board engagement

5 priceless gifts board members can give their nonprofits

posted by
Nell Edgington,

Social Velocity

Board members sometimes stand in the way of what their nonprofit needs most. I’ve written before about the meaningless at best and destructive at worst distinction between “overhead” and “program” dollars. And board members often are as bad as donors at forcing nonprofits to ignore the very real costs of the work they do and their very real need for organization building dollars.

But board members could break this pattern by helping their nonprofit uncover, plan for and fund the staffing, technology, expertise and systems required to make the organization more effective at creating change. Board members need to put their weight behind organization building. And they can start by giving their nonprofit these five priceless gifts:

Permission to talk about real costs. Stop asking your nonprofit staff to get by with less and less. Stop telling your executive director to lower the salary they can offer a talented development director, not to spend money on technology, or to use volunteers when they need experts. Instead, start asking what the real costs of the work are and how much you truly need to raise to accomplish your ambitious organizational goals. 

Board Governance Versus Management: Where the Board Duties End

posted by
Sentari Minor,
Development Officer,
Arizona Humane

The more I work with boards of directors, the more the topic of board governance versus management comes up. That is, there seems to be an ever-present issue of organizations navigating the very sensitive notion of where board responsibilities end and where the executive director’s duties begin. It is obvious that many boards are unclear of their role within an organization.

We’ve all heard horror stories about members of the board coming into organizations and managing and/or directing staff. While staff interaction with the board should be encouraged, those aforementioned instances are wildly inappropriate. It is absolutely imperative that the board realize its role in an organization, and that role is not to manage employees or to be involved in any of the day-to-day operations of a nonprofit, but to steer the organization in accordance to its mission; to govern.

Peter C. Brinckerhoff, in The Mission Based Management Newsletter writes, "The executive director works for the board. All the other employees work for the executive director. Period." It’s simple: the only employee of an organization that reports to the board of directors is the executive director, no one else. While board members are obviously valuable and insightful, that venerability should be used to govern and not to guide staff or their roles. Not only is it confusing for a staff member for a member of the board to walk into a nonprofit and manage, but it also devalues and derails the authority of the executive director.

So what are the roles of each the board, the ED, and the staff? The topic of nonprofit roles can fill an entire post on its own but below is a quick look of duties at each level (focusing more on the board) that should clarify potential confusion: The board of directors is set in place to guide the vision, strategic planning and overall oversight of an organization. There are also responsible for the legal, financial, and fiduciary responsibility.

Research Friday Board Engagement: Thinking Beyond the Wallet

posted by
Angela Francis
Senior Associate
Nonprofit Finance Fund

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing series, we invite a nonprofit scholar, student, or professional to highlight current research reports or studies and discuss how they can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice.

Earlier this year, Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) received 4,600 responses to our annual 2012 State of the Sector Survey. Since then, we’ve been using these data to share key nonprofit sector trends on issues like the rising demand for services, shrinking government support, and the precarious financial health of organizations. This week’s installment of Research Friday looks at what the survey results tell us about nonprofit board engagement in tough times.

Since 2009, our survey has asked nonprofit leaders to indicate what management actions they are taking to cope with the recession. In both 2009 and 2010, nonprofit leaders told us that they were "engaging more closely with the board" by increasing the number of annual meetings, sharing new types of reports, or in other ways. In those years, nearly two thirds of respondents (59 percent and 60 percent, respectively) ramped up their communication with the board. So what happened in 2011, and what are respondents planning for 2012?