Why don’t the board members know all the programs you put on?

Why didn’t the board president make the fundraising calls like he promised?

It’s really not hard to understand. The people who volunteer to be on the board have other lives. They do care, it’s just that their daily routines are filled with other stuff and the board commitments haven’t found a place in those routines.

Here’s an example:

Preparing to facilitate a strategic planning retreat, I talked with the executive director about plans for getting board consensus on the way forward. In the middle of our conversation, he commented that he wished he could figure out how to get the board to understand everything the organization does.  He said the staff keeps telling them, and it’s as if the board doesn’t take in what they say.

Fast forward to the retreat, and a board member speaks up, saying she can’t work on strategy when she doesn’t have a picture of everything the organization does. Another director agrees. There are nods all around the table.  Meanwhile, the staff interjected with where the information was, and that the emails keep them up-to-date.

“Clearly,” I said, “there’s a disconnect.” So I stopped the process and asked the board members how they would like to hear from staff.

Well, it was as if a dam broke loose. Email is good, but make sure it’s set up a certain way.  The subject line has to have a deadline if you need us to do something. Let’s have a calendar where we can see at a glance what’s going on. Who’s going to be in charge of the calendar? Who will help the Executive Director translate what he wants to say into what the board will hear? Can we have a one-page fact sheet that has all the information we need?  Can you keep it up to date and in one place so we know how to get it? Who’s going to create the fact sheet? When will it be done by?

There was palpable energy and eagerness around the table, ready to work on improving communication.

Both the executive director and the board had been frustrated. Board members really wanted to be good advocates. The executive needed the directors to be advocates. But the system wasn’t in place to make it easy for them. They needed to talk to each other to figure it out. In fact, creating a successful model for internal communications became part of the strategic plan.

A few generations back, most people took in information the same way. Everyone knew exactly what to expect and where the information they needed could be found.  But in a world where you might have five generations working together between the staff and the board; a world where our boards need to reflect different views, experiences, and backgrounds; this uniformity is just not going to exist. Board members and staff have to work together to find the best way of communicating with each other.

For the board <-> executive partnership to work, start by talking about communication.

Oh, and why didn’t the board president make the fundraising calls? That was something else we had to make easy. Check it out.

I’d be happy to hear other stories of systems to make it easier for directors to fulfill their obligations. Let me know, at sdetwiler@detwiler.com or 302.463.0327.