Develop Leaders

One of the often-overlooked responsibilities of nonprofit boards is to develop its current and future leaders (volunteer and professional). Another responsibility of a nonprofit board is to lay the foundation for an uncertain future. While it sounds like it is impossible to prepare for something that is vague at best, it is still a necessity. The better prepared the leaders of your nonprofit are, the higher your nonprofit’s sustainability will be. Increasing the sustainability of your nonprofit is also one of your board’s responsibilities.

One of the ways to develop your current leadership is to empower your executive to make more decisions. When the executive asks the board for a decision, ask the executive to make the decision.

Every decision an executive makes falls within one of four categories:

Report – Tell the board the decision was made

Advise – Tell the board the decision is going to be made

Consent – Ask the board for permission to make the decision

Responsibility – Ask the board to take responsibility for the decision

Which decisions fall in which categories will depend on the experience of your executive. Using the above structure provides the board with the opportunity to audit the quality of the decisions, question why X instead of Y, and adjust the guidelines to improve the process. As the board’s confidence in the executive’s judgement grows, the guidelines can be more general.

Over time, the executive will learn several things:

What parameters should be considered before making a finance, fundraising, operational, etc. decision

Which decisions require extra time

How to work collaboratively with the board

What skills and experience are needed by the board members to provide effective guidance

While the executive is learning, the board will become more deliberative and forward looking when confronting issues. If instead of making a decision the board must outline how the decision is to be made, the board must be more intentional about how it will coordinate activities, set priorities, and foresee future needs. All of this will help the new board members better understand their roles. It will also make better use of the talents, experience, and knowledge of board members. The result will be more engaged board members.

If your nonprofit is like most, there is at least one staff member assigned to each board committee. If the committees use the same approach for guiding the development of the staff members, it will prepare the next generation of potential executives.

Next Step:

Delegate most of the board’s decision-making to the executive

Create guidelines to ensure the executive makes high-quality decisions

Establish guidelines for the executive to make decisions independent of the board

When the bulk of the decisions are in the Responsibility category, a nonprofit’s sustainability is low. Boards seledom have the time necessary to make effective detailed-level decisions. Boards should be using the combined knowledge, experience, and expertise of its members to make complex, far reaching, and mission-critical decisions. The result is a nonprofit with a high level of sustainability and a highly effective mission.

The level of trust and confidence the board has in the executive’s judgement will determine how many decisions are in each category. With a high level of trust, most decisions will fall into the Report and Advise categories. The Responsibility category should be reserved for only the biggest and farthest-reaching decisions.

Take It Further:

Recruit boards members with a diversity of knowledge, experience, and expertise to complement the strengths of your staff

Use the decline in the number of Responsibility category decisions as an indicator of the effectiveness of your executive development

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