Forum on Board Governance – notes from January 8, 2015 Brown Bag

At our first Brown Bag of the New Year, we kicked off NpDP’s Year of the Board with an open forum about Boards of Directors in the Flathead, and issues faced by many in fulfilling their important roles. About 35 people attended, and there was lively, thoughtful discussion, with a lot of honest sharing and helpful ideas. Below are notes from the easel that summarized the group conversation. Thank you to all the participants for their engagement,

What’s Working with Boards of Directors?

  • Belief in what we do (the mission)
  • Time commitment
  • Support for executive directors as we talk through problems
  • Backing up the executive director/CEO
  • Diversity of skill sets and knowledge
  • Global perspective
  • Build support among their community networks
  • Oversight and taking ultimate responsibility

What Challenges do Boards face (What Needs Work?)

  • Ensuring diversity of all kinds (including background, profession, and opinion)
  • Communicating all expectations clearly as recruitment is happening
  • Getting lost in “Acronym Soup”, the internal, technical terms of a complex organization
  • Recruitment – Attracting people to the cause
  • Finding the right person, with skills we need, who fit with the culture
  • Knowing what to expect, and the role that Boards should play (now that there is a board, what do “I” do with them?)
  • Accountability between volunteers, and with staff
  • Leadership – casting the vision, getting people on board, and holding each other accountable
  • Unity about decisions, and getting to consensus
  • How do we evolve, when new staff is brought in, or when a founder moves on?
  • Busy people have less time to be involved
  • Defining roles, hierarchy, mentoring process, and the level of formality we want
  • Changing Board cultures, which are often unconscious; there is a spectrum of board control from authoritarian to hands off, and you want to be more in the middle for a healthy organization
  • There are not a lot of models for how to “do it differently”
  • Sometimes we try to apply experiences or models that don’t work in nonprofit settings
  • New members often don’t get the education about “how we do it around here”
  • Challenge is recognizing the world has changed, and then adapting to it
  • Integrating younger generations into leadership
  • We are leading human beings, and sometimes there can be “drama”

How are Boards stepping into their roles in Fund Development (fundraising)

  • Often, expectations are unclear about board members’ role in fundraising
  • Question often is: How do I get involved?
  • Skill deficit
  • No experience in making the “ask”
  • Funding fatigue – experienced people who do fundraising get tired
  • Some people don’t want to be approached for a gift
  • Fear of failing or “blowing it”
  • Board members don’t always give themselves
  • We struggle with cultural beliefs about money
  • We don’t often ask, “what is the return on investment” for any given fund development effort, like events, or mailers

Ideas for Addressing or Solving Challenges

  • Encourage all board members to give
  • Put policies in place that encourage the Board to manage the Board
  • Rotate leadership responsibilities to develop skills in others
  • Do a Board retreat
  • Have ongoing education at meetings about Board responsibilities and roles, maybe 15 minutes to share an article or watch a video
  • Intentionally recruit people to the Board with a conversation about expectations for governance and fund development before they are invited to join
  • Provide an orientation session “live” in person with a chance to talk about how the Board functions
  • Give provide documents about structure and policies electronically or on paper
  • Assign new members a Board Mentor or “Buddy”
  • Address Founders Syndrome with sensitivity and focused on the organization, not the person
  • Have a nominating committee that identifies and recommends new board members based on assessed needs of the organization; better yet, have a Board Development or Board Governance Committee that includes the nominating function, and also looks at education and support for Board members, evaluating the Board, and other functions of the Board managing the Board
  • Committees can have non-board members on them, which is a great way to engage new people and mutually assess their fit with the Board
  • Do a field trip to connect with the mission, or visit another organization
  • As chair, or executive director, have regular lunches with each board member (but be careful of manipulating the Board)
  • Give rooms for introverts to have input; they will not speak up in a large group
  • Stop saying (and thinking) “My Board” – unlike a business, it’s not “your” organization as leader, executive director, or founder; it’s “Our Board” or “the Organization’s Board”. Share the “ownership” and the responsibility for success!

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