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Nonprofit Board of Directors vs Executive Director: Why They Can be Best Friends

In this article, we are going to focus on a topic that might surprise some people; why the board of directors of a non-profit organization can actually be the executive director’s best friend!

Nonprofit BoardIf you are in the nonprofit industry, you have likely heard instances of tension between an executive director and the board. In this article, we’re going to examine why these tensions tend to arise, and then look at some reasons why the executive director and the board of directors can and should work together in harmony.

Why Do These Tensions Arise?

In most nonprofits, the fact of the industry is that most of the policymakers and decision-makers on a board of directors are volunteers with limited nonprofit managerial experience. This is quite a bizarre situation when you think about it, and can quite often lead to tensions and conflict between the board and the executive leadership team.

The reason this happens is that the function of the board of directors is to ensure that the public good is being served. Because nonprofits receive tax benefits, the law imposes that volunteers (AKA people without a financial interest in the organization) have to oversee it to ensure that the public good is being served.

This results in board members that often have limited experience in managing a nonprofit, or with the nonprofit industry in general.

As you can imagine, this can create quite a tension between board members and the executive directors of a business, as it can seem like they are both working toward different goals.

Shift Your Attention: Look at your Board as a Resource

As a result, many nonprofits have started to look at boards as a “necessary evil”, or a roadblock toward achieving what they want to do. In order to overcome this, nonprofits need to shift their perspective and start to see their boards as resource instead.

Nonprofit leaders need to start seeing boards as a community-based resource with a lot of potential. Many board members have extensive experience and are quite well connected in their community. There are many ways that nonprofit organizations can benefit from utilizing these community connections.

 community-based resourceThe gap must be bridged between the executive team and the board membersin order draw on the experience and expertise of each. These boards must be re-evaluated to harness this potential, so that they can work together with the executive directors toward the same goals.

However, putting this into practice is not as straight-forward as it sounds. That is why, in this article, we’re going to take you through some of the most common problem areas, and give you suggestions on how to fix these problems.

Common Issues with Board of Directors in Non-Profits

In this section, we will take a look at some common issues with nonprofit boards of directors. Sometimes, in order to find solutions, we need to look at the most common problem areas. So let’s look at some issues typically encountered by nonprofits:

Do Board Members Show Up to Board Meetings?

The first and most obvious red flag with a nonprofit is that many have board members that don’t even show up to meetings at all. Almost always this is because the meetings are so boring!

 Board MeetingsThe solution here is to hold meetings that aren’t simply reading different reports. Successful board meetings need to have opportunities for substantive discussion on critical issues in the field. Board members need to understand what the challenges are that are facing that nonprofit. If the board members are kept informed of these issues and opportunities, they can then draw on their own extensive backgrounds to work toward a strategic plan.

Underutilization of the Board

Board members know when they are underutilized. They know when they don’t serve a valuable function to the organisation, and this is when they tend to lose interest.

The reality is that there are many ways to utilize a board more effectively. Whether it be capitalizing on their community connections, supporting fundraising goals, or drawing on their extensive experience to help meet the organization’s goals. Policies need to be put in place that clearly define these roles, and give the non-profit board members a clear sense of purpose.

Board Members Need to Understand Their Role

It is the board members’ jobs to provide oversight and evaluate the CEO, but it is the CEO’s job to hire and evaluate their own employees. These organizational roles should be respected by everyone.

Board members should be careful not undermine a CEO by giving direct orders to a staff member. These roles and responsibilities should be made clear to board members and staff members alike.

Recruitment & Training of the Board

Recruitment needs to be a focus. Recruitment of a board should be done on an extensive and ongoing basis. Board members need to be hired who truly understand the nonprofit’s organizational structure and goals, and whose own goals align with those. Finding a good fit is crucial, especially when so much of the role is about working toward a common goal.

No Evaluation Process

Sometimes, a huge issue with board members is that they don’t feel accountable for the organizations success. Furthermore, they are unclear of their role, and don’t feel a sense of control over their decisions.

Our recommended solution to this is to have an annual board member evaluation. This means an evaluation of each board member individually. This should be based on a set of goals that are determined at the start of the year. This provides the opportunity for a board member to have clearly defined objectives to work toward, and to have these objectives measured at an annual meeting.

What this also does is allows the board member and the nonprofit to see where their goals meet up. During this annual evaluation, both sides have the opportunity to express what works for them and what doesn’t. It can be an opportunity to ensure that everyone is one the same side when it comes to the company’s objectives.

Conclusion: These Issues Are Not So Different

As you can see, there are many potential issues that can arise in this unique nonprofit industry. Throughout this article, we have given you many situations in which problems can arise, and offered solutions to each. But at the end of the day, all these solutions are similar in their objective.

The real issue is just in making sure that the board of directors is utilized effectively to help the nonprofit reach their goals. Board members are full of highly experienced people, often with deep ties to the community. Through effective management of the board’s responsibilities, and with clear objectives & goals, the board of directors and executive director can work together to achieve a common goal.

All of the situations identified above are solved in a similar manner. No matter the issue facing your nonprofit, you can be better off by utilizing your board of directors as a resource, and not viewing them as a hindrance. This is the essential shift in perspective that is the first step toward success.

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