5 ways to build staff – board relations

5 ways to build staff – board relations

Does your staff know what the board does? Really?

In conversations with emerging professionals, I find they often haven’t a clue what the point of a board is. Frankly, I sometimes get that question from Executive Directors, too [but that’s a whole ‘nother issue].

Passionate people working for you.

Right now, I want to talk about the staff. The young professionals. The people you rely on at the front lines to deliver your mission.

Most of them care about the mission. They care about why you exist. Many of them care deeply and passionately. It’s not just a job. Unfortunately, they often lack a big picture of the entire organization as a unified entity, supported by the volunteer board of directors.

They don’t see how they fit into the scheme of the whole organization. Looking upwards, their view often stops at the program manager, director, vice president, or perhaps the executive director level. They don’t even see the board. If they do see the board, its purpose is hazy.

Worse, that view of the board is often negative.

How do you portray the board to your staff? How often do you say things like,

  • “The board said we have to do it this way.”
  • “We can’t afford it because the board didn’t approve the budget.”
  • “The board retreat is coming up and we have to make sure our presentations are perfect.”
What messages do these statements deliver?

The board is demanding,
doesn’t understand their realities
and is only worried about dollars.

Even if staff members can parrot back the purpose of a board, do they understand the ramifications and significance for their work?

What would be different if the staff knew that board members care as much as they do about the mission? That the board makes decisions with the future in mind?

What would be different if the board was transparent in why certain decisions are made? Not because you don’t have the funding, but because the funding is supporting the mission in other ways.

What would be different if staff understood that board members were doing their damnedest to make sure they had the resources to do great things?

Five ways to start building a better view. 

  1. Reframe how you speak about board decisions. Instead of blaming the board for unpopular decisions, or acting like popular decisions are a surprise success, put the decisions into context, including the considerations taken into account.
  2. Introduce individual board members to the staff. Give staff members an opportunity to meet and get to know the board as a collection of individuals, rather than a monolithic, enigmatic entity.
  3. Include information about the board in employee orientations. Integrate the board into the organization chart, with information about its purpose – not just as the last resort for employee grievances.
  4. Invite staff members to sit in on open board meetings. Board meetings are frequently open, but staff may not believe they would be welcome. Even if employees don’t attend, the fact of the invitation is an indicator of welcome.
  5. Consider mentorships between board members and staff. While young employees are frequently mentored by senior employees, board members often have special skills they may be willing to impart.

Each contact between board and staff builds a greater rapport, and a greater respect on each side.

Its a simple start to a new year of building the trust needed for accepting and working with hard decisions and new opportunities.

May 2018 be a year of harmony, respect and trust!

Need a Reason for Board Committees? Here are Six.

Need a Reason for Board Committees? Here are Six.

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

It happens all the time, especially when a board is transitioning from a working board to a governing board. The organization grows. It gets more complicated. Board members used to being involved in everything have trouble releasing the details and focusing on the bigger picture.

If the role of the board is to focus on mission and not minutiae, what will make that possible?

What will make it possible to pay special attention to the financial oversight role? Staying informed is important, but the specifics of watching the checkbook and investments; researching where funds should be invested; and drafting financial policies are not everyone’s forté. The specific, detailed work that goes into reviewing the current financials, the research, and the drafting are more easily done by a smaller group of people with financial literacy.

What will make it possible to completely revamp your community relations? Each board member has a role to play in advocacy and public relations, but developing the plan takes expertise. Identifying opportunities for board participation, PR outlets, messaging, advocacy timeline are more easily accomplished by a smaller group of people with community relations and advocacy experience.

