Dear board volunteers . . . accountability should be a two way street

mardi gras mask15DonorDreams blog is honored to be hosting the May 2013 Nonprofit Blog Carnival. The theme this month is “Dear board volunteer . . .” and the idea is “If you could write an anonymous letter to a nonprofit board about something they do that drives you crazy, what would that letter look like and what suggested solutions would you include?” If you are a blogger and would like more information on how to participate and submit a post for consideration, please click here to learn more.

I wanted to expand the Nonprofit Blog Carnival concept in May. So, I reached out to real non-profit people and asked them to also write an anonymous letter to their board volunteers. These folks are executive directors, fundraising professionals, board members, donors, community volunteers, consultants and front line staff. I promised everyone anonymity in exchange for their submissions.

We will celebrate May’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival on Wednesday, May 29, 2013. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this real look at real issues that our community deals with on a daily basis.

Here is today’s letter:

Dear Board volunteers . . .

I write to you today with a heavy heart, as it was my hope & aspiration to lead your organization for the rest of my working life. I’m still a bit in shock, as releasing me from my obligations to the organization and the community was the first time I saw you do something together as a group. Please let me explain.

I was hired to do a job, but really to lead. I asked years ago if you were ready to lead together – board & staff leadership – and bring the organization to a place where we could serve more people and be a true community asset. You said yes. I asked if you were ready to provide your time, talent and treasure to the effort & cause. You said yes. I asked what I could do to help you achieve these goals. We agreed on those things and moved forward. Or so I thought.

We spent a lot of time talking about what that meant. Hours, days, weeks months talking about board & staff roles. During this time, we increased services while we debated about who, what, where and how we should do things, while reducing income. We spent much time aiming at the target, but no time pulling the trigger. The organization kept growing serving. Promises of increased involvement ensured, but never materialized.

There were some of you who wanted to help. People joined the board on the promised of fulfilling that mission and making a difference. Once they saw the lack of accountability within the group, the lack of action and poor leadership, they left. They may have had “extenuating circumstances” and “life events” that prevented them from serving on the board, but they were honest with others in the community when they said “I just didn’t want to sit around a table with people who wanted to talk more about something rather than doing it”. Those that remained promised more time or to complete tasks, but when those things didn’t happen, they were never mentioned. There was no accountability.

I did everything I could do. I brought in consultants, both from our national affiliate, state experts and local leaders. Time and time again they stated the need for board members to be active, engaged and supportive – both with talent & treasure – and for follow through on tasks. We would agree, sign covenants and job descriptions, and look each other in the eye and agree that we would hold everyone accountable. But those things never happened. I thought if I worked harder, the job would get done, and you’d be motivated to work hard too.

When the staff finally had enough, and told you so, you looked for the one place everyone could agree was at fault – your CEO. It must be the head cheese, after all, he’s got all the tools and makes all the decisions. If things aren’t getting done, it must be their fault.

I realize that boards never fire themselves. I realize that a change in leadership – whether in a political arena, business or sports – is needed sometimes to start over. However, without you co-leading the organization, they’ll be set up for failure as well. Sometimes drastic changes are needed; are you ready to make those changes with the board as well?

I wish you the best as you provide the services our clients desperately need. 

Your former CEO

If you have some advice for the author of our anonymous letter, please share it in the comment box at the bottom of this post in a respectful manner.  If you want to submit an anonymous letter for consideration this month, please email it to me at the address in your signature block below.If you are a blogger looking to participate in this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival and want to learn more, then please click here.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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