March 11, 2013

How Can You Prevent Board Problems?

A board arguing.What has been your biggest challenge?” I asked a retiring CEO.

“The Board,” he said without hesitation. “Isn’t that true for everyone?”

Board nightmares are all too common in nonprofits. To reduce and avoid board problems, take preventative steps. By doing so, you can transform your most significant challenge into one of your greatest strengths. While boards that provide tremendous help are too infrequent, they are possible. You find them at successful nonprofits.

What steps can you take to prevent board challenges?

Begin with how your recruit your members:

1. Take the long view.

Instead of just dealing with your current challenges, take a longer view. Invest time in creating a board of great strength. And, for the sake of the organization, work on your personal growth, too. You want to be confident enough to embrace people who challenge you to be your best.

2. Write it down.

Draft a criteria list of your ideal board members. What skills are needed? What group behaviors are most helpful? How will you measure such behaviors? Identify any musts—that is–you would not ask a person to join your board if they lack this characteristic. Along with the must, identify the criteria that are nice but optional. That is, candidates may or may not meet these optional criteria.

3. Create a waiting list.

Identify names to fill a board member pipeline using your must criteria and as many wants as possible. Seek to find at least two people to be “in the wings” to fill each seat.

4. Vet your prospects.

Intentionally investigate these potential board members. To fill the pipeline, the CEO will need to meet with people, spend individual time with them, and find opportunities to see candidates interacting in group settings. Does the candidate at least meet your ideal board members criteria? Do they at least meet your mandatory standards? What behaviors do they exhibit? How do they behave in groups? What will it be like, for you to work with them?

5. Be clear.

After you identify outstanding candidates, be clear about their roles and responsibilities. Ideally, you provide a written job description and hold an orientation session where expectations are clarified

While all the steps are necessary, the most critical and time-sensitive is filling your pipeline. Too many board members serve on boards to fill a vacancy without considering their skills, leadership style, and potential impact.

Act on these recommendations so that your biggest challenge is not your board.

For more answers, check out this Nonprofit  CEO Library.

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Need more help with your board? Karen is available for a mini-consult, Board Rx, and more. Click here to email or here to set a time to chat.

Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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