For those of you who’ve ever experienced micro-management by a board (on either side of the table), here’s a potentially helpful document I wrote. It’s designed to help nonprofit organizations reduce unnecessary board intrusion, concurrently while helping the ED and staff serve the board and provide them what they need to do their strategic work.
See, I’ve served on two boards of late. And, educational experiences they have both been! I’ve learned through some rather twisted and uncomfortable ways about the roles of the executive committee, the board president, the committees, the executive director (ED) and the staff. I have not always been the easiest of board members to have around. I want information. I find it impossible to do my job of providing, among other things, strategic direction to an organization about which I know little.
In my frustration, I became a whirlwind of data requests. I had culture clashes with the staff and ED about what information I had a right to see. Me? I think Google Analytics are relevant when one is the Communications Committee chair. And HTML newsletter open rates and clicks on links. Because I wasn’t receiving the information I felt I needed to do my job as a board member, and as my requests for information were often perceived of as stepping on staff and ED toes, the I-want-you-can’t-have push-pull became even more pronounced.
Now, EDs have to protect their staff from excessive board requests and ensure that mission critical operations continue. And usually, producing reports and providing information takes staff time that can impact the staff’s ability to do its work. So, what’s a sane organization to do? Well, I think the first thing is that people have to know is what they’re asking for and why … what purpose does the getting of the information provide? And what’s it worth? Is the information sought a $25 answer (a quick email sent), a $250 answer (perhaps a meeting with a few staff and follow up), or is it a $2,500 answer … perhaps a more extensive report? Board members should be able to ask a reasonable question of staff and get a reasonable answer. Equally, even without a master of science in management, board members need to understand “the cost” of their questions asked.
So, what’s a sane organization to do?
In my consulting work over the years (and in personal relationships), I see that it is my responsibility to ask for what I want and to make sure that I’m clear about what it is that I need as an answer/deliverable/date. My suspicion is that board member requests of staff would half and ED/staff resistance would subside tremendously if there were systems in place that required (forced) board members to be more thoughtful in what it is they need, and why.
So, I created a form, a document, a think-your-way-through-your-thought-process guide. I make no claim of perfection in this regard. I have yet to test and vet this form. I am, however, offering it for nonprofit boards, EDs and staff as a potentially helpful tool for navigating the sometimes-messy territory of board-staff relationships. (And for those of you who’ve got your thinking caps on but don’t serve on nonprofit boards at this moment in time, you’ll be able to see the business applications for such a form.)