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Executive/Board Relationships
10/2/2015 12:00 AM

Terrie Temkin, founding principal, Core Strategies for Nonprofits, Inc., said an executive director’s negative feelings towards his board can eventually result in an ineffective governing body.

There are many ways a nonprofit board can do its executive director wrong. But it works the other way too.

Terrie Temkin, founding principal, CoreStrategies for Nonprofits, Inc., said that the nonprofit executive who undermines his board damages the organization. Temkin shares some examples of how the CEO can undermine the board:

1. By believing that board members “are only volunteers.” This may be happening, albeit at a subconscious level with the executive, Temkin said.

“When I hear a CEO say the board is not meeting her expectations, at some level the executive is likely thinking ‘Of course, they are only volunteers so how much can I really expect from them?’” Temkin said.

When that mindset takes over, more problems follow. “The CEO who thinks this way doesn’t really expect his board to follow through on tasks either,” Temkin said. “When that happens, the CEO often takes on work that belongs to the board or takes back assignments given to the board because they are not being done fast enough.”

Or, the CEO redoes the board’s work because it doesn’t fit the CEO’s vision of how it should be done, Temkin said.

The risk here is that at some point the board will start to think, “Why should I even bother? The CEO will do it again so I don’t need to step up and meet this responsibility,” Temkin said.

2. By not sharing the big picture with the board. It’s very difficult for the board to make the best decisions for the organization if the CEO does not provide full information, Temkin said.

3. By expecting the board to be a rubber stamp. A CEO may believe that because she knows more about what is taking place in the organization and is responsible for its day-today management, she will provide the board with all solutions. “She does this rather than providing background information, and letting the board deal with the issues,” Temkin said. “That may save the CEO time, but it is unlikely to yield the strongest solutions.”

4. By not providing the types of training board members need to do the job effectively. Training should be valuable to the board, Temkin said.

“The CEO does this because he has the ‘they are only volunteers,’ attitude – in other words, ‘they don’t possibly have the time for training’ – or says ‘These are highly intelligent people and I don’t want to insult them by suggesting they need training,’ so the board doesn’t receive training,” Temkin said.

5. By choosing only to share good news with the board. The executive might believe she is sharing information fully, but like all of us she wants to be seen in the best light and leaves bad news out. “That leaves the board unprepared to deal with the difficult issues that could potentially derail the organization,” Temkin said.

6. By always “fighting fires.” This way of undermining the board is tightly aligned with only sharing good news, Temkin said. It can occur if the CEO has time management issues and doesn’t know how to prioritize his work, she said.

“The CEO undermines the board by always forcing it to deal with the urgent problem at hand rather than focus on strategic thinking to help the organization,” Temkin said. “When this happens, the board gets diverted from its role because the CEO can’t balance.”

7. By playing the “yes, but…” game with the board. This is a technique an experienced executive might use to only focus on the negative associated with change or new ways of doing things. “If it gets overused, the phrase stops people from volunteering their ideas,” Temkin said. “Board members will stop offering ideas if they keep hearing ‘Yes your idea is great but it won’t work.’ That eventually makes the board a puppet.”

8. By speaking derogatorily about the board. The CEO who bad mouths her board, individual directors, or the board chair lessens the power and respect the board deserves, Temkin said.

“We all need to vent,” Temkin said. “But if the CEO shares negative feelings about the board, she undermines them and people start thinking the board is ineffective.”

The risk to the organization is sizeable if the executive undermines his board, Temkin said. “People who serve on boards don’t really want to be a rubber stamp,” Temkin said.

And if you keep undermining your board there will come a time some members realize they don’t have to work and just show up but never do anything, Temkin said. “If you take the board’s power away, eventually they just quit,” she said.

“In either case, the organization suffers because the organization is not getting what they could from its board members,” she said.

For information, www.CoreStrategies

Relationship with board
9/28/2015 12:00 AM

Nonprofit expert Terrie Temkin explains why board member use of social media might be uncomfortable for the CEO in this Board & Administrator feature.

Nonprofit consultant Terrie Temkin (Miami, Fla., believes social media can be a powerful tool for helping your board members engage more deeply with your organization.

That said, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter should never be your primary method for communicating with your board.

“Facebook can be a tool to educate the board and to allow the board to see what the community is seeing and responding to,” Temkin said. “But I don’t see it as a tool for board communication.”

Social media can also be a terrific way for board members to obtain timely, current information about the nonprofit. “Yes, yes, yes, that can be a great way to use these tools,” Temkin said. “They can not only be used to seek out that information but to get it out there as a board member—for her to use her own social media to promote the organization.”

A few minutes a day or even a week spent on the board member’s personal social media on behalf of the organization can pay dividends, Temkin said.

“I believe the board use of social media can work both ways,” Temkin said. Social media can be a tool for board members to hear from the community about what it is thinking—and then using that critical information in decision-making—but also in getting the word out about the organization, she said.

One thing to keep in mind about social media, Temkin said, is that unfiltered feedback the board member receives may be uncomfortable to the executive but still very useful feedback for the board.

“In some ways, [the feedback] is fabulous,” she said. If a board member reads some comments on social media and has questions for the executive, you should pay close attention, Temkin said. “If a board member has questions, then others in your community have them as well,” she said.

This kind of interaction can give the organization an opportunity, Temkin said. “For instance, if a sensitive issue is being discussed on social media, the organization can plan on how to present it to the community,” she said. Or, clarification issues can arise. A board member may misinterpret something in the organization’s social media. If the board member interpreted wrongly, it is likely the community did too. “You have to figure out how to respond,” she said.

