Who Manages the Board?

Cat HerdersIn my business, I hear a lot about boards—good, bad and very ugly.  What I don’t hear a lot about is Executive Directors who feel that they have much to do with their board members’ behavior.  But the board does not exist in a vacuum, nor are board members magically anointed with understanding either their role or their responsibilities.  That is the job of the CEO and if they are not appropriately fulfilling these, the CEO must do something more than complain to others about my “rotten board.” Often times, boards—with, I believe all good intentions—get involved in ways that are not helpful to the organization.  Like the boards that don’t want to hear about the organization’s clients’ needs, but think that they have a better answer.  Or the ones who rather than bring fundraising opportunities to their circles of influence decide that what really needs to happen is another event or more grantwriting.

I’m not dissing events or grantwriting, but often it is the same board members who tell the staff that “They” should get more sponsorships and sell more tables, or “They” should get more grant funding.

Fundraising is a board role and it is the board’s responsibility.  But again, they need training and guidance and not a little handholding.

So who is managing this?  Who makes sure that the board fulfills its job and does its duty?

Too many CEO’s, well aware that among the Board’s role is the hiring, nurturing and sometimes firing of the CEO, are afraid of making waves.  As one CEO said to me as she was lamenting the fact that her board didn’t understand the community they served, “But I can’t say anything to them.  After all, they can fire me.”

True.  But do you really want to be working at an organization where the important mission is not being fulfilled?  Do you want to work at cross purposes with your values?

I didn’t think so.

Figuring out how best to deal with these board members is key.

The first step is to look for a board partner.  As Jeffry Wilcox of Third Sector Company always says, a smart CEO keeps a board member between her and trouble.

Ideally, this would be the board president, but if that is not about to happen, then another board member will do.  Originally, wrote “…any board member”, but that clearly is not true.  You must ensure that this board member is well respected by the others and by the community at large.

Together you must consider how to make the board aware of the issues—and how their attitudes may be negatively affecting all that you do.

Often times, bringing in a neutral third party can be extremely helpful.  Yes, this could be a consultant (I’m nothing if not self-serving!), but it could also be a board member from another organization or another nonprofit CEO.  And, because I’ve done this, you might hire a consultant to facilitate and ask the board member and/or CEO to come and speak.

In any case, this is an issue that must be brought out into the open, and dealt with in the light of day.  Otherwise you stand a very good chance of having your excellent nonprofit organization go very dark, indeed.


Janet Levine moves nonprofits from mired to inspired—and helps them to increase their fundraising capacity.  Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com.  While there, sign up for the newsletter and for a free 30-minute consultation.