Reflections, stories & ideas on non-profit leadership.

Difficult board conversations

April 5, 2017

Is there an issue with a board member, or even your executive director, that you have avoided addressing? Perhaps you have a board chair that is failing to exercise any control over meetings, or a board member that dominates every discussion. On one hand you are afraid to broach the issue because the relationship is important. On the other, if you do not try to resolve things, the relationship may be in peril. In the context of non-profit governance, the existence of unresolved conflict can often lead to board member resignations by those close to the conflict and even those on the sidelines.

This long post is not really in the category of “how to deal with a problem director”. Its starting point is the idea that when conflict is present it needs to be understood before it can be successfully addressed. It offers some ideas on how to prepare for and initiate a “difficult conversation”.
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Ex officios unearthed

March 12, 2017

Many non-profit boards include people who, by virtue of their job or past role, sit as ex officio directors or committee members. This can include government representatives, past chairs, or the executive director. Typically these positions are named in the bylaws or board committee or position descriptions. Ex officios are considered non voting directors although this meaning of the term is not the original one.

Are ex officio positions on boards an old idea we should let go of? Are there benefits of ex officio involvement on one’s board? Little has been written about the expectations of ex officios or what standards of performance ex officios should themselves aspire to. I intend to help fill this gap a little. In particular, I want to bring to light the value of certain kinds of board connections to the wider community that external ex officio directors, among others, can provide.
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Do we need a motion for that?

February 21, 2017

Have you ever been uncertain about whether an item to be decided by your board requires a formal motion?  Perhaps your board flirts with some version of “Robert’s Rules” even though no one really knows them? Maybe your board follows past practices with respect to making motions with no idea of where the procedures came from, or what could be improved. If any of this is true, you are in good company.

You might be surprised to know that here is no universally accepted or prescribed set of procedures that non-profit boards must follow in their deliberations and decisions.
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Motivating board members: it’s complicated

January 16, 2017

Executive directors and chairpersons are often at a loss to figure out how to motivate their boards to show more interest or take on new tasks. But what is it that motivates board members in the first place? Perhaps they are already motivated but efforts to get the board members to change miss the mark. Sure, ‘giving back to their community’ may well be the reason most people serve on a non-profit board but is it useful to know this? Might there be lots to understand about board member needs and aspirations as volunteers before we ask more of them?
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Representative boards: Good idea?

November 15, 2016

Some non-profit organizations are governed by “representative” boards of directors. This means that the composition of the board is determined by the formal connection of the directors to particular constituencies or stakeholder groups. According to Australian board consultants Lynn Ralph and Alan Cameron, representative boards are “superficially attractive” but the idea requires a much closer look.(1)

Often the main motivations for specifying the composition as representative is to insure that the board’s decisions reflect the will of the stakeholders. Also, such an organization is, in theory, directly accountable for its actions back to the stakeholders through the directors themselves.
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Another wrinkle on family members on boards

July 26, 2016

The son of one of your nursing home clients, an elderly woman with dementia, is on your board. At board meetings he often raises issues around the care she is receiving such as how she is treated by staff, staff training, the cleanliness of the facilities, or the quality of the meals provided. The other family members around the table, which represent half your board, are usually quick to add their input based on their experience with their loved ones.  Having the executive director’s ear at a board meeting apparently can be too good an opportunity to pass up.
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Distinguishing Strategy

November 28, 2013

I was having coffee the other day with friend at the Humani-T Cafe on South Park Street in Halifax. In the course of a wide-ranging conversation about non-profits, she related a story about a organization she knew of whose board said they could not do strategic planning because they did not have the resources.
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