The OTHER Board Responsibility
Development Director Matt Bregman, when faced with the news of his Executive Director’s planned move from El Museo del Barrio in New York City to other pastures, did the unthinkable. Rather than panic, he reflected on what development directors want from their CEO and posted his top five on his fundraising blog. Rather than repeat his priorities (along with the excellent comments his thoughtful posting has prompted), allow me to direct you to Matt’s Tactical Fundraising blog and this particular posting (http://tacticalfundraising.blogspot.com/2010/03/dont-be-afraid-to-tell-me-what-you-want.html). Good food for thought. Reading Matt’s blog just days after I was fortunate to facilitate a retreat for the members of the Board of Gender Justice LA (http://www.genderjusticela.org), I was already inclined to think about Board responsibilities. Particularly those other than fundraising—the give and/or get development officers obsess about.
The Board members of Gender Justice LA to a person embody what is best about nonprofit Boards—committed, passionate, and eager to be the best possible Board members, which means understanding Board roles and responsibilities.
According to BoardSource, there are 10 major roles that a Board plays. I think they can be broken out into two: Governance and Fiduciary responsibilities. Under the latter is the aforementioned responsibility to give and/or get charitable gifts. But it is a major part of the governance side that I think too often gets short shrift.
Arguably, the most important role for the Board is the hiring, nurturing and, yes on occasion firing of the CEO. And to do that successfully, all Boards need to do what Matt Bregman so successfully tackled: Ask themselves what they want from a CEO. What exactly is it that the CEO must accomplish and—equally important—how do they want the CEO to reach those goals?
These are two equal sides of the equation. If, for example, the Board feels that outreach to the larger community is an important role for the CEO, then someone with great networking skills might be a good candidate. But if that same candidate manages through fear and ridicule—and the nonprofit’s culture is one of collaboration and support—then this person should not get past the first interview.
But people often interview better than they perform and here is where the Board must really step up to that proverbial plate. They must regularly evaluate the CEO and take any need action that that evaluation unearths.
Full disclosure here: When I was recently in New York (caught in a snowstorm only a southern Californian could love), Matt and I met for breakfast, and one of the topics we touched on was the fact that too many nonprofits lacked accountabilities for staff. We were taking specifically of fundraising staff, who may be measured by how much money is brought in, but rarely held to some measure that looks at the quality and consistency of their work.
While I love the theory of trickle up management (and know that it works in certain instances), when it comes to setting standards, I do believe that it must start at the top. That means that before staff will evaluate staff in some meaningful manner, they must see that the Board is setting the bar as they evaluate the CEO. Only when we have rigorous performance measures and regular, consistent evaluations, will our nonprofits truly measure up to our missions.
Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofit leaders and Boards to improve productivity and fund development. Check out her website and her online classes at http://janetlevineconsulting.com.