The New Board Order
I do some work facilitating strategy with non-profit boards because it's important and it's complicated with a sprinkle of drama and a whole lot of varied interests. Have you ever sat on a non-profit board and just shook your head at how difficult it is to get everyone aligned to just make a decision and move on? Why is that the case? Well, many non-profit boards are grown organically, not intentionally. Organically may mean that people have come on over the years because they are passionate, want to commit funds, or have spare time. That doesn't mean they are the right board members for the strategy. Or maybe there is weak governance and no board term limits are set so that board members linger for way past their pull dates. Not a formula for success.
But non profit boards require the same level of discipline, rigor and responsibility applied to for profit organizations (not implying that for profit boards are always that functional either by the way). In fact, in many ways the job is much more important because there is such a variety of interests in a non-profit that a lack of a clear plan can create massive variability.
Recently a friend sent me a Harvard Business Review article titled the New Work of the Nonprofit Board, dated way back in the 20th century (1996). Well this article is absolutely timeless and highlighted some critical best practices for those of you on a nonprofit board or considering joining one. I put together the table below to summarize the key points in the article.
One of the cruel realities I have observed in board work is that some of the best minds come to a board meeting and they are totally useless. It is not them. It is the way that the board is being managed. Board members need to operate in their genius zones which is not about detailed operating issues. Too often the CEO brings operating details to the board meeting and expects the board to engage but they just shut down, feign interest, check their email and can't wait to leave. Give them something meaty like we need a new CEO, we're launching a capital campaign, or we have to re-imagine our future to avert a demise, and board members get fired up to help.
But it's not that the board members can just be passive recipients of information fed from a single source. No, board members that are good, source input externally and internally. They get a point of view. They are informed. They ask questions. They challenge the CEO. There are timelines and accountability. The boards are dynamic and shed the strict, boring nature of process and focus on purpose.
Many readers of my posts are entrepreneurs and business owners and probably sit on a nonprofit board or two. Try to re-imagine what the organization could achieve with a board that took ownership of the future and aligned with the CEO to create the type of impact that needs to be made in the world. The responsibility is great. There is no room for old board thinking in the new board order.