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Better Time Management

When board meetings consistently last longer than planned, it indicates that there is more work for the board than it has time for. One way to help the board is to expand it without adding members. The other is to develop more leaders.

Recruit non-board volunteers to serve on board committees. Since the additional volunteers only need to attend committee meetings and activities, you will be asking less of them than a board member. Initially, it increases the work capacity of the committees. It provides your board with the opportunity to audition volunteers for future board membership and reduces the time needed to orient and train new members. In short, future board members will be more productive and effective, which allows the board to accomplish more in the limited time it has.

Many nonprofit boards attempt to control the nonprofit and the staff. This forces the board to spend time managing the nonprofit. However, it is the staff’s job to control what happens and the executive’s job to be the manager. Therefore, the more effective approach is for the board to give control to the staff while developing the leadership capabilities of the staff and especially the executive. The staff will be responsible because your HR function only hires mature and responsible individuals. If your nonprofit has immature or irresponsible staff members then change the hiring requirements rather than taking control. The policies the board creates should be guidelines that limit activity like curbs limit where cars drive. The boards plans and policies will determine the path but the executive and staff retain control.

Most board reports fail to provide the board with the information it needs to lead. For example, knowing that two new families enrolled students in a school is all that most nonprofit school boards are told. If 1000 families moved into the area and there were only two families with children, the school capture 100% of the prospective students and that is great news. However, if 1000 families with children moved into the community, it says the school has a marketing, quality, or relevance problem. In this case, the board needs to know what the problem is and how it will be solved. However, the board only needs to know that a problem exists and it is being solved. If the board attempts to solve the problem or guide the solution, it is attempting to manage the nonprofit rather than lead it.

Your board needs to think careful about the information it needs. Knowing that new students have enrolled says that there will be more revenue in the short term but it tells the board nothing about the school’s future prospects. The staff is responsible for the current activities and the board is responsible for the nonprofit’s future. Therefore, your board needs enough information to determine whether your nonprofit will be relevant and attractive (offering the right programing in the right way) as well as effective at communicating its value (marketing).

How should your executive’s periodic reports to the board be changed to enable the board to do its job?

When the board gives control to the staff, it frees up time to focus on the future. By focusing on the future the board will increase your nonprofit’s sustainability, which will reduce the number of problems the board and staff will need to handle. While your board will still have more to do than it has time for, at least your board’s time will better serve your nonprofit.

Next Step:

Let your staff control your nonprofit

Develop the leadership capabilities of your executive

Hold your executive responsible for developing the leadership capabilities of each staff member

Focus your board’s attention on planning (defining and creating a future), setting policy, and monitoring activity

It is impossible for your board to know which areas of your business model are most important to it at this moment without a long-term plan, strategy, and vision for your nonprofit and community. The staff’s report to the board should be limited to three to five items. Those items should tell the board everything it needs to know. In many cases, it is easier to convey the information in graphs or charts so that the board has historical context.

Limiting the report to three to five items may seem restrictive. However, your board is unlikely to have the time to adequately discuss more.

The goal is to enable your board to effectively use its limited time to make highly effective, mission-centric decisions that will increase the relevance of your mission, sustainability of your nonprofit, success of your clients, and enhance your nonprofit’s value to your community.

Take It Further:

Limit board membership to those who have a track record of effective leadership

Use the above suggestions for the staff report as a model for the board committee reports

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