Get Your Board On The Right Track

I have found many nonprofit boards are just a few steps away from seeing high impact results. With a few adjustments, these organizations are capable of delivering transformational change to those they are trying to help. They have strong nonprofit board management and a clear path to success. However, this scenario is not always the case.  Other boards are in big trouble, yet seem unwilling to admit it.

As good as an agency’s staff and volunteers may be, it is the leadership that sets the stage. Good leadership will also align resources, point out direction, and orchestrate everyone’s efforts on a pathway to achieve the mission. All leadership positions share these responsibilities, including the board. 

A well-functioning, effective board is a non-negotiable prerequisite to a well-functioning, effective agency. Period! Full Stop!

You may think your agency is performing effectively today, or you may suspect there are ways to improve it. In either case, if you are unable to put your finger on exactly how to get to that proverbial next level of performance, I’d like to share some of my observations of boards not performing up to par and failing to recognize it.

I invite you to reflect on each of these observations and determine if you need changes in your nonprofit board management.  Changes in your process, personnel, or philosophy could cause a breakthrough in your operations and impact.

18 Reasons Your Board Is Failing

  1. Most agencies have poor on-boarding and orientation services for its new directors. All too often, neither the CEO nor the board chair explain to new directors why they were initially recruited. The new directors are unaware of what assistance is the board expects from them individually or as a member of the board as a whole.
  2. A board chair that runs meetings without holding directors accountable for their previous commitments or setting forth clear assignments with deadlines will only chair feel good meetings. This is poor nonprofit board management. After all is said and done, much is said, but little is ever done or decided at these meetings.
  3. Without a continual focus on their strategic plan, board meetings will wander from one unimportant agenda item the next. Therefore, the board will never accomplish anything significant.
  4. Sometimes, underperforming directors are not aware they are falling short of expectations. They are not aware that the board may replace them if things do not change. 
  5. Too few directors are doing all the work and too many are just along for the ride. Everyone has to do their share or risk high value directors resigning.
  6. Sometimes, an agency’s system for identifying and recruiting candidates for the board has flaws. Rather than thinking about appropriate “fit” for the board, some take the warm body approach and find anyone willing (and often clueless) to join.
  7. Directors that lack passion for the mission will only put forth enough effort to “get by”.
  8. In situations where the board and CEO are not communicating frequently about key issues, they will find it hard to work together seamlessly.
  9. A lack of term limits for directors protects old ways of thinking and prohibits entertaining fresh thinking and ideas.
  10. Show me an agency where nothing gets done and I will show you ineffective board meetings. These boards often: fail to make the tough decisions, run meetings poorly, craft bad agendas, or incorrectly focus on issues like operations or details.  This should be the responsibility of the staff.
  11. Boards will fail their duties when members lack transparency. This could be either avoiding or only feebly addressing important controversial topics. 
  12. Boards also fail when members lack the moral courage to speak honestly and frankly. This manifests when they avoid  confrontation, or fail to appropriately disagree with a superior when circumstances dictate.
  13. The “wrong” people are serving on the board. This depends on where the agency is in its life cycle and what the agency needs from the board.
  14. The Board either is not measuring agency results in key areas or is measuring the wrong things. Practice effective nonprofit board management by measuring those things that matter. Then, everyone will work to improve those areas (and numbers).
  15. Strive to have a couple of directors with significant previous board service elsewhere to round out board discussions. This will help the newer directors learn how serve. Having too many new directors lacking experience could be risky, especially if any serious trouble surfaces.
  16. When boards do not pay proper attention to the important things, (income statements, cash flow reports, the results and health of its revenue streams, program results, etc.). it is only a matter of time before the agency’s very foundations could be threatened.
  17. The Board of Directors has a right and obligation to receive whatever reports it wishes, in whatever format it desires. Consequently, when it either does not receive the reports or does not understand their implications, there is trouble ahead.
  18. Board members who do not fully understand the true and current needs of the agency’s clients or how well the agency’s programs are working cannot possibly create an effective strategic plan, set priorities, set budgets or set organizational structure. The board has to know what is going on to be effective.

You can fix almost all of these issues through proper nonprofit board management, board training or leadership coaching. Remember, poorly performing boards usually result in underperforming agencies at best or dissolution of the entire agency at worst. Therefore, it is unwise to ignore these problems. Contact me and together we can identify issues, implement strategies and get your board on the track to success. 


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