What a question! The mere fact that you’re asking says that you’ve had bad experience with consultants coming in and telling everyone what they ‘should’ be doing.
That is such a wrong approach, it’s no wonder board training has such a bad rap. Even the word ‘training’ is demeaning. It sounds like you’re training animals in a zoo or a circus.
The secret to getting board members to know and be responsible for their duties is to
get them to figure it out for themselves.
As with anything else, start with the end in mind. Then you can reverse engineer to find the steps that will lead you there.
You say you need board education. Why? What’s the end result of board education? It’s not having board members know their roles. That’s only a stepping stone.
Board members knowing their role is a means to having a thriving organization.
If you want board members to know and be invested in their role, engage them in a robust conversation around what you need to have a THRIVING ORGANIZATION. not a thriving board.
The conversation will be generative, and include many things. But ultimately, while every organization may be unique, they each need these 3 things**:
- An eye on the future and a plan for embracing that future
- Resources to conduct business right now and resources to support that plan for embracing the future
- A way to ensure the resources are being used wisely
**Note: One of the first things to come up will be ‘money.’ Money is a red herring. Money, just like an effective board, is a means to an end. Counter that with ‘What does money make possible?’ or, if necessary, ‘Besides money…’
The board has a role to play in each of them.
The first is the future orientation – the long view. Board members have a responsibility to watch the world and consider how it will impact the organization.
The second is finding the resources – fundraising, relationships, hiring the executive, ensuring the talent is there. Board members have a responsibility to make sure the organization has what it needs to fulfill the mission, whether it’s treasure or talent.
The third is oversight and evaluation – are we being careful with the resources, are we following the law, are our programs the best way of fulfilling our mission. Board members have the responsibility to ensure that the organization is putting its resources where they’ll do the most good, and not jeopardizing the mission with poor or illegal practices.
Once you have these established, the next step is for the group to generate the HOW.
How will you make sure you have a future orientation? What will it take to generate the different kinds of resources? What will make it possible to ensure that resources are wisely used, and we’re following the law? In the conversation, you may suggest some recommended practices.
It’s at this point you can tell the board members that they, themselves, have come up with what their roles and responsibilities are. You can present the usual checklist of responsibilities and show them that they’ve generated most of them themselves.
Board education doesn’t have to be deadly – or demeaning. A retreat to engage your board members in the whys and wherefores of a board makes the role of board member meaningful, and uses their passion to generate their own individual roles.
An external facilitator can often make this retreat flow more easily. Let me know if you want to explore that possibility. To learn more about nonprofit boards and facilitation, you can follow me at The Detwiler Group.
Professional Development is for Staff, Not Boards.
Imagine you have an ailment that takes you to the doctor. On the wall is her diploma from 20 years ago. “Ah!” you think. “She has a lot of experience. Hmm, I wonder if she’s kept up with the latest thinking in caring for my ailment.” In 20 years, there have been ag lot of medical advances.
Keeping up in your field is important.
Companies invest in training and development for their managers and staff. Bar associations require Continuing Legal Education credits; American Medical Association requires Continuing Medical Education; school systems require Continuing Education credits for teachers.
With so many examples of professions requiring continuing education, why do board members say they don’t need to keep up with trends in board service?
I already know what I’m doing!
They give a lot of reasons:
- Hubris – “I don’t need any training. I’ve been on boards for 20 years, and I already know what I need to know.”
- Cost – “Why are we spending money on our board when our programs need the money?”
- Disdain – “I’ve been through board training so many times, and it’s never been useful.”
- Time – “We have to spend our time taking care of business; we don’t have time to waste on training.”
- Assumption – “I’d like to get some training, but I don’t think anyone else on the board would.”
Underlying all of these is a basic misunderstanding. They believe board service is simple, static, and hasn’t changed in 20 years; there’s nothing new to learn. Even if there is something new, it’s not going to make a difference.
Actually, the field of board service is changing.
The fields of sociology, organizational dynamics and neuroscience have upended some longstanding ‘best practices’ and received wisdom. Organizations that put the new ideas into practice are more successful than those that do not.
Last year, I gave a series of seminars around board relations and governance. As I set the curriculum for this year’s cohort of attendees, I’ve been spending almost as much time updating the materials as I did creating it in the first place. Articles from Nonprofit Quarterly; BoardSource; Standards for Excellence; Harvard Business Review and more have supplied fodder for high level discussion around governance and building a board into a team. In many cases, the new research have been a complete surprise; in others, they’ve demonstrated nuance where absolutes have reigned.
The bottom line is that these discoveries have made board service richer, more robust, more enjoyable, and, perhaps most importantly, more effective.
Boards with contemporary training spend less time on the past and more time focused on the future. Boards built into teams spend less time infighting, and more time figuring out how to better deliver their mission. Boards with good relationships amongst members have rich discussions around substantive issues. Boards that have developed an inclusive mentality have the advantage of diverse viewpoints and experiences around the table, with all the creativity that inspires.
All of these have been the result of continuous professional board education.
And their organizations are stronger for it.
Get in touch for a conversation about board education and how facilitating professional board development can make your work easier. Or sign-up here for more ideas about managing boards and planning.
Do you have a board profile matrix? Good! Now throw it out.
Harsh? Maybe. Necessary? You decide.
Where did you get that matrix? Was it found somewhere in a template? Maybe it came from someone else’s board; it looked good, so you adopted it. Maybe it’s a legacy matrix that has been handed down for the last 10 years by the Governance Committee (or Executive Committee, or Nominating Committee).
The problem is,
If you didn’t develop that matrix AFTER you decided what you want to be doing in the next 5 years, there’s a chance your board won’t match your ambitions.
