Rapport between the board and organization is critical because the entire organization represents one team committed to a common purpose. If you have ever experienced a breakdown in this relationship, you already know its importance. The board chair and executive director spearhead this relationship – they set the example for collaboration within and between the staff and the board. It’s nearly impossible for board members and staff to have rapport with each other, if these two individuals aren’t great collaborators. Be open and transparent in meetings, and share information with all board members equally. The chair and director must be on the same page, and a private meeting at least every two weeks between these two helps make sure there are no surprises. Never get to the point where your board is doubtful or distrustful; it will quickly erode rapport. When possible, strengthen these relationships further with some fun. Whether that is a social dinner after the board meeting, or ice-breakers during the meeting, everyone getting to know each other a bit increases trust and collaboration.
Of course, we should all employ smart meeting tactics like circulating an agenda ahead of the meeting and setting limits on speaking time. However, most boards miss the elephant in the room which is determining whether a meeting is really even needed. All boards make the mistake of holding a meeting for the sake of holding a meeting, mostly out of a sense of tradition. Are recurring meetings, especially for committee, really necessary? Schedule your meetings based on need. When you do meet, always have a well-prepared agenda, have tremendous focus, and touch upon all the important topics at hand. Think of alternative ways to simply inform the board of recent updates.
Setting expectations right from the start with new board members can save so much frustration and disappointment down the road. All board members should be on the same page as the executive director and the organization regarding the mission, goals, growth opportunities and risk factors. This is especially crucial for new board members. That said, setting expectations is not a one-way street. Listen to your board – their convictions and their concerns. Encourage open dialogue among the board so that everyone feels comfortable airing views and opinions. The more you listen, the more you will understand, and the more engaged your board will be. For especially sensitive topics, consider anonymous polling so everyone feels free to be honest about their expectations and priorities.
As an executive director, you don’t have an immediate boss who will give you feedback, outside of the guidance you get from your board.. However, you must nurture the board relationship to ensure that feedback will come your way. Here are two crucial tactics for effective board feedback. First, provide your board with the right information. They don’t need an infomercial because they are already sold on your organization. Tell them what’s really going on, good and bad. Second, ask for specific advice from specific board members to most effectively utilize your board’s diversity. Remember, a well-functioning board is a multiplier of your efforts, so be sure to engage your board to put their knowledge, connections and experience to work for your organization.
These four rules are a great start to your nonprofit board how-to guide. If you can cover these bases, an effective and engaged board of directors is a natural result.
Jeb is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Boardable is an online board management portal that centralizes communication, document storage, meeting planning, and everything else that goes into running a board of directors.