So often I work with executive directors and development directors who are frustrated with their boards but don’t articulate the issues and therefore don’t involve their board in the solution. I’m working with two nonprofits whose board members largely don’t return phone calls or respond to e-mails — even from their board chair. Leadership was frustrated, angry and demoralized and spinning around in circles trying to figure out what was wrong.
We agreed to articulate the issue in a non-blaming noncritical way and asked board members to help articulate the issues and address them. Board members were embarrassed and grateful for the transparency — they actually hadn’t thought about how the yawning silence would affect board leadership and staff.
As the conversation unfolded, several board members realized that they needed to get off the board (which needed term limits — another topic for another day) and we agreed that they would step up to help with recruitment and cycle off the board in turn as new board members stepped on. Other board members realized they needed to recommit the organization.
Members of both boards felt they didn’t know each other very well and wanted to. They thought that would contribute to engagement and follow-through. We asked them how they wanted to accomplish this, and the solutions were: pizza and beer, and strategic board meetings that largely dispensed with staff and committee reports, and involved board members in tackling real issues, engaging questions such as organizational direction given the economy, community need and tight resources. They felt that such deep involvement would foster stronger relationships and a sense of a team between board members and with staff.