As a nonprofit leader you may feel “your” board isn’t doing its job. You may feel frustrated and blame them for all that is not going well. We’ve heard of these frustrations, but before you think about expressing them, we suggest a moment for self- assessment. It might be that you play a role in the challenges you are experiencing.

By Mel And Pearl Shaw of Saad&Shaw

In our last column we cautioned board members about complaining without prior self-assessment. We feel the same way about executive leadership –you must self-assess; and, if you do complain, you must share potential solutions. 

We know that nonprofit CEOs are busy. You are pulled in many directions and expected to be perfect at everything all the time. The demands placed on you may make it difficult to take time to fully engage and support your board. Yes, that’s right: your responsibilities include communicating and working with the board. You may think that the board is “your” board, but really, you are “their” executive leader. They hire you. And, as all business coaches teach: you have to manage your boss!

Here are questions to ask as part of your self-assessment. Have you shared your vision, goals and fundraising priorities with the board? Do you have a clear, concise, and compelling plan of action? If yes, do all members agree with where you want the organization to go; if no, it’s time to meet and share! When meeting with individual board members, have you shared your thoughts and ideas, and listened to learn their interests and how they want to provide support? Do you know how you want to engage each board member? Bottom line: Are you in sync with your board?

Talking about communication… Have you prepared and shared an honest “state of the organization?” Does the board know what is really going on? Do you have a management system and style that is open and transparent? Are there open lines of communication between the board and you and your staff? Are you contributing to open communication with the board by having your team send out board minutes, agendas, and other documents in a timely manner? Are these documents accurate, easy to read? Are next steps clearly marked so that items don’t get overlooked? What about board meetings: are they structured to encourage meaningful discussion and productive planning? Are all members engaged, or are the meetings so boring that people consider them a mere formality? You play a role in what happens in board meetings, and we encourage you to invest time – before, during, and after – to contribute to the success of these meetings. 

Embedded within the above assessment questions are actions you can take to help change the dynamics and your relationship with the board. You are not alone in your frustrations: you just have to remember that you may be contributing to the situation! Challenges in the relationship between a CEO and the board is nothing new. Learn more in our book: Strong Leaders, Better Results: Learn to Optimize Your Nonprofit Board