Why Does the Board Act That Way?

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eNewsletter | This morning a friend confided in me that she had neglected the board — pushed them to the side — in one of her most recent jobs. She laughed in an embarrassed way, saying “Well, you know — I just didn’t think they were that important.”

I do know.

I realize it isn’t a good thing to say but boards exist, sometimes off slightly to the side of most of our work. I think I mentioned just recently that our readers talked a lot, in our most recent survey, about boards not being able to grasp the complexities of larger nonprofits with multiple contracts and restrictions and reporting and accountability requirements. Well, and if they are paying attention to all of that and care about it, when do they go looking for community input — especially if it threatens to distract them from what they are contracted to do?

But boards are important as the situation my friend was telling me about proved because, of course, the board hired her successor and she had to watch from afar as some of her good work went down the drain during what was the very short tenure of that next leader.

I long ago got disaffected from those that depend upon bland prescriptive advice about boards because it does not have much to do with what really needs to happen to make a board relevant and a value-add to the organization. But I am always interested in the facts about boards. What really makes them act in one way or another?

So being the wonk that I am . . . and I really am . . . I look for research — the facts ma’am — to explain what I run into in individual organizations and that’s how I came across this article by Chao Guo about how government funding effects the makeup and the heft of your board. Not only is it interesting but it indicates some steps that you may wish to take if you want to retain a strong community-based board and still take government money.

So read this but also take a few minutes to tell us a story  about a board you sit on or work with. We love to hear each of your stories and it gives us a sense of what other information we should be looking for on your behalf.

Your friend,

  • Stephanie Doty

    I have experienced challenges as a development officer in the nonprofit sector, primarily as a result of the ED/Board interaction. As you know, it is absolutely critical for development people to build relationships with Board members to achieve the the overall success of establishing a sound, economically sustainable funding base. Imagine my chagrin to learn, on at least two occasions, the ED did not want the development officer to interact with the Board and virtually prevented that from happening.

    In another organizaiton, I sat in a Board meeting, listening to the Chair advise those present that “This Board does not work in fundraising; that’s not our responsibility.” WHAT????? As my stomach turned into knots, I learned that for years the ED had assumed responsibility for every aspect of what went on in the organization and the Board happily rubberstamped what was asked of them.

    Having a more active Board was perceived as “impinging” on the individual’s control and if that was to change — the person would leave the organization. It appeared to be an extraordinary waste of talent, commitment and dedication — on the part of staff, as well as the Board members.

    Trying to be effective in such organizations is not only “challenging,” but nearly impossible and, in all reality, sets the entire development process up to fail.

    So, in the latter instance, it became a question of who’s the most culpable?

    On the other hand, I do know of active, enterprising, fully engaged boards. This enlightened and enriching awareness sustains me and continues to drive my passion to succeed on behalf of smaller organizations where it is possible to “do the work” lovingly, with passion, energy and enthusiasm shared at all levels.

    Perhaps this is one of the compelling reason I find your publication such a godsend! Keep up the good work!