Why Does the Board Act That Way?

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,