Far from removing responsibility from the board, committees are vehicles for building the board by:

  1. Engaging board members more closely in important work that intimately and explicitly uses their expertise. Why did Carlos come on the board in the first place? What’s his passion and talent? Let him loose!
  2. Creating opportunities for recruiting strong board members, who have an interest in the organization and now have experience with the organization. Not sure if Jenna is a good fit? Invite her to help on a committee! After working together, she can decide whether she wants to be more involved, and you can see if she’d do well on the board.
  3. Strengthening the board knowledge base by bringing in individuals who don’t want board service but who want to offer their expertise. Is Shenay an HR lawyer with a heavy travel schedule? A board position may not fit her life right now, but she may be happy to provide guidance on a committee.
  4. Bolstering long-term engagement and retaining institutional memory and by including board members rotating off the board. Did Max roll off the board after two full terms? It’s a shame to lose his passion and his relationships. Is he a good fit for the community relations committee?
  5. Enhancing staff – board interactions. Board members typically have little direct experience with staff. But Board member Howard and program director Lisette together research what it will take to develop the metrics they need.
  6. Streamlining board meetings so the full board can focus on strategy and direction instead of minutiae. With functioning committees, Maureen can chair the board meetings knowing that the background research on the strategic issues has been done. There are people at the table who can answer relevant questions, and the full board can spend time on discussing the implications.

Engage board members, staff and passionate newcomers on committees that use their talents and interests. It’s a pathway to a more engaged and strategic board.

Now…and in the future.

Are you challenging your board?

Are you challenging your board?

When you recruit for your board, do you tell them that all they have to do is show up to meetings, read some reports, and vote on some things?

Or do you challenge them to be active participants?

In the for-profit world, it’s recognized that promoting human values can be inspirational. As Sue Bingham wrote in SmartBlog,

“To create an inspired, high-performing workforce, leaders should promote five basic human values: positive assumptions, trust, inclusion, challenge, and recognition.”

But you can’t cherry-pick among the values. Employees can’t trust each other if they’re not included in the conversations. They won’t be challenged if you have negative assumptions about their abilities. They don’t feel valued if you don’t recognize their passion and skills.

The same is true for your board members. If motivated employees achieve more when the bar is set high, how much more might this be true for individuals who volunteer for a cause in which they believe?

It begins with recruitment.

A board of motivated individuals starts before they join the board. How you recruit board members makes a difference in how successful your organization can be. When you first approach a prospective board member:

  • Can you articulate the purpose of your organization – your WHY?
  • Can you articulate what the board is trying to do?
  • Do you show prospective board members the latest strategic plan and ask what they think?
  • Do you ask them how they want to contribute to its success?
  • Do you tell them about the excellent people they’ll be working with if they join the board?
  • Do you ask them to share what it is in their own life journey that makes them passionate about your cause?

Asking questions like these engages your prospective board members in the future of the organization. It sets them up to be active participants in the work of the board.

Then, at the start of their board service, give them the opportunity to share their answers with each other and the existing members of the board. Magnify the engagement and ask existing members to share as well. Far from a touchy-feely exercise, shared stories build trust and camaraderie that carries through to working together.

Then challenge them to set their bars high. Your new board members – and the existing board members – are motivated to achieve the plans. Together, they can find ways to surpass any turbulence they might encounter in their execution.

For more tips about building an engaged board, strategic planning, and board-executive partnership, follow me at www.detwiler.com, or reach me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com.

Should you join that board? What to ask before accepting a board position.

Should you join that board? What to ask before accepting a board position.

You’re smart, you’re passionate, and you know a lot of people.

Chances are, sooner or later, you’re going to be asked to sit on the board of a nonprofit.

Now what?

Before you say yes, here are some conversation starters to help you make up your mind:

Tell me about the organization:

  • Why do you exist?
  • What’s your vision for 5 years from now? 10 years from now? What mountain are you trying to climb?
  • What are you most proud of?

Tell me about the board:

  • Who’s around the table?
  • Does everyone have the same vision?
  • Does everyone participate in making that vision a reality?

Tell me about your board meetings:

  • What do you talk about at the meetings?
  • How often do you talk about the future?
  • Are your financial discussions about what you can’t do, or about what you’re going to do with the money you raise?

