Speed of the leader, speed of the team.

No organization can succeed, let alone thrive, with weak or untrained leadership. The same holds true for nonprofit boards. One of the most prevalent problems I run into when I speak with executive directors or accept a new coaching assignment, is that the board not performing up to standards. Weak and untrained nonprofit boards will inadvertently frustrate and inhibit everyone else’s efforts. This almost always cripples operations and causes turnover and resignations.It is no secret that everything starts with leadership.

You may recognize some of these common sayings:

1.“It all starts at the top”
2. “Speed of the leader, speed of the team”
3. “Great organizations always have great boards”

But then, of course, there is the flip side:

1. “All nonprofit boards have one thing in common, they do not work”. Peter Drucker
2. “Boards tend to be, in fact, incompetent groups of competent individuals”. John Carver
3. “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things”. Peter Drucker

The sad thing is, this really doesn’t have to be the case. With some planning and a little effort, an executive director and a board chair can prepare and equip other directors with a catered board training program. Therefore, this helps provide valuable and effective board leadership, translating into dynamic results for the agency’s mission.

You can get your board to this level of service through an effective board training program. I know most boards do not like the term “training.” Well, then call it ‘Board Update’ on your agenda instead. The point is, your board is composed of volunteers who probably have a full time job and a family to care for while volunteering. So they have only so much time to devote to board work. By providing them with periodic refresher sessions you can help them focus on your main issues and concerns.

So how do you do that? Here are a couple of ideas on how to introduce and implement a successful board training/update program.

11 Tips For Building An Effective Board Training Program

  1. First, let’s assume you need to educate everyone on some of your foundational documents: Mission, Vision, Values, Strategic Plan, etc. Focus also on the current goals of the organization as well as the current challenges it faces. 
  2. Ask your former directors what topics or issues they wish they their board training programs had covered. Which areas of the agency’s operations or significant issues they felt challenged them the most in their first year of service?
  3. Ask new directors for the three main issues they feel least informed on or prepared to address
  4. Talk to your executive director friends about their boards’ greatest training needs and see if any topics might apply to your board
  5. Hire a consultant or someone who has served on boards in the past to train your board and can provide expertise based on their own board experience
  6. If there are any areas of slippage or concern at the agency, conduct 15 minutes training at each board meeting
  7. Provide mandatory one-half day training for each new director once they are installed and go into depth on your foundational documents and any key issues or problems  currently facing the board or agency
  8. Cite examples of problems other agencies experienced due to poor training and provide pre-emptive training to protect your agency from those same problems
  9. Discuss the need for everyone to show up, pitch in, and bring their intellectual capital to each meeting. That is why they are on the board.
  10. Ask 3-5 pop quiz questions at the beginning of each board meeting to see how informed they are on important issues. This could convince them they need further training and identify specific areas to cover. 
  11. Cite specific examples where previous, unnamed directors’ behavior fell short of expectations resulting in trouble, problems, or even just general frustration.

Don’t Let Your Board Settle

I suggest this program (and picking the topics) be developed and supported by both the executive director and the board chair. If not, the effort will fail and the board’s effectiveness will be diminished. Once your board gets used to these sessions however, you can expand them, change them, or redirect them into other areas. Additionally, It could become a powerful part of your overall board meetings.

Don’t let your board settle for becoming only a shell of what it could be. That would be a terrible waste of talent and opportunity, and, most of all, a disservice to those you are helping in the first place. Let’s keep the conversation going. What ides would you add to my list?

Your board looks to you for leadership.