Everything I Need To Know About Life I Learned On My Nonprofit Board

In my experience, people on nonprofit boards almost always act with good will; they become disappointed or frustrated, however, when roles are unclear, and that can bring about tension. Under such circumstances, the board can get stuck. When the board underperforms, so does the organization; the community suffers.

This is a life lesson for people in workplaces, families, classrooms, and any relationship. That peace, happiness, and fulfillment come from creating a mutual understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish and each person’s role in achieving success.

No matter what the "problem" is, the solution usually lies in defining clear roles. And not generic roles, but more specific responsibilities related to what you seek to attain. With a nonprofit board, the first step is to focus on the mission, the organization’s compelling purpose; next, to establish the "Greater Vision"—the organization’s greater potential; and finally, to articulate the role of the board, CEO, and staff, respectively, in achieving success.

An outside consultant can help bring clarity to a board by asking the right questions and listening to each party, including board members and CEO, and providing perspective including information about board norms. Most importantly, the consultant can be useful by working with the board and CEO to help them to affirm or revise the mission; establish the greater vision; and create clear roles and responsibilities, and a system of accountability, for the board and CEO to achieve success.

This is also a matter of values, which is another important conversation. Just as families discuss values, increasingly many nonprofits and corporations state their values on their websites. As we all know, values guide people in performing their roles and responsibilities, including making judgments and decisions.

It is usually a great relief and source of energy and even exhilaration when people finally see how and what they can contribute to achieve success for a cause in which they believe. In fact, I’ve always felt that the moment of truth is when a board member exclaims, "Well, this just makes common sense."

[Image: Flickr user Tom]

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