There’s nothing wrong with joining a board that desperately needs your help. You just might be the addition they need to turn the corner and begin imagining what they CAN do, instead of what they can’t.

And it can be exciting to join a visionary board.  You have the opportunity to create the future with others who face forward.


Just be sure which one you’re doing!

Nominating the Right Board President

Nominating the Right Board President

Campaigns, Caucuses, Primaries & Promises……

It’s the quadrennial Presidential election season, and everyone wants your vote. 

While a contested election may be good for the country, doing the same for your nonprofit just distracts you from delivering your mission.

Especially if your entire organization is committed to the same mission and your whole board supports the strategic plan.

Then what makes a good nominee for president? What makes a good nominee for ANY officer on your board? These are the questions your nominating committee should answer.

Before asking WHO, figure out what your president needs to do the job.

Here are a few questions to start you off:

  • What level of commitment and drive does our president need, in order to keep our plan on track?
  • What skills does our president need to be able to keep our board focused on the future?
  • What kind of president <-> CEO relationship will make it possible for us to achieve our goals?
  • What specific knowledge should our president have upon entering the role, and what knowledge can be acquired on the job?

Only after answering those questions, should you start seeking a president from among your board members. Because then you’ll know how to evaluate whether they’re ready for the job.

Similar questions can be asked about any board officer position. What questions would YOU ask, before contemplating a new secretary, treasurer, vice president?

It’s February. Do you know where your strategic plan is?

It’s February. Do you know where your strategic plan is?

You probably spent time and money developing a strategic plan. Your board voted to approve it. Perhaps a board committee created it; maybe your executive director and senior staff.

Where is it now? That big report sitting on the shelf isn’t going to do your organization any good if it’s not a living document.

When did you last pull out the strategic plan and track your progress toward your goals?  When was the last time the board spent more than 10 minutes discussing that progress?

It’s a lovely plan, but…..

A plan without discrete steps, a timeline and accountability isn’t a plan. It’s a wish list. Here are a few tips for maintaining your progress, so that 3 years from now you can look back and say, “We did this!”

  • Make sure you have the will to accomplish the plan. This may seem obvious, but it’s often the first pitfall. “It’s a lovely plan, and really, this is what we want to accomplish. But…..we don’t have the money; the time; the people; the skills”…..whatever.  If you truly commit to the plan, then you find the money, the time, the people, the skills. It may not happen immediately, but it will never happen without making that commitment.
  • Make sure that someone is accountable for each step of the plan. They may not be the person who actually, physically does the work, but someone has to be on top of whether it happens or not. Otherwise, everyone thinks it’s someone else’s job.
  • Have those accountable people regularly report to the board. The entire board voted to move ahead with the plan; the entire board should be invested in whether the plan is being accomplished. If you have to report regularly, then you get it done. If it’s not done, then here’s your opportunity to talk about how to get back on track. 

“If anything is certain, it is that change is certain. The world we are planning for today will not exist in this form tomorrow.”  Phil Crosby

  • Regularly set aside time to discuss the overall progress, not just individual steps. Is the plan still relevant? Do new circumstances warrant changes? No matter how good your plan is, you can’t foresee everything that might happen in the course of three years. The government may cut funding. You may receive a huge bequest. Some new research may come to light.
  • Celebrate the milestones. It took a lot of work to craft the plan. It takes even more work to execute it. Recognize that work and what you accomplish. Tell your stakeholders about your progress. Let these celebrations create momentum to lead you to even higher heights.

Engage your board in keeping the strategic plan a living document. It may sit on a shelf, but it won’t get dusty. You’ll regularly reference it in board meetings, and watch the progress toward your goals. Potential board members will see your commitment, and want to be a part of your growth.

Theodor Herzl wrote,

“If you will it, it is no dream. And if you do not will it, a dream it is and a dream it will stay.

The first step is commitment. If you have the will, you can accomplish the rest.