Time to Think

It seems like everything must be done at lightspeed.  As a result, people react to whatever comes up because it seems like there is never time to think.  Since you have a wealth of experience, most of the time your reaction is good enough.  When the reaction is suboptimal, there is usually a subordinate who sees and fixes the problem.  All of that creates the illusion that reacting is okay.

Keep doing what you are doing with one exception.  Take more time to think before you interact with your board.

We all know that thinking is critical and some decisions would be better if given a little more thought.  You earned your position because the board saw what an asset your thoughts and experience are to your nonprofit.  In addition, the members of your board were recruited because their thoughts and experiences have the potential to be a valuable asset to your nonprofit.

Each of your status reports to the board tells the board something important about your nonprofit’s operations, plans, trends (external or internal), or new opportunities or threats.  The report ends with a recommended action or decision that you want the board to take or endorse (call to action).  By providing your board with a call to action, you are helping to engage the board members.  You are telling them that their input and involvement is important to your mission, clients, and the future of your nonprofit.  You have probably carefully crafted the call to action so that it causes your board to think rather than react.  That is a good start at tapping into the thoughts and experience of each of your board members.

Now take a moment and look at your report from a different perspective.  Put yourself in the position of each of your board members and reread the report once for each of them.  As you reread the report, ask yourself the following questions:

Will the board member find the information necessary to catalyze the member’s thinking rather than encourage a snap decision?

Will the board member have the relevant information to make an informed decision?

Will the board member feel the issue is important enough to think about or will the member be tempted to endorse the recommendation without giving it careful thought?

Will the board member feel that it is necessary to think deeply about the breadth, depth, and consequence of the decision?

Is there a way to present the call to action that will utilize the board members’ thoughts and experience to enrich the decision and outcomes from the decision?

That can seem like more work than an overloaded schedule would permit.  However, if it is unreasonable to invest that time in the decision, the issue is something staff should handle.  If the input of only a few board members is needed, the issue should be handled by a board committee.

Next Step:

Ensure the topics on the board’s agenda are worthy of your board’s time and engage your board in thinking

Ensure that your executive’s status report will engage your board members and cause them to think carefully about issues that are important to your mission, clients, and the future of your nonprofit

Ensure the board agenda allows sufficient time for thoughtful discussion before decisions are made

Encourage your board chair to be a discussion leader and solicit input from all attendees (board members, staff members, and visitors)

The sustainability of your nonprofit depends on the decisions your board makes.  Your board members have the insights and experience to significantly enhance your nonprofit’s sustainability and impact on your clients and community.  The only way to access that wealth of experience, knowledge, and insight is through board discussions that consider all aspects of an issue.

Take It Further:

Ask the board development committee to train the committee chairs to use the same criteria when submitting their reports to the board

Use the engagement of your board members as an indicator of the quality of your board’s agenda and the quality of the status reports it receives from the committees and staff

Read more about board deliberation


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