Non-profit board and staff go together like chocolate and peanut butter

at each others throatOver the years, I’ve met non-profit board volunteers who didn’t see value or the need for staff. Likewise, I’ve met countless numbers of staff who complain about their board members. I’ve also met executive directors who deliberately do things to disengage their board volunteers (e.g. taking on fundraising responsibilities, reducing the number of board meetings, etc).

Why is it that these two very important stakeholder groups sometimes can’t get a long? I suspect the answer to this question is layered and complicated, but the following must be in the top three:

  • There is a blurry understanding of what each other’s roles are.
  • There is an unequal division of responsibilities.
  • No one is paying attention to what it takes to nurture a productive relationship.

Last week, I was on vacation in Michigan visiting friends. One of those visits was with someone who served on a local non-profit board. He served for more than a decade, and he was the board president for almost one-third of his tenure. When I asked him how things going, the news wasn’t good. He was burned out. His fellow board members were burned out. Things were falling apart. A merger with a neighboring agency was inevitable.

When I asked “What happened?” the answer was simply: “We don’t have any staff. It is an all-volunteer agency. It is us against the world.

I think it is an indisputable fact that . . .

Board need staff AND staff need the board!

So, what can be done to turn this relationship FROM something that looks like the scene at the end of the movie “War of the Roses” TO something like this vintage 80’s television commercial:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJLDF6qZUX0]

I’ve reached back into an old board development training manual and found the following characteristics of an effective board-staff partnership:

  • Common expectations
  • Cooperative planning
  • Open and honest communications
  • Respect
  • Mutual evaluation

If board and staff can accomplish these things, it will result in clarity around the following questions:

  • Where are we going?
  • Why?
  • How are we going to get there?
  • How will we know if we achieved what set out to do?

Have you ever worked for a non-profit agency where board and staff weren’t on the same page? How did it make you feel? What was the result? How does your current agency achieve some of the characteristics spelled out in the aforementioned bullet points? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
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