On the continuum from perfection to "oh dear", there are probably a few boards that have it all together. But wherever your board is in that range, there is almost certainly a way to align its practices more closely to the needs of your mission. And this doesn't always mean having to be better, sometimes it just means being different.
It could be that the environment has changed around you and your board practices have to change with it. It could be that some of your people are new and folks have to adjust to different styles.
Whatever the case, thinking about how your board is organized and operates is the first step.
- How are you organized?
- Do you have the basics? Including functioning committees with strong leadership who work together well?
- Are your meetings efficient and productive?
- Do you have the right amount of program oversight?
Once the basics are clear, the Board and Chief Executive can assess how well the most significant duties are being performed. While there are numerous excellent outlines of Board roles and responsibilities (1), they can be thought of in terms of Mission, Money and Leadership. If board members are clear about their role, they can focus on things like, “Do our programs support our mission?” Rather than, “Is program 1 meeting all the requirements of Contract A.”
There are many ways to go about this assessment. Every organization has to decide for itself how much analysis and planning, for example, is too much. Charles Lindblom’s classic article The Science of Muddling Through (2) is an excellent example of how to consider when it is time to just get on with it.
Similarly, Boards have to be able to move beyond their fiduciary responsibility for the budget and really think about how they can help develop resources, so mission planning can take place from a position of strength.
Leadership responsibilities are perhaps the hardest. Is the Board really evaluating the Chief Executive? Is the Board really evaluating itself?
For these three roles and the tasks within them, such as compliance oversight and ambassadorship, each Board has to be organized in a way that helps to accomplish them. If not, the Board will get bogged down and not advance the mission.
Each board is different and will develop its operations in unique ways. But there are some basic questions: Are we following our own procedures and recognized best practices? Sometimes the Board just doing what the Board knows it should is a drastic change.
Are the right people on the Board? Individuals on the Board need to grow and develop, of course. But the Board as a whole also needs to grow and develop and that can mean an evolution that includes new members.
Perhaps as importantly, can the Board address its own development as a positive thing? Board service is fulfilling and incredibly valuable. Board members acknowledging that change is needed are not saying that they have done anything wrong. They realize that the environment that they are working in is challenging and rapidly changing and they know that addressing those challenges and changes is imperative.
Join the January 17th webinar, Organizing Your Board to Get Things Done, to explore more about board structures and answer common questions about governance models and board organization.
(1) Ten basic responsibilities of nonprofit boards: Richard T. Ingram. -- Third Edition (2015) BoardSource, Washington DC.
(2) The Science of "Muddling Through", Charles E. Lindblom, Public Administration Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Spring, 1959), pp. 79-88, Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Society for Public Administration.
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