the meeting and go over the report and help brainstorm the answers to expected questions.” “Oh, you don’t want to or won’t be there?”

Yes I know this is where you step into the breach. Resist.

“Ok, who should we ask to report instead?”

You can set committee chairs up to succeed. You can call and ask them to set a committee meeting. You can even suggest times, dates and write the agenda. You can send out the invitations. You can prep them to chair the meeting. You can whisper in their ear during the meeting and even type up the minutes afterward. But you can’t lead the committee meeting or report out on it at the board meeting.

If you have tried and failed to give back the work of the committee to its chair, you then can go to the Board Chair and/or the other Officers and ask for advice. Like this “Committee X hasn’t been meeting and /or seems to be having a hard time achieving their goals. Would you mind checking in with them and nudging them along?” “Oh, you have and nothing has changed? How would you like to handle that?”

While it is your Board to help develop, it’s not your Board to run or to manage. It’s not your committee and it’s not your meeting. It’s a Board meeting. The Board members should be talking; you should be there to listen, answer questions, present your report, and offer recommendations, support and guidance. You should not be the person in the room talking the most. If you are, they are not. We want them to lead. That may mean you have to let them.

Set your board members up to succeed and they will help you lead your agency to heights you can’t even imagine today. Your agency will be stronger for it. As an added bonus, you’ll be less frustrated.

The CEO role is gratifying and it’s inspiring. It’s also hard and it’s lonely. Sometimes we make it harder than it needs to be. Stopping the above practices can make your difficult job not only a little less difficult, but also a little more rewarding.

What advice do you give your friends in leadership roles? What else would you add to my list? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

3 (not so easy) Steps to Improved Board Engagement

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Strategic Plans on September 11, 2015 at 12:16 pm

The one thing nonprofit leaders have asked me the most about this year is board engagement. (Last year it was fund raising. Go figure.) It’s not enough to build a good board. We also have to engage that board. Great is not a mountain that once you scale it, you’re done. Nothing stays great without commitment. As we all know, there’s always another mountain.

A few years ago I wrote a piece on engaging the board. The information contained within is still true, and today I want to take a deeper dive.

When Boards set expectations, recruit for fit, experience and skill set, provide training to members about their role and then couple that with good board process, a robust committee structure with work assigned as per the agency’s needs and plan to move forward, board members are much more engaged. In the absence of that, the work isn’t aligned so board members sometimes don’t think we need them, know what to do, or understand their role. Here’s a post to illustrate one board member’s experience.

It’s one thing to know what engagement and disengagement look like. It’s another thing to know what to do to get from one to the other.

Step 1 Board Development Committee

The Board President appoints a standing Board Development Committee with a respected committee chair, usually a long standing board member and often the past President. Most by-laws (Code of Regulations in Ohio) have some version of this committee so it is unlikely you will have to revise yours to get this done. That committee may also be called nominating or governance.

If your CEO does not already have one, create a spreadsheet that lists each board member’s individual on-boarding date and prospective renewal date. Ditto for each Officer.

The Board Development Committee follows that schedule: they say “thank you for your service” at the end of the term when a member is not meeting the board’s expectations or asks for another term of service if they are. They honor the term limits for officers and, if you have term limits for board members, they uphold those as well.

Their committee members are always on the lookout for new Board prospects that meet the board’s needs. They know their needs because they have completed a board matrix that mapped the current board and showed opportunities and gaps by which to seek new board members. Board Source has a free matrix which you can download here.

The Board Development committee has a very specific chart of work. Please click here to see that work in detail.

Step 2 – Board Process and the Work of Committees

Good board process is critical for board member engagement. Good board process includes have an agenda for every meeting, and a strong Chair that follows that agenda. It also requires discussing and voting on the right things, which may require a training to ensure people are clear what the right things are. (Spoiler alert: it’s not day to day operations. Each Board member should be trained as to the role of the board.) It also includes votes being taken appropriately and captured in writing.

To see the details of several committees you are likely to have or need and their general charts of work in detail please click here. Your Board should decide the committee’s actual chart of work based on the needs of your organization and its aspirations. Of course that means you have to have discussed and decided upon your aspirations.

