Nonprofit executives can fail in their job for many reasons, but it’s an indisputable fact that administrators fail because their relationship with the board breaks down.
For instance, the board of the Second Chance Rescue Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., fired Executive Director Rosey Quinn, argusleader.com reported. Board Treasurer Kathy Holm said of the board’s decision, “All I can tell you is the board decided to move in a different direction,” argusleader.com reported.
Quinn was blindsided. “I didn’t even know they were going in a new direction. They never talked to me about it,” Quinn said of the board, argusleader.com reported.
Quinn told argusleader.com that the board told her she had been insubordinate but could not provide any examples of her insubordination.
This example just shows why a good board relationship should be the first priority of every nonprofit executive.
“The executive director needs to understand the importance of developing and maintaining an effective working relationship with at least a good majority of the board,” said Dave Wiley, board president at L’Arche Homes for Life, Inc., in Washington, D.C.
Here are several methods and tips for doing that from various nonprofit executives around the country:
- Do not bring management issues to your board — board members find that confusing. “The board’s role is governance and that should be clearly articulated and understood,” said Patricia A. Smith, president of Management Strategies in Jamestown, N.Y. (http://managementstrategies.net/).
- Give board members a proper orientation to board service. A board member who has not received a proper orientation or a new member who has never before served on a board, for example, very often will respond to an issue as that person would on the job, Wiley said. “Unless that person serves in a strategic-level capacity at work, he will most likely want to delve into the details due to not knowing any other way to respond,” Wiley said.
- Insist upon a performance appraisal. An evaluation allows the board and administrator to discuss strengths and air issues before they become problems. An evaluation by the board also ensures that the executive's competence is measured.
This should be accomplished in the same way you measure the competence of your staff — by using agreed-upon expectations, said Wiley. “Then, performance can be measured against those expectations,” he said.
- Do not surprise your board. “No one likes to be surprised, yet board members often hear bad news about the organization from people other than the executive director,” said Michael Wyland, owner of Sumption & Wyland in Sioux Falls, S.D. (www.sumptionandwyland.com). Worse yet, all too often board members hear the bad news long after the fact, he said.
“Communication needs to be timely, as well as accurate and complete, in order to be credible,” Wyland said.
- Develop credibility and trust with your board. “I’ve seen countless nonprofit clients where the trust between the board and the executive director has been irreparably harmed because the executive has failed to treat the board as her partners in leading the organization,” Wyland said.
In these cases, the executive director has often deliberately withheld information, passively neglected to share information or even shown contempt for the board or its individual members, Wyland said.
- Appreciate your board. “More than one executive director has failed because they took their board for granted,” Wyland said. “I cringe when I hear executive directors refer to ‘their’ board as something to be ‘managed’ as though it were another staff member, team or project.”
That lack of respect will catch up with the executive, Wyland said. “In the short term, an executive director can bamboozle a board into almost anything he wants,” he said. “Eventually, however, boards wise up to such treatment.”