We love to talk about “the board” as if it’s one big, multi-headed beast with split personalities that lands somewhere on a spectrum from micromanagement to complete detachment. But what if we spent some time talking about individual board members (ahem…also known as a “person”)? Good boards are made up of good people. And a person is at their best when they have a skill or talent that is being used to meet a challenge or solve a problem.
Let’s think about that for a second:
What happens when you face a huge challenge, but you don’t have the skills you need to face it? Imagine you’re asked to climb a pretty steep mountain, but you’ve never done it and you showed up in flip flops. You’d be frustrated, overwhelmed and intimidated. And what happens when you’re highly skilled and you’re given a menial task? Imagine asking Vincent Van Gogh to complete a “paint-by-numbers” kit. You’d be bored, lose interest, and feel like your time was wasted.
There is a necessary tension that exists between skill set and challenge, and that tension is where good board members are either frustrated or bored. If you look at research on nonprofit boards and the experience of individual board members, the question board members most often ask themselves as they leave a board meeting is, “Why am I here?”
I love January because it’s the perfect time to look back and to look forward. Take advantage of this moment and have your board president or president-elect check in with each board member on their experience with a simple five-question check-in.
Do a simple temperature check by sending out a quick online survey (Survey Monkey, Google Forms, Etc.) Want to get honest feedback? Let the board know that all responses are anonymous (do this in the settings before sending out the survey), set a quick deadline for completing (7 days maximum), and half-way to the deadline send a reminder letting folks know how many have completed and how many have not.
- What was most challenging about your board service in 2020?
- What was most rewarding about your board service in 2020?
- What is the single most important thing the organization is facing right now?
- Are your skills and talents being used to help meet the needs of the organization?
- At the end of 2021, what words would you like to use to describe your experience. as a board member?
Need a little help?
If you choose to tackle this exercise and you’d like some help facilitating a conversation around the results – call me. This work interests me so much and I’m curious how the boards in our community are doing.
If you have 100% board participation, I’d be happy to review the results and facilitate a 20-minute discussion of those results at your next board meeting – no fee! Simply have the full board participate, share the results with me and put me on the agenda for the next board meeting.
In 2021, let’s stop talking about “the board” and start talking about the experience people are having as a board member.
Which of the quotes below best represent your organization?
The CEO’s Challenge
“…I also often feel that I am reporting to a group of people who simply do not know as much as I do about the organization or are as responsible to it. I have to act as if they are my superiors without truly feeling it.” Michael Kaiser, Huffington Post (May 5 2014)
“…My board serves as thought partners to me and the senior staff…They don’t know more or less than us; they know different…And with the overwhelming upheaval in today’s world, what manager would pass up the opportunity to have their perspective expanded?” (Jesse Rosen, Huffington Post (May 8 2014)
Don’t just work AT your nonprofit, work ON your nonprofit.
Happy New Year, Everyone! Keep up all the Good Works!