By Regina Funkhouser
A fully engaged, active board doesn’t happen organically. It takes deliberate acts, concentrated efforts, planning and lots of behind the scenes work to create a board that understands their role and takes governance seriously.
Recently, Brian Philson, President and CEO of Highfields, Inc was a guest facilitator at a recent Nonprofit Network Executive Director Morning Networking event. He noted some practical tips about how to navigate an effective relationship with your Board Chair.
The Board Chair and Executive Director relationship can either help the nonprofit "thrive in tits mission" or severely hinder the nonprofit's growth and success. When it goes "south" it can cause long - term damage to the nonprofit. When it is in perfect harmony, the agency will thrive and experience success.
From my experience and training I believe there are some important keys to making this relationship "highly effective" and allow the nonprofit to thrive in its mission. There are three keys to cultivating a successful relationship:
Good Communication I believe a monthly face to face meeting is important. In addition, setting agendas together and a "dress rehearsal" prior to each board meeting is a good idea, even if by phone or email. There should be no surprises!
Role Clarification Having a good understanding of what the Board Chair and Executive Director roles are is very important. There are some basic roles that should not overlap, but depending on the organization and the personalities, these may be unique in each and every situation. In some cases, the roles may even overlap, underscoring the importance of “good communication”.
Decide where you (might) put these roles:
· Fundraising - Board Member involvement· Daily personnel and budgetary issues
· Sharing the long-term vision of the nonprofit
Good Chemistry With a High Level of Trust This is pretty critical in my opinion and having an ability to be candid and open with one another is important. There are time when you need to talk about sensitive information and strategize on how to move forward. Examples might be about staff, donors, board members, finances, etc. This takes work based on time and investment.
Brian D. Philson, LMSW, ACSW President/ CEO
Brian started with Highfields in July, 2006 as the director of residential services. He was promoted to vice president of programming before being promoted to President/CEO in August 2008. Brian earned his master’s degree in social work at Michigan State University and bachelor’s degree in social work at Spring Arbor College, where he later became an instructor. He is a member of the National Partnership for Juvenile Services, a Board Member of the Michigan Federation for Children and Families and a member of the National Association of Social Workers.
We all agree that board members need to participate in fundraising and raise more money. But if we don’t take a moment to collectively define and share a vision for what “participate” means or what “more” means, we will never agree on what success looks like. One board member will donate a check and think they did their part, while another board member is organizing house parties, meeting with possible donors, writing thank you notes and selling raffle tickets.
Both efforts may be fine, but if we never discuss the expectation or define what participation looks like–one may look across the board table and wonder why they are doing all the work while the other does nothing. Without a common language and shared definition, when will we know it’s time to celebrate a win.
Create an environment that breeds success – not failure – around your board table. Make sure everyone has the right tools, clear expectations and the training required. And most importantly, repeat frequently.
More about how to engage your board in fundraising
Conflict of interest is a sneaky beast that rears its head in odd places.
We speak to many people about issues of conflict. When we teach board basics – it’s one of the topics that get the most questions and conversation. It’s tricky, confusing and can catch us by surprise.
What makes the concept of conflict of interest so difficult is that the definition in the non-profit world is very different than in the for-profit world. In the for-profit world, conflict is identified by money – who has it and who wants it. In the non-profit world, conflict is defined by allegiance.
One of the legal duties of a board member is the Duty of Loyalty: The duty of loyalty is a standard of faithfulness; a board member must give undivided allegiance when making decisions affecting the organization. A Board of Trustees is supposed to be an independent group of thinkers representing the community served who pledges allegiance to the mission of the organization.
By definition, in the presence of a conflict of interest, loyalty and allegiance are challenged.
As a volunteer, it would be nearly impossible to eliminate all challenges to your loyalty and allegiance to the mission of an organization. Without being melodramatic, rarely could a board member be so devoted to a cause. The intent, then, must be to manage these conflicts – share the load with your other board members, work as a team and to help offset a situation where your allegiance is divided.
This is why it is critical to ensure that conflicts of interest between board members and staff are eliminated. Having co-workers, family members or best friends sit on a board together jeopardizes a board’s ability to govern. When boards say they can overcome the appearance of nepotism, self-serving or self-dealing they then need to spend an enormous amount of energy in proving they are successful – energy that should be spent on governance of resources.
Conflict takes away independent thinking – and independent thinking is the test of due diligence.
Boards must be deliberate about preventing conflict of interest to ensure they can maintain their duty of loyalty.
For an in-depth conversation and training about Conflict of Interest, please join us for our upcoming workshop. Click HERE for details.
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