Monday, February 26, 2007

Basic Board Responsibilities-Round Two

Responsibilities 3 and 4 continue our exploration, focusing on the leadership team and the planning process.

Responsibility 3: Support the chief executive and review his or her performance. Nothing may be more critical to a nonprofit’s health than a strong board/CEO partnership. Building a resilient relationship between board and executive director requires an understanding and appreciation of what each contributes to leadership of the organization. Just as the executive director has significant responsibility for supporting the board and its governance work, the board supports its key management partner in important ways.

One of those ways comes in the form of regular evaluation opportunities. The board owes its director frequent and constructive feedback on his/her performance. This process is strengthened when it begins with mutually agreed-upon annual goals and objectives. Beyond this yearly formal process, board members should be attuned to the many informal opportunities to check in with their director: to understand and acknowledge the successes, big and small, and the challenges to effective organizational management.

My favorite resource on the ED/board relationship is Fisher Howe’s “The Nonprofit Leadership Team” The Albany County Public Library has a copy available for checkout. Your favorite local or online bookseller also should be able to order a copy for you.

Responsibility 4: Ensure effective organizational planning. Some may cringe when they read the word “planning,” recalling horror stories of “strategic planning” gone awry or endless examples of plans that go nowhere. As I think back on my own experiences, as a board member engaged in planning processes and as a facilitator of parts of that process, I have come to understand the importance of board leadership in ensuring that:

• planning is a high priority to the organization;
• the process is inclusive, providing opportunities for staff and volunteers to participate in shaping goals and objectives;
• flexibility is built in, to allow for the inevitable twists and turns that occur;
• the plan is an action plan, with clear identification of what will be accomplished, by whom, by when; and
• the plan is not set on a shelf until the time comes to update it – that it drive activity within the organization and that regular reviews are built into the year.

Finally, I’d like to propose that even more important than strategic planning is strategic thinking. Board members and staff should be continually focused on the horizon, anticipating the issues and opportunities that will impact their community, their stakeholders and their organization.

We'll have many opportunities to explore strategic planning and thinking in future posts. Stay tuned!

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