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From the Board Doctor
5/22/2015 12:00 AM

One thing I’ve learned about boards, administrators and micromanagement is that when board members start meddling, it’s often because of a leadership void at the top.

The creation of that vacuum is sometimes attributable to the executive director. This can occur when the CEO does not lead his board by clarifying roles, and encouraging healthy governance habits such as a commitment to strategic planning.

One thing I’ve learned about boards, administrators and micromanagement is that when board members start meddling, it’s often because of a leadership void at the top.

The creation of that vacuum is sometimes attributable to the executive director. This can occur when the CEO does not lead his board by clarifying roles, and encouraging healthy governance habits such as a commitment to strategic planning.

When this occurs, board members can become frustrated. That’s too bad because board members join a board wanting to do good work and make a difference for their organization. But when a leadership vacuum exists, and roles are not well-defined, board members get frustrated and try to “fix things.”

Hello, micromanagement!

Here are some tips for fixing board micromanagement issues and preventing a leadership void:

  • Recognize board development begins with you. It’s the executive director’s responsibility to help the board define its governing role.
  • Help your board develop effective governance processes. Encourage the board to develop a strong, healthy committee structure. Recommend the board use a governance committee. When a board has these tools in place, it’s far less likely micromanagement will become an issue.
  • Utilize the governance committee fully. This particular committee is typically responsible for managing the relationship between the board and CEO. Each year, the governance committee can assess the board’s guidelines for how the board and administrator work together and refine them as necessary.

The governance committee also commonly sets guidelines related to individual board member authority—a key area that board members must understand to prevent micromanagement of staff. This guideline generally states that no individual member on the board, or the board chair, can issue orders to the executive director.

For an ongoing approach to fixing board micromanagement to succeed, the CEO must lead. It’s your job to fill the position of “Chief Board Developer.” Define and clarify the board’s role, and make sure your board is active in strategic planning.

Editor’s note: To help you persuade your board to consider creating a governance committee, in coming months I will include information on the concept in the Report For Board Members. Use these stories to initiate a conversation with your board on governance committees.


Jeff Stratton, Editor


P.S. Board & Administrator announces its Twitter presence. Sign up to follow us at The Board Doctor@BANnewsletter.

5/15/2015 12:00 AM

In the Sept. 2011 issue, Editor Jeff Stratton said nonprofits should develop governance mechanisms that allow the board to confront any issues that may arise as the result of board member ineffectiveness.

“I want staff there.”

Those are the orders the chair of the development committee gave her executive director about an upcoming retreat. The retreat’s purpose is strategic in nature, with the board and exec planning a review of the strategic plan, focusing the board on raising more money for the organization, and analyzing senior management’s plans for the upcoming year.

“I bring my senior management staff to these retreats as a matter of course,” said the administrator. The development committee chair, however, wants lower-level staff included in the planning retreat. What’s driving this demand is the close connection between the development committee chair and one lower-level staff person who grew up together and are good friends. They spend a lot of time discussing the organization, the administrator said.

The administrator doesn’t want to bring staff to the retreat, and has a weak board chair who is intimidated by the development committee chair. So that avenue for resolution will go nowhere.

Although this seems like a typical board/staff role problem, there’s another angle to explore here: Board member effectiveness. A board that elects a weak chair and allows a domineering board member to order her administrator around is an ineffective governing body. The cure for that is putting into practice governance mechanisms that allow the board to confront such issues when they arise.

  • Annual board evaluations fix board problems. Each year, the organization’s governance committee can assess each board member’s performance and contributions, and make recommendations for improvement.
  • Term limits can fix board effectiveness problems. A board that elects members for a single two-year term and then stops to evaluate that member’s performance through a governance committee and fit with the organization can make good decisions before deciding to offer that member another term.

Board performance problems remind me of my garden when it gets weedy. Those weeds are there because I’ve become lax about garden maintenance. Likewise, board member problems typically don’t sprout from the ground overnight. They develop through board and administrator neglect of sound governance principles that give the board the tools it needs to correct poor board member performance and remove problem board members. Talk to your board about putting a governance committee in place today if you don’t have one already.


Jeff Stratton, Editor


Leadership Development
5/8/2015 12:00 AM

Succession planning is not just a best practice, said Leslie Bonner of Bonner Consulting. It also allows the staff to grow in their roles; helps the executive director to better focus his time on the challenges facing the organization; and is sound risk management.

Leslie Bonner of Bonner Consulting defines succession planning as a leadership development strategy for finding someone to step into the administrator’s role when the current executive director steps down.

If done properly, succession planning “frees up the CEO to face other challenges at the organization,” Bonner said.

Succession planning is also a best practice for organizational sustainability, Bonner said. It’s necessary, because the organization’s “human talent” must grow as the nonprofit’s mission and programs grow, she said.

It’s sound risk management, too, Bonner said. “The organization that has all knowledge invested in one person is not in a good place,” she said. Succession planning is crucial for knowledge transfer at an organization, and some funders may not support your organization if knowledge is held by only one leader at your organization, Bonner said, because it’s too risky.

Bonner said it’s crucial to get board input and approval for your succession planning strategy.

“It’s important to have this conversation with your board,” she said. “Ultimately, the decision about who replaces the executive director is the board’s whether you look internally or externally for the next leader.”

The board’s role in the succession planning process covers these areas, Bonner said:

  • The board owns the executive director succession plan.
  • The board considers making succession planning a strategic goal for the organization.
  • The board budgets for succession planning.
  • The board conducts the search for a new executive director.

One way to get board input into the process, Bonner said, is to enlist the board’s help in writing a job description for the CEO’s position. That will become the basis for what the board is looking for if the organization has a vacancy at the top, she said.

When succession planning, concentrate your efforts on the skill of managing board relationships, Bonner said. Recruiting board members, developing them and understanding what is good governance are challenges the next leader of the organization will face.

“This is one of the areas where there is a big difference between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors,” Bonner said. “It’s unique to the nonprofit sector.”

An effective nonprofit leader must have had a variety of work experiences, so consider that in your succession planning efforts, Bonner said. She cited the following as valuable experiences:

  • fundraising and revenue generation;
  • board recruitment, managing board relationships and engaging board members;
  • programmatic experience;
  • visibility and experience in the community and nonprofit sector;
  • broad management experience; and
  • leading organizational change.

For more information, go to

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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