Tuesday, October 8, 2013

About that board of yours

There are generally three types of boards.
  •             Committed and effective
  •            Committed but ineffective
  •            Disinterested and ineffective

If your organization has a committed and effective board, you are truly blessed. Unfortunately, the clients I deal with usually seem to have one of the latter two boards. What are the characteristics of these boards?

What makes a good board?
A good board works well together. They respect each other's views. There are no prima donnas. They each have skills and strengths that make the organization more effective as a whole, and provide stability, control, and guidance, as well as passion. They support the nonprofit and the mission in every way that they can. They give freely of their time, and their money if they have it. They are better ambassadors for the organization than any PR firm you can hire. Planning, dispassionately evaluating results, and applying corrective action are the strong points of this type of board.

Committed but ineffective boards
Committed but ineffective boards have the same type of passion for the mission, and very often are the hardest workers for the cause. Their weakness is that they tend to work hard, not smart. Sometimes they are so focused on success that they don't have the patience to follow through with strategies or do in-depth planning. They may not have useful skills, and by that I mean things that come from experience in meeting or solving ordinary business problems. They are what I call big-picture boards. They know exactly what result they want, but have no idea how to get there.

They often don't even recognize that they may be the problem. This type of board finds it easy to blame outside influences. Failure is always someone else's fault.

These are the boards that over-commit available resources, start programs without any idea of how to sustain them, hate fundraising, and don't understand the day-to-day process of running an effective nonprofit. If a grantor asks how they intend to meet their goal, they don't have a series of step-by-step, measurable goals. If something isn't succeeding, they don't know how to find the cause and correct it.

Fortunately, as long as this board has the desire and capacity to learn, they can almost always evolve into that dream board every nonprofit dreams about having.

Disinterested and ineffective boards

The third category is the hardest to deal with, primarily because the reasons for being disinterested and ineffective are so varied.

These boards can be poorly formed in the beginning. By that I mean that they were conned into serving on the board just so the nonprofit founder could say there was a board in place. They may have only a passing interest or even no interest at all in the mission. They may not have understood that they were making a commitment of time and/or money that they now find is insupportable in their life. The members may not have the skills necessary to run an organization. They may have no interest in, or ability to begin acquiring those skills.

They may be frustrated in their attempts to govern and guide by a single strong personality, either the founder or a single member that doesn't work well with dissenting points of view. After a while, the board feels like a well-used rubber stamp.

The board may be too well entrenched. While continuity is a great thing, when I see a board primarily comprised of a dozen or so twenty-year members complaining about lack of results, I worry. After a while, continuity can become stagnation. Any new members learn quickly that the old way is the only way.

The board could be made up of what I call "bio padders". They just like to say they belong to a board, any board, because it looks good in their biography. They join and that's just about the last time you see them unless the food is especially good.

Whatever the cause, this type of board needs a make-over, or even a do-over. The root cause for their situation has to be discovered and corrected. Sometimes it is up to the founder/president to get new members, and sometimes the board may have to deal with the disruptive member. Sometimes it is necessary to bring in a coach or consultant to get things moving again.

Judging from the number of people that say " I do everything and the board doesn't help", getting this type of board on the right track is difficult.

If you think you may have a board problem, give me a shout. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh set of eyes to begin to find the right path. You can reach me at granthelp@ida.net.

©R.L. Baisch October 2013

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