Once you do, it may be that you need to plan out the tasks individual board members will do to move the work forward. Each chart of work should be broken down by the assigned committee into assignments, metrics and due dates. Once it is, you can identify the steps to move the work forward. There are great project management tools out there to outline the steps and track the work. I encourage you to find or design one that works for you.

For example, if the Resource Development Committee aspires to increase contributed income, it may not be enough to bring a list of community philanthropists to a meeting and ask people to write their names next to the folks they know. You and your chair may have to lead a discussion as to how and why that is the plan, engage people around the plan, train people to execute the plan and – then and only then- go through the names one by one and set goals, make assignments and set completion dates.

Board meetings are held to accomplish the business of the board and to report out on the work of committees. That’s the price of admission. Yet to build engagement they should also include mission moments and strategic and generative discussions.

Step 3 Strategic and Generative Governance

“It is not enough to have a strategic plan that made your Board members crazy and now sits on a shelf. Strategy is not a one day thing. Strategy requires direction setting, questioning and the committing of resources to ensure the destination is reached. It also requires the rejection of things that are outside the scope of our plan, or the revision of our plan. It necessitates having a culture that allows for and encourages questioning, and sometimes dissent. Board meetings should include robust discussions.”

I want each and every board member to feel privileged to be in the room. I often do an exercise with Board members and ask them to write down on a piece of paper their opinion of board meetings on a scale from 1-4: 1 is I can’t believe I left my office for this. 4 is I feel privileged to be in the room. How would your Board members vote?

“We engage board members initially by talking to them about our organization’s mission, the impact it makes in our communities and our vision for changing our corner of the world. They joined our boards in order to help us do those things – and then we never talked with them ever again about any of it. Ever. Again.

We talk with board members about money, what we spent and why we need more of it; we talk with them about fund raising and why they need to do more of it; we talk with them about the problems we’re having and what we need from them to fix it.

We don’t talk with them nearly enough about what they want, about why they joined our board, and what they hoped to get out of their service.” Not Fund Raising? Not Engaged.

Board members join our boards to help us move forward our missions. We need to spend far more time at board meetings talking about the community issue that created the need for our agency, our values, how those values play out, how we are impacting our clients and what is happening in the world that is challenging our ability to meet our mission. We need to be diving deeper on the issues we care about and looking differently at how we are moving the needle for change.

I’ve said it before “if Boards are just going to approve the things put in front of them, anyone can do that. We don’t need our community’s best and brightest to serve on our Boards for that. We do need our community’s best and brightest to lead, to govern and to be strategic about the needs of our communities and generative about the issues we face.”

Boards that are developed, trained, focused on the right things and governing strategically and generatively are engaged, and engaged boards coupled with amazing leadership move mountains!

What’s been your experience in engaging a board? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Board Meetings: Privileged to be in the Room

In Non Profit Boards on June 3, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), which if you are not familiar is generally included among the best publications in our field, recently invited me (and others) to the Better Board Governance webinar with the words: “Many—and some leaders believe most—nonprofit boards are ineffective.”

Many boards are ineffective! It’s true, and when SSIR says it, it gives each of us permission to say it, and hopefully to fix it. It’s one of my personal and professional goals to make this less of the case.

I work with a lot of boards and my goal is always that each and every board member feels privileged to be in the room. Now that’s a pretty high bar, but board members work hard, for several years, for free. It’s our job to make it worthwhile for them.

“We engaged board members initially by talking to them about our organization’s mission, the impact it makes in our communities and our vision for changing our corner of the world. They joined our boards in order to help us do those things – and then we never talked with them ever again about any of it. Ever. Again.

We talk with board members about money, what we spent and why we need more of it; we talk with them about fund raising and why they need to do more of it; we talk with them about the problems we’re having and what we need from them to fix it.

We don’t talk with them nearly enough about what they want, about why they joined our board, and what they hoped to get out of their service.” Not Fund Raising? Not Engaged.

Board members join our boards to help us move forward our missions. We need to spend far more time at board meetings talking about our missions, our clients and how our programs are impacting their lives.

