In a recent edition of the online CharlotteObserver, there was an editorial that really got my attention.
It was written by Will Miller, who is a former executive director of Charlotte’s host committee for the Democratic National Convention. The editorial is titled “Nonprofit boards must be bold, not too cozy with staff”.
I highly recommend you taking a moment to click on and read the entire article, because it is very thought provoking, but I thought I’d post a few excerpts from the piece here and ask a few questions for you to ponder.
Miller starts out with his contention that:
In the non-profit world, leadership begins with strong boards, comprised of bold leaders, committed to hiring the best staff available. Our boards are appointed to ensure that we use our community’s resources in the most effective and efficient ways possible to achieve positive, social outcomes. To the extent they do not live up to this responsibility, the community suffers.
Ok, I agree with this. He’s putting a heavy, but appropriate, burden on the shoulders of board members. I’m not sure that everyone who is appointed to board service fully grasps his or her obligation not only to the non-profit, but to the community at large. That’s an important distinction to recognize.
Miller then goes on to say:
CEOs and their staffs typically spoon-feed their boards only the information they want them to know, and avoid or gloss over the less flattering information. “Activity” is invariably substituted for “impact.” Most board business is non-controversial and conducted through consent agendas. Busy board members go along and all is well. Except that it isn’t…
In this section, Miller uses some language that jumped off the page to me. He says that “CEOs and their staffs typically spoon-feed…” and “Most board business…” It kind of sounds like he is making some broach proclamations about the non-profit industry. I do understand the point he is trying to make here, and I’ve been involved with boards where this has been the actual case, but do you think this particular problem he’s writing about is as pervasive as he’s suggesting?
The last section I’ll post here today is:
Early on, organizations begin to focus more on themselves, and less on the community that they serve. Board members get close to the staff members, and are extremely hesitant to replace them due to these cozy relationships. Far too much time is spent on fundraising and marketing, and too little on understanding the best way to meet their missions. Organizations tend to measure the things that are positive, and ignore the things they are charged with improving – otherwise known as “mission creep.”
Again, I believe there is a nugget of truth to what Mr. Miller is writing about. I’ve seen boards that have not pushed their executive director very hard, because they knew it would be much harder to go through he process of firing him and hiring/training someone new. I’ve also witnessed non-profits get so wrapped up in funding their organization, that the mission has gotten lost.
Has this kind of situation ever happened to you? How have you course corrected to get back on track?
I’d love to hear your experiences. Please share them with us in the comment section!
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