What Are Boards For?

Boards.  Probably the biggest source of consternation for many nonprofit executives.  How to get them?  What to do with them?  How to get them to do what you want them to do? If I were to compile an FAQ for what clients and prospective clients ask, these three would be at the top of the list.

A big part of this is the lack of clarity for both the staff and the board members on what the board roles and responsibilities are.

Do an internet search on that (why not? We do that for everything else!) and you will get close to 3 million hits.  A lot of verbiage on this topic.  And yet….too often what board members actually do is sit through interminable meetings where reports are read to them, and where they are asked to vote on things they know very little about.

I go to a lot of board meetings every month, and most are boring because most executives do not understand how to utilize the skills and knowledge board members bring.

Think about it this way: Boards are strategic; staff is tactical.  What that means in practical terms is that the Board sets the policies; staff hammers out and implements the procedures.

A policy is (according the dictionary) “a set of ideas or plans that is used as a basis for making decisions…”  Think about how much richer board meetings would be if board members got to grapple with developing ideas and plans that are meant to help you create the procedures (the steps for doing something) to accomplish those ideas.

Of course, saying policy is the responsibility of the board doesn’t mean that the staff sits around waiting for the board to decide to create or update a policy.  The ED, with the Board chair should be agenizing this; it should be part of larger discussions about the direction the organization is heading and what needs to happen in order to get there.

This is how your strategic plan becomes a living and breathing document.  And your board will also become more engaged, thoughtful and real partners in meeting your mission in the most effective and efficient ways.


Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, moving them from mired to inspired.  Learn how we can help your nonprofit at www.janetlevineconsulting.com and contact us for more information.