An important asset to a well functioning nonprofit is a Board of Directors that is used well. Often this means that the Board chair is a competent leader and works well with the Executive Director/CEO. It is their responsibility to see that Board members are trained to see their utility in ways they can support the agency.
There are some practices to consider in making this happen.
Define and clarify the specific roles. The relationship between the Executive Director (ED)/CEO and the Board is often not defined clearly. I have seen very effective ED’s lose the respect of the Board because the lines of authority or decision-making were not clear. Once animosity arose, it was hard to put the genie back in the box. If only each entity had taken time to be specific about the roles and accountabilities, hard feelings could have been avoided. When hiring the ED/CEO, or as problems arise, it is necessary to take the time for a clear job description and explanation of responsibilities.
The role of the Board Chair. He/she plays a pivotal role in seeing that harmony and effectiveness prevail. This means communicating early and often. It’s best for the ED/CEO and Board Chair to meet once a month (preferably face-to-face) so there are no surprises for either party. The ED/CEO needs to be open and candid about challenges/issues as well as successes. The Board Chair is the facilitator to the Board, the mediator on tough choices, and honest with her/his dealings.
Presenting a united front. There are few decisions a Board makes that do not have varying positions. In fact, if they are a good Board, various opinions are encouraged and respected. But once a decision is made, it is wise to present a united front. It is damaging to the organization when one or more Board members are vocal about dissent to the public.
Preparing for transition Many of the above issues could be better handled if agencies tried hard to determine back ups for key roles – especially the ED/CEO position and the Board Chair. Planning for succession should be part of the strategic plan for the year. Setting aside budget dollars for this purpose ensures that the subject is honored and planned for. Training and coaching are important investments in talented people so that they are groomed for future leadership.