In our last Executive Director Forum session, we discussed how boards are formed and changed. We all agreed that the ultimate goal of an established nonprofit is to be led by a board that is fully functional, engaged, self-sufficient and independent of the executive director. That is, the board should truly be providing leadership for the organization, including oversight of the executive director.
That’s how effective organizations work. For example, the Federal “Sarbanes –Oxley Act” of 2002 placed specific responsibility on boards of directors for oversight of their public corporations, imposing criminal penalties for noncompliance. Being on a for-profit board now demands independence and accountability. That should also be the goal for nonprofit boards. At a for-profit, the board protects the interests of the shareholders. At a nonprofit, the board protects the dollars invested by donors.
Yet, we recognize that this is often not the case. Many executive directors have a much more active role in the directors’ decision-making processes, most often because their boards lack the interest in, or dedication to their organizations. A disengaged board will rely heavily on the executive director for activities and responsibilities that should be in the board’s prevue. The executive director may enjoy the lack of oversight, but this is not a very effective or sustainable organization model.
So consider these issues:
- Is my board taking on its share of responsibilities and roles?
- Should specific board members be coached or “coached out”?
- How can I find (or how can I encourage board members to find) the right candidates for our board?
Effective boards are a real gift to nonprofits. They can provide supplemental expertise and ideas for the executive director. They can befriend potential donors. And they can make sure that donor money is being carefully managed.
Make sure you have the right board!