Tag Archives: Board of directors

Get the Governance Right – It Matters!

Post by BVU Staff:  Elizabeth Voudouris, Executive Vice President

Governance = Strong Nonprofit BoardOne key element of a healthy nonprofit organization is a strong board.  A strong board:

1. Can clearly identify its work and its role for a particular nonprofit at any point in time.

2. Is comprised of people who bring the relevant skills, expertise, diversity, networks and passion to get the job done.

3. Doesn’t just happen. It requires a tremendous amount of attention, creativity, strategy and patience.

Through our work with hundreds of nonprofit boards each year, we see that the strongest boards continue to develop and evolve good governance practices in order to provide relevant leadership.

Strong boards:

  • Focus on the best way to achieve the mission.  A crisis nursery developed a strategic plan that included a significant expansion project to serve more children and keep more families together. The success of the plan was dependent on using the strong marketing and business background of the CEO together with the board, whose duties were to expand networks and visibility of the organization in the broader community. The board also provided sound oversight for the growing programs and finances.
  • Concentrate on the larger opportunities and challenges facing the organization, and allow staff to manage the day to day operations.   A board identified and pursued potential strategic partners to ensure that their mission was preserved; they formed a strategic alliance with a similar organization, and eventually they merged.   Board members with the relevant skills and expertise led this process and ensured their good work continued.
  • Understand the relationship between board and staff, and the significance of a positive and healthy partnership.   Establish structures and practices to work effectively together.  Monthly communications from the chief executive to board members, annual individual meetings to help board members identify new ways to engage with the organization, constructive and thoughtful annual performance reviews, and open and transparent communications to build a culture of trust.
  • Plan for the board’s future.  The board develops annual succession plans and is always grooming future leaders.  Future leaders serve as committee chairs so that they can demonstrate their leadership to the board and staff, learn more about an important aspect of the organization, and determine if they have the time and/or interest to move into leadership.
  • Build committee structures that utilize board and staff time effectively.  Meaningful work is accomplished in strong working committees.  Strong working committees have an effective committee chair, strong staff support, annual calendar of meeting dates, annual priorities, and relevant agendas and publish minutes for the full board to view.  Strong committees are comprised of people who bring relevant experience, expertise, networks and diversity to the work of the committee.
  • Ensure that there is a viable business model and financial systems in place.  If this is not already in place, consider engaging a pro bono consultant.   BVU engaged a pro bono consultant to help a local nonprofit, and the consultant restructured all financial systems and reports, and developed a business model to sustain the organization’s diverse programs.  The pro bono consultant worked closely with the chief executive and the board, and eventually joined the board. This project gave the nonprofit the ability to attract larger grants and sustain programs that meet the needs in the community.
  • Prepare carefully for board and committee meetings.  Agendas and materials go out 4-7 days in advance.  Board meetings do not consist exclusively of presentations by committee chairs or staff, but instead are used to engage board members in meaningful discussions around topics that are relevant to the mission and vision.  Board members leave these meetings feeling informed, engaged, and confident that they are vital contributors to the future of the organization.
  • Regard each board seat as precious. Written board member expectations are clear to all current and future board members.  Board members are held accountable to those expectations annually.  Board member terms are not renewed automatically, but considered carefully based on the changing needs of the organization and interests of the board member.

There is no magic bullet or “one size fits all” solution for stronger boards.  BVU’s work with nonprofits over the years has given us great insight into effective practices and policies that can help strengthen an organization.  Strong boards take work, but by staying focused on your mission, the work of your board, and ensuring that you have the right board members sitting around the table,  your nonprofit can position itself to navigate today’s challenges and leverage future opportunities.

Without a Succession Plan, The Mission of Your Organization is in Jeopardy

Post by BVU Staff: Brian Broadbent, President & CEO

succession

What is succession planning, and why does your organization need it?  Succession Planning is  “replacement planning” for key staff roles in your organization. Succession planning for nonprofits is routinely overlooked and yet a vital HR process.  So, why is it often overlooked?

Nonprofit boards often don’t want to consider losing their outstanding chief executive. Also, there may be reluctance on the part of the chief executive (especially if he or she is the founder) to think about transitioning leadership of the organization to someone else.  Whatever the reason, in the end, often neither the board nor the chief executive address it.  However, the day will eventually come when the chief executive retires or resigns and then the scramble will be on to fill the void.

A study sponsored by Washington’s Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation found that 66% of chief executives are planning to leave their job within 5 years.  Only 17% reported that their organization had a written succession plan.  Ironically, 33% of chief executives believe that their nonprofit board will hire the right successor when they leave.  I recently spoke with a chief executive who is adamant that he will not prepare a succession plan because he is fearful that addressing his succession might hasten his departure.  Bad answer!

Why should your organization prepare a succession plan?

  1. The mission of the organization is in jeopardy without thoughtful leadership transitions. Strong leadership is a critical component of an organization’s success or failure. The board must be prepared for the inevitable.
  2. The board needs time to choose a successor with not only the right leadership capabilities, but also someone that will fit into the culture of the organization. A broad list of candidates should be considered in advance of a transition. Boards have a responsibility to find the best candidate and conduct a thoughtful ‘non-urgent’ review. They need to be comfortable that no stone is unturned and that internal and external candidates are considered.
  3. Internal candidates need time to develop. My personal bias is to give a person who is already employed at an organization the opportunity to grow professionally for a couple of years. Statistics show that nonprofits chose an internal candidate only 40% of the time because boards fear they don’t have the fundraising or financial review expertise. Nonprofits that commit to succession planning give their current staffs better opportunities for advancement.
  4. Thoughtful community connections need to be developed with organizational staff beyond the chief executive.  I have seen organizations where all of the key donor and foundation relationships reside solely with the chief executive. If the chief executive leaves, the organization may suffer a reduction in funding until the next chief executive builds donor and funder confidence.

At BVU: The Center for Nonprofit Excellence, we recommend a succession plan that addresses all of the key leadership positions with candidates for both short-term and long-term succession as well as a process to implement the plan with time for professional development. Sorting this out early prepares your staff and board for orderly transitions.  Succession plans should be prepared for key staff that have deep institutional knowledge and/or are in complex leadership roles.

Don’t put off addressing this critical process.  It is vital for your organization and helpful for your funders, staff and board to know you are prepared. And most importantly, consider the consequences of not putting your organization in the best possible position to serve those that depend on you.