That, of course, means we have to spend less time talking about other things. Or we need to have longer meetings. I’m not opposed to longer meetings. I believe that we each need to put in the time it takes to get the job done. That said, there are a few ways to ways to make sure the things discussed at meetings should be discussed at meetings. Here’s a few ways to make that happen:

The first, easiest and most effective way to have shorter meetings is to have a robust committee structure. Most of the work of the board gets done in committee. Committees make recommendations to the full board, as necessary. Outside of such recommendations, which other than the finance committee should be periodic and not monthly, committees fulfill their chart of work, which is usually outlined in the by-laws and aligned with the appropriate goal in the strategic plan. For more information about committees, please see Board Work via Board Committees.

Board meetings cannot be allowed to become committee meetings. If they are tottering in that direction, the chair needs to send the issue back to committee and invite interested board members to attend the next committee meeting.

Consent agendas are another great way to reduce time spent on some things to allow time for other things, but ONLY – and I really mean only – if your board is reading the things they are voting upon. “When you consider if a consent agenda is right for your board, consider the board members who most often attend. Do they typically read materials in advance or in the room? If they read them in advance, consent agendas can allow more time for robust generative discussions. If they read them in the room, they may not have time to read all the materials and may be voting on things about which they are not entirely clear. If that is the case, consent agendas can create issues of liability for your agency.” Decision are Made by Those who Show Up

The idea is that a consent agenda includes items that the board should see but doesn’t need to discuss; it is expected to be approved in full, but it doesn’t have to be. Any board member can question any item included in the consent agenda, which will then open up the item for discussion. Consent agendas can include the minutes from the past meeting, any committee report that does not need a board vote, and any other materials. Financial reports should not be included in the consent agenda but instead should be presented and voted upon at each meeting.

Hopefully, we have redirected enough time, with one or both of the ideas mentioned, to allow you to introduce mission moments, information about things happening in the world that will impact the clients you serve or your organization and generative and strategic discussions. If not, please do consider making your meetings longer. I think your board members will agree that longer, more effective meetings are preferable to shorter, less effective meetings.

It would be great if you could start meetings by talking about the mission, introduce ideas about strategy in the middle and end with generative conversations. Remember, generative conversation don’t always have answers. “To be or not to be” was probably the first generative question to be posed. Just because there are no answers doesn’t mean it won’t be a fascinating discussion.

Here are some questions to get you started:

Is offering this program the best way to meet our mission?

Should philanthropists only give to the cause they believe in or should they address the largest needs in our community? What, if anything, is their obligation?

What is the government’s role in addressing poverty? What is the community’s role?

Since I started with SSIR, I’ll end with our other venerable institution, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which last week in their generative article “Foundations Must Rethink Their Ideas of Strategic Giving and Accountability” asked the questions:

“What are our responsibilities as institutions with a growing public role?

How can we add clarity and context to transparency?

What is our real responsibility for showing Impact? How much can or should we control?

How can we improve our working relationship with citizens and demonstrate respect?”

What are some generative conversations you’ve had? What’s been your experience in moving toward generative governance? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Creating a New Nonprofit

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on April 16, 2014 at 10:49 am

I have two clients right now who are looking to create a new nonprofit, and you know two is my magic number for questions and ideas that generate a blog post. As such, let’s talk about creating a nonprofit, which for our purposes today will mean a 501 (c) 3, as opposed to other nonprofits that are not charitable institutions. For more information on that, please see All Nonprofits Are Not Charities.

Before we get in too deep, and on behalf of the people I can hear out there yelling at their computer that the world does not need any more nonprofits, if you haven’t already committed to this path, please click over to read Before You Start A New Nonprofit. There may be options that you have not considered.

If you’re still reading, I will assume that you have done your homework and have concluded that creating a new agency is the way to go. Thank you for wanting to impact your corner of the world and the issues about which you are passionate.

The vast majority of time you will spend at the beginning of the launch is on board development.

Strong boards beget strong agencies. You (and your board once it’s built) will have to set the mission and vision for the organization, create a plan, build the profile, the program and lots of other things to introduce your new agency to your community.

