Management

3 Steps To Effectively Manage Your Board!

Rahul Razdan Rahul Razdan
Dec 2021

3 Steps To Effectively Manage Your Board!
"We'll need to check with the board regarding that" is often how a lot of out-of-the-box ideas and innovations seem to die in the non-profit world. While that's not entirely true, the perception certainly is.

It's not that the board is some three-headed monster with sharp tentacles and a thick hide. This perception exists because of common misconceptions about the nonprofit organizational structure, the way the board approval process typically works, and the way it is often ill-managed. As this BBC article notes, although serving on a board is a great privilege, the board's responsibilities and associated accountability result in them being overly cautious.
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Non-Profit Organizational Structure and Responsibilities
Nonprofit organizations have two types of directors - the Executive (responsible for day-to-day operations, program management, and strategic execution) and the Non-Executive, a.k.a. the board (responsible for fiduciary, long term vision & sustainability, legal compliance & risk management).

Given the divergence of these responsibilities, often the board might reject ideas that lack strategic vision, clarity, reasonable upside, seem too risky, or are too expensive in terms of investment or opportunity costs. Such rejections often lead to dejection within the Executive team and frustrations within the Non-Executive.

As per Harvard Business Review, the following result in ineffectiveness: last-minute approval asks, not educating the board members on the subject matter, etc. To an unbiased eye, it'd be clear that most (if not all) of these disagreements can be resolved by just one thing - better (open, timely, and honest) communication. Following are some suggestions on how the executive team can handle the board approval process in a way that's rewarding for all parties involved.
  1. Be Strategic, Not Tactical

    If there is one thing you remember from reading this Forbes article, let it be David Mehbub's quote - "A strategy is not the sum of a bunch of isolated activities, promotions or action plans (tactics)."
    Strategy and tactics
    When presenting to your board, start with a top-down/big picture/key insights before getting into the tactical and implementation details. "We're projecting a $100,000 in fundraising using the peer-to-peer fundraising channel", "This channel will help us recruit three new corporate sponsors" are not strategies, rather tactics and outcomes. "We want to be the #1 platform for young graduates looking for mentoring opportunities. We will provide them world-class educational and networking opportunities empowering them to have a fulfilling mentoring and leadership experience." - is a great strategy, and now fundraising tactics for nonprofits should flow from this. For example - perhaps you're not just looking to fundraise the $100,000, rather you might look to fundraise the same amount from families with one or more kids in high school or college; or perhaps instead of recruiting three corporate sponsors, you are looking for three "strategic corporate sponsors", who in addition to providing funding support could also help with other aspects of the program such as a co-working space that is willing to provide free after-hours access to mentors and mentees, etc.
  2. Mitigate Risk
    Manage risk
    Once you have a good strategy in place and have created a tactical plan to execute on, start thinking about the risks associated with your plans, the type of questions someone might have, and address those risks (and associated mitigation efforts) & questions (and their answers). Doing so without someone asking such questions is a great way to earn the trust of your board and make them feel confident that you've thought about all aspects of the plan.

    At Charity Footprints, we often hear from our prospective partners that "our board might have concerns about running a virtual race", or "our board might not agree to a peer-to-peer fundraising event, because we've never done it before". An effective way to address this dilemma (and mitigate the perceived risk) is to quickly poll potential participants about their interest levels. Similar tactics could be used at the end of a campaign, before creating a three or five-year strategic plan, or simply to assess your brand's recall, recognition, and engagement health.
  3. Share Pragmatic Plan & Projections
    Plan Campaign
    As the legendary Lou Holtz's quote goes, "Nothing is as good as it seems, and nothing is as bad as it seems. Somewhere in between lies realty." This quote so aptly applies to how you should present a new idea to your board.

    Your board members understand that you're human and that you're trying to make the best decision given the circumstances and understanding of the business environment. Do not try to paint an unrealistically positive picture or be overly pessimistic with your numbers. Think about running a scenario analysis laying out all the assumptions (hopefully backed by internal or external market research), a pragmatic upside and downside projection, and most importantly, layout the ROI and the strategic goals the program plans to target and achieve. Such a framework not only allows key decision-makers to assess the viability of an initiative but also gives an easy way to contrast and compare other potential initiatives to meet the same goals and the associated opportunity costs.

TAKEAWAY

Campaign Success
Hopefully, your board consists of highly qualified individuals who are committing their time for the betterment of your organization, and by extension, your community. Remember that the board is there to help you set and achieve key strategic goals. Make sure they are up to speed and well informed on all key developments and that they never feel blindsided by an ask. Have 1-on-1 meetings to get their feedback & suggestions on a regular basis, as it is well known that the board approvals (or disapprovals) happen in the weeks leading up to the board meeting and not during the meeting itself.
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