There must be something in the water around here. I’ve had coffee with four separate nonprofit executive directors over the last 45 days, each one with the  same problem–actually two problems. Their first problem is each ED believes their board is not providing the leadership, guidance, and support the organization needs. Their second problem, you probably can figure this one out on your own, is each ED is afraid to bring problem number 1 up to their board for a discussion–which I totally get.

How to proceed? I’d like to get your insights on this. For the record, here are some areas I suggested  (or wish I had thought of at the time to suggest) in one form or the other:

  • Stick to facts. Can you demonstrate that your agency is not having the impact on your community and a new refocus or back to basics approach may be necessary?  I suggest you focus on impact/results, goals, and activities and avoid people issues for now. 
  • How’s your strategic alignment? Can you provide the board with examples of people and programs in your agency that are not all headed in the same direction? Maybe even fighting each other for resources.
  • Can you cite clear and compelling examples of the board not delivering on critical previous promises?
  • Are the agency’s annual goals consistently missed?
  • Is there a lot of confusion or waste surrounding priorities, and how to best use your people, financial and other resources?
  • Does your agency experience  false start-ups and the existence of orphan projects?
  • How long has it been since you developed, updated, or reviewed your progress on your strategic plan?
  • Are more than your agency’s share of poor decisions being made?
  • Are you experiencing higher turnover than normal?

My thinking is if enough of these questions raised concern in the minds of their directors, maybe they’d be open to a participating in an objective, confidential, board assessment. These assessments offer directors the opportunity to rate a number of key areas of nonprofit and board activity by how important they are AND how well the directors are performing in them.

Results come in various forms but for our purposes, think of the results as coming back in four buckets:

  • Importance-high or low
  • Effectiveness-high or low 

If enough directors in any of these nonprofit agencies saw too many categories falling into the “high importance/low effectiveness” bucket they might be open to seeing how they could step up their game, which is what each of the ED’s and I are hoping for.  With that mindset, I think each ED could begin a frank discussion with their board about how to improve things. Maybe they need the help of a consultant, maybe not. But at least I feel I would be giving these trapped executive directors some actionable advise.

What do you think? How would you handle this?