The first official step to create a nonprofit is to hire a lawyer and have the proper paperwork filed. You can file it yourself but I wouldn’t. There are lots of things that I’m willing to figure out (and sometimes learn the hard way), but legal and accounting issues are not usually among them. Once you have filed, usually with both your state and the IRS, you may also need to register as a charity, depending on the state and city in which you will operate.

Make sure that your lawyer has expertise in nonprofit law. If they don’t and you still want to use them, find someone who has that expertise. It can be a consultant, an executive director, or someone who has previously started an agency. Sometimes, lawyers, especially those who are not experts in the nonprofit field, create very basic by-laws, and that won’t be enough. I recommend you start with 12-18 members, not the three that usually get listed on initial by-laws. Three people aren’t enough to get where you want to go. If 12 seems daunting, and you really truly only have 3 people initially, write it as 3-18.

I recommend three-year terms for board members. Try to stagger the terms so that everyone doesn’t roll off at once. It is considered a best practice, by many, to have term limits, usually two or three terms for a total of six to nine years. At that point, really dedicated board members may roll off for a year and then be reappointed.  This is not a best practice I usually advocate.  It’s necessary if you have a board that is conflict adverse. If you have a board that’s willing to address issues and thank people when they’re no longer effective or engaged, you won’t need to say goodbye, even for a year, to effective board members.

I recommend one year terms for officers, renewable once. That may not feel like long enough for the founder and if that’s the case, write the by-laws for longer terms with the understanding that in the future you will revise the by-laws and back down the officer terms. It is not good for an agency to have long term officers. New blood and new ideas are needed on the board to continue to move the organization forward.

Finally, I recommend you create at least three committees: a board development committee to create, perpetuate and educate the board; a finance committee to make sure that the organization is spending its resources in accordance with GAAP standards and appropriately protecting the community’s investment; and a resource development committee to encourage the board and the community to invest in your agency’s mission. For more information on committees, please click here. The committees, once appointed, need to set and meet goals including building, training and annually evaluating the board (and the executive if you have one), personally giving, raising money from others and stewarding the money that is raised.

Once the board is built – at least the first time around – you can move on to other things. As you will find out if you haven’t already learned, board development is an on-going process in any nonprofit agency that never quite ends, but for our purposes, let’s say we’re happy with our initial board.

The next step is mission, vision and strategic (then tactical) planning. I can hear some of you thinking that we should have planned first, but planning requires the right people at the table so while it may look like a chicken and egg scenario, it’s not. You need the right board to create the right plan.

One of the keys responsibilities of a board is to set the mission, vision and strategic direction. The mission answers why the agency exists. The vision answers where the agency aspires to be at a future point in time. The plan lays out the path to get there. Once you have the strategic plan, you will also need a tactical plan to operationalize the work.

Part of the plan, especially at the beginning, will be the program and its potential to impact the community you aspire to serve. Please include that community in your planning efforts.  Also consider the staffing needed to create, introduce, offer and evaluate whatever services you plan to provide.

Finally, create a plan to introduce your agency and its program to the community, including partner agencies, potential funders and donors. This again may seem like a chicken and egg scenario but you will need to have a program plan before you can talk to people about your aspirations. They can’t buy in, if you can’t paint the picture.

Starting a new nonprofit is exciting, and daunting. Like anything else in the nonprofit world, a good board and a well thought-out plan can get you pretty far.

Have you started a new nonprofit? Can you share your experiences? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Board Work via Board Committees

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards on December 2, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Appointed or elected community leaders govern an organization. As outlined in my favorite Board book Governance as Leadership  and summarized in The Role of the Board, the Fiduciary Mode is where governance begins for all boards and ends for too many.  I encourage you to also explore the Strategic and Generative Modes of Governance, which will greatly improve your Board’s engagement, and also their enjoyment.

At a minimum, governance includes:

  • Setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan
  • Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the Executive Director
  • Acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent
  • Raising Money and
  • Setting Policy

Committees are how the work of the Board gets done. Committees are critical to a well-functioning Board. In the absence of committees, Board meetings become de facto committee meetings which leads to long, meandering Board meetings that tend to disengage Board members. Board disengagement means less effective Boards that govern less effective agencies. Strong Boards beget strong organizations.

