The Board’s Role Hiring Staff

Boards of directors have one, and only one, position they are responsible for hiring:  the chief staff executive (CSE).  Most often the title of this position is the executive director, and sometimes chief executive officer.  Regardless the actual title, if this position is the chief staff position to which all other staff positions and contractors report, then this hire is the board’s responsibility.  All other hires are the responsibility of the CSE.

There can be many rationalizations board members cite for exceptions to this practice, but none that I’ve encountered in my career that satisfy the practical realities of a well-functioning organization.  What are those realities?

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Why Board Members are Not Like their Members

Many board members feel their chief contribution serving on an association board is to represent their members’ interests.  While this is true, most board members are unaware of just how different they are from rank-and-file members, making it a challenge to live up to the promise of “representing the membership.”  There are three reasons board members are not like their members, despite the simple fact that a prerequisite for board eligibility is membership in the organization.

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Get the most out of your board meetings


If you’re frustrated at the end of board meetings because you feel that you’re not focusing on the right issues nor making the most of your scarce board-meeting time, perhaps the following best practices can get your board back on track.

The Right Allocation of Time

Recognizing that an organization’s board of directors has the exclusive franchise for the organization’s future, then the majority of your time should focus on the future when your board is in session.  Yet, the board is also responsible for oversight, which is not the future, but current programs and activities.  What’s a board with limited time supposed to do?Continue reading

The Complementary Roles of the Chief Executive and your Governing Board

Sometimes, even the best boards and seasoned executive directors clash and have trouble  staying in their respective “responsibility lanes” as the organization’s leadership team.  An excellent example might be when boards get directly involved with selecting and overseeing staff when they have a successful chief staff executive for such purposes.  Why might a board involve themselves in what is clearly a management responsibility?  Simply.  It’s what they are familiar with, despite the fact that it’s a responsibility they can and should delegate.

Certainly, if the working relationship between the board and executive director is noticeably broken, that situation should be addressed as soon as possible.  An outside management and governance coach is probably worth bringing in.  Even if everything is working smoothly between the board and the executive, an annual refresher can help keep the working relationships strong and the organization running smoothly for the coming year.

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The Four Pillars of Strong Governance

Board work is like any other team endeavor:  “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships” (Michael Jordan).

Boards are teams and how they decide to engage with one another to fulfill their responsibilities determines how successful they will be.  This article is about four pillars of successful boards based on my nearly 40 years of experience supporting and serving on nonprofit governing boards.

The four pillars are offered as a framework for success, not a prescription to be applied to fix an acute problem .  It is entirely possible for two different boards to implement these four pillars different ways, but still encompass the fundamentals of each pillar as applied to their culture and situation.

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Board Training

Is peak performance important? Can training and ongoing assessments of performance make a difference in outcomes? Absolutely yes to both questions. Board training does make a difference. It’s almost absurd to even ask these questions, yet one study found that more than half of board members in a national survey stated that their respective organizations did not effectively prepare them for board service.[1]

The above referenced study is both useful and interesting. It’s useful because it provides evidence about how board members experience their time and contributions serving on nonprofit boards of directors. It’s interesting because it largely confirms what most experienced executive directors know from practice. The simple truth is that every nonprofit board can have the onboarding and training they need to improve their contributions and their satisfaction serving in these important roles.

[1]     Association and Nonprofit Boards:  Maximizing Effective Service; © 2017 Heidrick & Struggles:  Project team:  Julian Ha, Bill Hudson, and David K. Rehr

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