First, decide what you’re doing. Then figure out what passions, skills, attributes, connections, experiences need to be present on your board to make it possible to do it. THEN evaluate your current board against those attributes.
Otherwise, you may be using five year old hardware to run state-of-the-art software. And we know how well that works.
Planning your future includes planning what you need to create that future. Let me know if you want to talk about planning. Happy to have that conversation, or facilitate your group discussing its future.
credit: John Quidor
In Washington Irving’s story of Rip Van Winkle, old Rip goes off hunting to the mountains, encounters supernatural beings, drinks of their keg of brew, and falls asleep. Upon awakening, he returns home, only to find that 20 years have passed and the country is no longer beholden to King George III but is instead a republic with George Washington at the helm.
Imagine yourself, 20 years from now, returning to the nonprofit of which you are a part. Would you recognize it? Is the mission the same? Are its values the same? Would you still want to support it?
Organizations review their missions regularly; that’s a good thing. Nonprofits must evolve over time or risk irrelevance. But there is a difference between evolving to better serve the greater vision and doing a complete about-face on what that greater vision is.
This is the imperative of board recruitment:
Do your new directors aspire to the original vision of the institution?
If not, the organization may, in the words of Nonprofit Quarterly, be hijacked.
Consider the American Bible Society, which moved from a nonsectarian mission to distribute bibles to one that overtly espouses an evangelical point of view. As Ruth McCambridge relates, the move has been gradual, but appears caused by having individuals with a particular point of view on the board. These individuals in turn recruited like-minded other directors, until board level decisions began reflecting their particular view, affecting all their programs and policies.
This very clear example is a cautionary tale.
Whom your board recruits today affects what your organization looks like 20 years from now.
Each successive board moves the institution forward, and the tiny shifts build up over time.
Diversity of viewpoints keep the organization from shifting too far in one direction or another. The vibrant discussions that diversity leads to is one factor in ensuring that each decision is thoroughly examined.
Diversity of experience, viewpoints, skills and aptitudes keeps organizations relevant. It’s also a way to keep the vision front and center.
Recruitment is a fiduciary responsibility and a crucial investment in your future.
Sign up here for other hints about building a great board, or balancing growth and caution. Or if you want a no-obligation conversation about board relations, let me know.
“A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done.” Fred Allen
“A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.” Milton Berle
Then there’s this rubber stamp I was given, that said,
“Great idea! Assign a committee to foul it up!”
There is an image of nonprofit board committees as the place where ideas go to die a slow and lingering death; where process overcomes inspiration; where group-think strangles innovation.
But if you’re running an organization, it’s really hard to get anything done if you can’t segment off a group of people to work on specific jobs. How do you get people to work on these jobs? You invite them. Nicely.
The problem with committees is that word: “commit”.
That’s especially true in today’s society. Sometimes I feel so rushed and overwhelmed, that the thought of taking on another commitment sends me screaming in the other direction –Noooooo!!!!! You mean, I have to come to meetings and be obligated for two whole years???
But if someone said to me, “Hey, Janay has this great idea; Jim and I are going to help her make it happen. Can you join us?” my answer is probably going to at least lead to a query for more information.
Asking someone to join the Finance Committee might be deadly. Asking someone to help figure out the best way to maximize the dollars we have available for our mission…? Well, that’s intriguing.
Being offered an idea for engaging new supporters and telling them to give the idea to a committee is disheartening. Being asked to explore the idea with others and generate ways to make it work is an invitation.
Committees aren’t inherently bad. It’s how we ask people to serve that creates the deadly atmosphere surrounding them.
Invite people to MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.
Let’s change the conversation.
This is based on a January 2014 post. It bears repeating!
For more ideas for inspiring boards, sign up at The Detwiler Group. Or contact me for a no-obligation conversation.
Face it. People don’t always do what they’ve promised to do.
They mean it when they promise. They believe in the cause, and they truly believe they will accomplish the task they’ve agreed to do. Board members and program volunteers alike. They’re committed. They know it’s important.
So why don’t they actually do it?!?!
Life gets in the way. Your volunteers and board members don’t eat, sleep and breathe your mission the way your staff does. Their time frame is different from yours. Boards meet monthly or quarterly. If you’re the CEO, you’re on a daily time frame. Your board members eat sleep and breathe their own work.
So as CEOs and senior staff we rant, vent and resent that our board members need to be reminded about their reports (aren’t they grownups??) and we sigh in exasperation that our trustees haven’t made their friendraising calls (don’t they know how important this is???).
Actually, they do know how important it is. And they feel badly when they don’t follow through. But their urgent takes precedence over your necessary. No matter what the level of volunteer, our cause is just one aspect of their lives.
What’s a board president (or executive director) to do?
That’s a great question. Why don’t you ask them?
Janice, I know plan to get the board reports online a week before the next board meeting. What will it make it possible for you to do that? What do you need?
DeShon, I really appreciate your commitment to make 4 friendraising calls each week. What will make it possible for you to do that? What do you need from us?
For every end result we want, some things have to happen first. Sometimes we have to set the stage. Our volunteers may not be thinking that way. The questions:
“What will make it possible for you to do that?” and
“What do you need?”
starts the mind thinking of what those necessary things are. They may say something like, “remind me on Wednesday.” Or, “can you give me some actual words to say on the call?” Or “actually, this isn’t a great week for me, but can you sit with me on Saturday and help make those first calls?”
Whatever it is, it’s a lot more productive than ranting, and you and they have a path forward.
Now you can think about what to do with that extra energy.
Click here to receive more tips and thoughts on board relations, planning and nonprofit management; or get in touch for a no-obligation conversation about how you can improve your board meetings.