Nonprofit Board Members Can Be Change Agents
By: Eugene Fram Free Digital Image
Nonprofit boards should always support policies that will allow the organization to drive innovative actions. Following is a list developed from successful for-profits (in italics) that can be easily adapted to the nonprofit environment. *
Having a Succession Plan: This includes two elements: The first is a plan to avoid disruption in the event that he CEO is temporarily incapacitated. Hopefully it allows designating someone internally who may be capable to take the position. However in many nonprofits, I have encountered, the CEO has not developed this staff talent because of budget limitations. When this occurs, the board should have an experienced consultant in mind to fill the position for an interim period. In my opinion, it’s not usually desirable to have a board person replace the CEO on an interim basis. This can tend to blur the line between board and management when the position is permanently filled. The new CEO may hesitate to modify changes instituted by an interim board CEO.
Overviewing the promotability of staff. This includes an annual review with the CEO to determine who he/s has in mind to fill several key staff positions, should one of these become unexpectedly available.
Regular Board Evaluation: While business boards’ best practices suggest self-board evaluations be conducted by outside experts, the costs involved might be prohibitive for many nonprofits. But it might be possible to engage a retired expert to conduct the evaluation on a pro bono basis. A more realistic approach: Every two or three years, have several board members on the governance committee conduct a questionnaire survey of the board members, seeking suggestions for improvement in governance operations.
Guidance of the Board Through Disruption: Nonprofit boards, like business boards, must currently contend with rapid changes in information technology and government regulations. But larger disruptive changes are on the horizon which may impact client groups, e.g., artificial intelligence and big data. Nonprofit boards must prepare the organization for such changes identifying visionary management and board members who can plan strategically for a period longer than the three or five years allotted to a strategic effort.
Seeking Experienced Board Members With a Breadth of Abilities: Nonprofit boards have traditionally recruited new board members based on their professional backgrounds—physician, lawyer, professor, marketing expert etc. To have the board become a group of networked change agents, vetting of board candidates must go deeper. For example, a marketing expert can be savvy in social media, promotion, research or strategy. Understanding how these abilities meet the needs of the nonprofit requires a more sophisticated thought process. Recruiting these persons takes time and more than a discussion of an resume. Professional and ability diversity of the board requires a awareness of the stakeholder groups to which the nonprofit must communicate. It is long past the day when the board candidates can be composed of friends, relatives and colleagues.
The Board is Deeply Involved in the Strategy of the Nonprofit: The board views its primary overview responsibilities are to integrate strategic considerations into all board discussions. This needs to be the basis for building meeting agendas, budget considerations and talent development. Board members should view strategy implementations as their tools to bring about change. They also need to take time at each board and subcommittee meting to review how each action or suggestions might support the organization’s strategy and its impacts.
Active audit, governance committees and task forces: The annual audit committee report needs to be robust, taking into consideration compliance as well as a talent review to determine any risks from insufficient talent bench strength. Small task forces (3-4 people) supported by staff need to replace cumbersome board subcommittees that usually address these concerns.
In the future, nonprofit board members can become change agents, if they devote sufficient time to:
- Establish robust secession plans
- Regularly evaluate themselves
- Seek more directors with broad perspectives
- Become intimately involved with assessing strategy impacts
- Develop actionable audit committee reports.
- Be prepared to guide the organization through technical and social disruptions that are now clearly on the horizon.