Introducing or enhancing your committee structure can be the difference between getting by and getting ahead. It solidifies and aligns the work, which ensures such work get accomplished.

The committees, their structure and definitions will be outlined in your organization’s by-laws, which in Ohio are called Code of Regulations. The by-laws will also dictate if committee chairs and committee members must be Board members. I recommend that the chairs be board members but that committee membership not be limited to only Board members. Committee work is a great way to build the bench of a Board, see how someone works and if they are a good fit for a future board position. Most organizations have a requirement that Board members serve on at least one committee.

Committee members are responsible to the full Board for the research, work, framing of the issues and recommendation in their assigned area.  There are a minimum of three committees I recommend as “must haves,” which are Board Development, Resource Development, and Finance Committee.

There is often also some version of an Executive Committee and there may be other committees as well. Let’s review each.

Executive Committee

The Executive Committee is usually the four Officers (President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary of the Board) or the Officers plus the Committee Chairs.  Less often, Executive Committees have members at large.

Executive Committees can sometimes make decisions in lieu of the full board. This will be clearly stated in the by-laws. I generally recommend Boards only use this option in the case of emergencies. In fact, other than in emergency situations when I think they’re critical, I generally recommend against the Executive Committee meeting on a regular basis.

Powerful Executive Committees tend to disengage the remaining board members. It allows the few to operate without the whole. Anything that contributes to board member disengagement works against the agency’s success and should be avoided.

Finance Committee

The Finance Committee, chaired by Treasurer, works with the appropriate staff in examining the financial reports, understanding and monitoring the financial condition of the organization and preparing the annual budget. The Treasurer presents the monthly financial statements to the Board at each board meeting. This committee also selects an audit firm each year and reviews the audit plan, audit and 990, which should be signed by the Treasurer prior to submission.

As it is sometimes considered a conflict that the committee that monitors the books also manages the auditor selection, it is considered a best practice to have a separate audit committee.  If this is not feasible for your organization and as auditing firms are independent of the agency, this conflict can be mitigated by bidding out your audit and changing your auditor every few years.

Resource Development Committee

The Resource Development Committee works with the CEO, the senior development staff, if there is one, and the Board of Directors in developing strategies to identify and secure needed resources and funding to support the organization. The Committee is responsible for creating and executing a plan to raise money. The full Board is responsible for introducing their network to the organization, attending events, financially supporting the organization and encouraging others to do as well.

Board Development Committee

The Board Development Committee is concerned with identification of new Board members and the development of the future leadership of the Board. The Board Development Committee helps develop an effective Board through its two main functions:

Board Building:  A diverse board of directors (thought, skill, race, faith, ability, orientation, age, and gender) that is passionate about the mission of the organization is created through a Board Building process.

Board Education:  Board members will fully understand and effectively fulfill their commitments to the Board of Directors when a comprehensive orientation, continuing education, annual evaluation and recognition process is in place.

With the exception of a functioning Executive Committee, the Board Development Committee is usually the most powerful committee of the Board.  It is often the only committee that you can’t just volunteer for but must be invited to join and is the only committee I recommend be made up entirely of board members.

Other Committees

Some Boards also have program committee, human resource committees and a variety of other committees.

The Program Committee is responsible for the program side of the Board’s fiduciary responsibility. They focus on how the programs tie to the organization’s mission, what they impact, how that impact is measured and the number of people who are served in those programs.

The Human Resource Committee is responsible for the development and recommendation of the personnel and other relevant policies, the creation of a salary adjustment plan and the framework for the CEOs evaluation.

A Word of Caution

I recommend caution when creating committees to do the work of staff. It gets very confusing as to who is responsible for what and responsible to whom. If Board members are acting in staff roles, the Executive Director retains the authority for decision making. If the Board members are operating within the scope of their roles, the Board has the authority for decision making. Conversations had in advance can help you avoid role confusion and the overstepping of boundaries.

Do you agree with my three “must have” committees?  What else do you recommend? What is your experience with committee work? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

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