Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Moving boards towards effectiveness

By Bryan Orander, president, Charitable Advisors
We received a good response to our article last week about positive trends that local leaders are seeing in nonprofit boards – clearer expectations, higher engagement, and more selectivity in recruiting board members.
In 2010, some area executive directors and board chairs participated in a study focused on nonprofit organizations with boards that succeeded in moving “to the next level. “  The study, by Mary Hiland of Hiland Associates, yielded some helpful guidance for organizational leaders, executive directors and board chairs who desired to increase the performance of their boards.
Participants identified five finding themes for boards’ work:
1.     Alignment: Right people doing the right things with the right skills.
2.     Individual growth:  Assistance for each board member to be the best he or she can be.
3.     Team building: Fine tuning how the group works as a team.
4.     Maturity:  The board’s ability to understand the needs of the organization and its role as a collective group.
5.     Asset creation: The collaborative process by which boards reach full potential to lead and add value to the organization in achievement of the mission.

The results reflected a continuum of board development, seemingly independent of the operational life cycle:
1.     Getting the basics right.
2.     Improving overall board functioning; building board infrastructure.
3.     Becoming more strategic.
4.     Attracting investment, social capital (people and influence) and engaging with the community in powerful ways.

Survey participants identified three critical success factors:
1.     Outside governance expertise or training. Essentially a “nudge” – from a facilitator or a board member attending an external training both contributed to a new vision of the board.
2.     The board chair’s role is critical in creating or inhibiting movement and building momentum for change, in partnership with the executive director. The board chair usually engaged a few other board members, building a small group of champions for change.
3.     Study participants described a specific, articulated intention to develop the board: ”We were obsessed with board development.” “Status quo was not OK.”

Tangible improvements occurred when there were changes in:
1.     Identifying more people as leaders, and leaders doing a better job in their roles.
2.     Stronger relationships among the board and executive resulted with better interpersonal dynamics.
3.     Engagement resulted in increased attendance and participation, better quality discussion and better preparation. Additionally, there was more energy and momentum.
4.     Board functioning resulted in better meetings, more ownership of the board’s work, more effective committee work, and recognition that the board needs to work on itself – not just the organization.
5.     When boards moved to a more thoughtful, long view versus day-to-day supervision resulted in boards fulfilling their roles.
6.     Composition resulted in more diverse and better “quality” of board members.
7.     Community engagement resulted in board members increased engagement with the external community, “got it” regarding fundraising, increased identification and use of board members networks and/or strengthened advocacy.
1. Personal: Check your calendar and get to the Board Chair Summit this Friday morning, presented annually by Leadership Indianapolis. Whether you are a current or future board leader, you will take away great insights and new relationships. http://www.leadershipindianapolis.com/boardchairsummit.html
2. Organization: Start the year with a board self-assessment. You can use many checklist tools available on the Internet or Charitable Advisors has developed an on-line assessment tool that allows for anonymous feedback and provides a PowerPoint report for your board to review and discuss. It also includes a few opening questions that can be used to review the past year and help prioritize your efforts for the new year. http://www.charitableadvisors.com/boardassessment.html

Bryan Orander is president of Charitable Advisors and publisher of the Not-for-profit News. Charitable Advisors is a consulting practice based in Indianapolis that focuses on expanding the capacity of area nonprofits. He started Charitable Advisors in 2000 after more than 20 years of experience in leadership, management and consulting.

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