Nonprofit Board Blog

Frequently Asked Questions: Board Issues

I am a brand spanking new Executive Director and only have vague knowledge of boards.  Where can I get a crash course on boards?

The operative word in this question that you want to avoid is “crash.” After 40+ years of working with and for nonprofit boards I can honestly say there is no more challenging, mostly fulfilling but often frustrating relationship than that between the Board and the chief paid staff person. The nonprofit board should be comprised of committed individuals who know and support the mission of the organization and who know the difference between setting organizational policy and managing the nonprofit. Because boards often operate in a reactive state, it is imperative that you know what life in the nonprofit was like before your arrival. This will give you a good idea of the “state of mind” of the folks for whom you are now working.

Here are a couple of quick tips that will get you moving in the right direction:

  • In addition to listening to the worries and dreams of current board and staff, you should quickly complete a number informational interviews with partner organizations – promise confidentiality and ask for candor.
  • Identify a peer in the nonprofit community who has years of experience and ask them to be your mentor. You need a “committed listener” for those moments when your board has complicated your life by overstepping their bounds – and maybe someone who can help you strategize ways to build and nurture a good relationship with Board members. Nonprofit leaders are for the most part sharing types and we love the adulation.
  • Find the resource organizations which can help; the local United Way, Volunteer Center, Statewide Associations of Nonprofit Organizations (OANO in Ohio) Society of Association Executives, or other places where nonprofit leaders congregate are good places to start.

One of the best web sites for leaders in the nonprofit world is the Free Management Library. You will find a storehouse of good articles, information, forms and templates you can use to get yourself up to speed.