What may be a bit uncomfortable for some executives initially can actually have a long-term positive benefit, Temkin said, because of the nature of the board member’s job, she said.

“What is a board member’s job? Asking questions,” Temkin said. “That’s really important.”

“If someone were to ask me for the most important job of a director, I would respond that it is to ask questions, push back and challenge,” she said. Too many executive directors do not like this and operate from a fiefdom mindset, she said.

When this is the CEO’s attitude, the organization doesn’t grow and change. “In the natural world, stasis is the edge of death,” Temkin said. “If you are not continuing to grow, then you die.”

So if a board member asking questions about the organization’s social media makes the executive director squirm, she needs to change her mindset and learn to see this as a gift, Temkin said.

Temkin said that one of her colleagues, Steven Bowman, discusses the person who is constantly questioning what you are doing as a gift to the organization. “That is the board member you should be saying ‘Thank you’ to,” she said. “He is giving you an opportunity.”

If, due to the organization’s social media, board members begin to ask you for information and answers more quickly, that is another positive sign, Temkin said. “If the board is asking for more current information, that is great, because it shows that they are engaged,” she said.

“The two areas I get requests on all the time are how to recruit board members and how to engage board members,” she said. “A board member responding to the organization’s social media is engaged.”

An incident explodes on social media. How do you respond?

When news of a problem at the organization starts to spread on social media, the organization needs to act. Not too long ago, that kind of news would appear in the next day’s paper, Temkin said. “Now, the organization needs crisis management plans in place to deal with this kind of issue in a preemptive way,” she said.

Because it is often a mistake to try to bury bad news, the organization should use social media to implement its crisis management plan, Temkin said.

Another issue for the CEO to consider when bad news hits: board member liability.

“The executive needs to remember the board is equally liable for the actions of the organization, and needs to know what is going on and have a say in what will be done about it,” she said. The executive director should use the board in that type of situation to figure out how to deal with the problem in the most effective way, Temkin said. “They can help figure out how to help the organization through a difficult issue in a way that leaves you with your reputation intact,” she said.

Use the board as a sounding board in difficult developing situations, Temkin said. “It’s our world today, and you have to deal with it for better or worse,” she said. “It’s best to use it to your benefit.”

Relationship with board
9/25/2015 12:00 AM

A nonprofit executive is frustrated with the board’s lack of commitment to planning.

I heard from a long-time B&A reader this month, and our conversation was a pointed reminder about how frustrating working for a board can be. His problem was about the simplest of things really: the need for the board to work on a strategic plan for the organization.

“The best thing to do to get results with strategic planning is to get your board away from the board room,” said this California executive director. “In a setting outside the board room, board members are more receptive to ideas and cooperative with each other.

“But my current board never communicates that way, either inside or outside the meeting room,” he said, “even though they are all in the same political party!”

This frustrates the executive on many levels, first and foremost because he wants to get his board engaged in planning work. “We need a strategic plan badly,” he said. “I sent a written update alerting the board that we need to get working on a plan — but did not receive a single response.”

Because the board was unresponsive, the exec prepared a draft strategic plan listing various items the board had previously identified as priorities for the organization. “This was a formal document using a standard format that many organizations use,” he said.

“When I presented this to the board, they focused only on ‘Who was going to be in charge of what’ and told me that they should have been the one to prepare this document,” he said. “That was maddening.

“A year after presenting this, there has still been no board action on a plan,” he said.

If your board is lazy or unmotivated about planning, keep pressing them on the issue. Use the following assessment to ask the board to take a critical look at the quality of its planning efforts. The results might open some eyes on the board.

Strategic Planning Assessment

As a board activity, take the following Strategic Planning: Does Our Board Measure Up? examination to assess your board’s commitment to addressing the nonprofit’s strategic issues.

Strategic Planning: Does Our Board Measure Up?

Assess the statements below by inserting a check mark under “Is Exemplary,” “Is Satisfactory” or “Needs Improvement.” Too many “Needs Improvement” answers indicate the board and administrator do not spend enough time on the strategic issues facing the nonprofit.


Is Exemplary

Is Satisfactory

Needs Improvement

1. The method the board employs to plan strategically for the nonprofit’s future




2. The degree to which the board ensures that the organization’s vision and mission are established and communicated




3. The procedure for assessing progress toward board goals




4. The procedure for reviewing, revising and updating goals




5. The method for involving the organization’s stakeholders in strategic planning




6. The board’s published statement of goals




7. The frequency with which planning and strategic issues appear on the board’s meeting agenda




8. The degree to which the board evaluates the performance of the executive director on goal attainment





Jeff Stratton, Editor


3/27/2015 12:00 AM

This chart from Board & Administrator Editor Jeff Stratton provides guidance on roles for the board and staff.

1/9/2015 12:00 AM

This board evaluation instrument from Board & Administrator Editor Jeff Stratton is a tool the CEO can use to see how well the board is set up to govern effectively.

12/19/2014 12:00 AM

Executive Director Susan Levy assists her board committee chairs by helping them develop a Chart of Work outlining the committee’s responsibilities for the year.


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  • Meet the Editor

    Jeff Stratton

    Jeff Stratton has edited Board & Administrator since 1992. As the Board Doctor, he has advised thousands of executive directors and board members on issues like prevention of
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