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7/31/2015 12:00 AM

To help her board members have a productive meeting, Executive Director/CEO Ann Graff (Sedalia, Mo.) develops a Decision Item Memorandum.

Executive Director/CEO Ann Graff (Sedalia, Mo.) said that if board members come to meetings prepared and having read all the material, the board generally has a productive board meeting.

To help her board members prepare, Graff developed a Decision Item Memorandum. Graff completes the form with all of the background information and includes what she is requesting from the board in terms of action. The form provides board members with a brief summary of the issue, its background, potential discussion issues and the executive’s recommendation.

“I have found that attaching this to any document that I want the board to read has helped them understand what decision I am seeking,” she said.

If the documents are lengthy such as policy reviews or programmatic-related items, the board’s Program Planning and Evaluation committee steps in. This committee meets one week prior to board meetings, Graff said.

The group holds in-depth discussions, she said. “The committee then presents the recommendation for adoption to the full board,” Graff said.

Graff admits she is fortunate in that she has many board members who have served for some time. “They are able to support new board members at meetings as they come on,” she said.

“Our meetings rarely last more than an hour,” Graff said. “I believe that they are very productive and based on board self-assessment results, I think that the board feels the same way.

7/24/2015 12:00 AM

Take a moment to complete this checklist to test the health of your board and administrator relationship.

Review this checklist and determine the health of your relationship with the board:

The board supports its executive director:
The administrator has a contract of employment.
The board conducts an annual review of the executive’s performance.
The administrator’s compensation package is competitive.
The board upholds the chain of command if/when approached by stakeholders.
The board participates in orientation and education of new members.
The board understands its role.
The board makes a commitment to governance:
The board sets goals for the administrator and organization to achieve.
The board has a conflict of interest policy that it reviews and signs annually.
The board has a code of conduct for members.
The board has a policy defining the board and administrator relationship.
The board conducts an annual appraisal of its performance.
The board periodically evaluates its meetings.
The board meeting agenda contains policy and governance issues for the board to consider.
The board develops an annual calendar of educational activities.
The board has a governance committee.
The board has a clear process for the development and review of policy.
The board makes a commitment to resource development:
The board requires members to make an annual gift to the organization.
The board introduces the administrator to potential donors.
The board participates in thanking donors.
The board supports the organization’s fundraising events through attendance and purchasing of tickets.
Executive Role
7/17/2015 12:00 AM

A good board relationship should be the first priority of every nonprofit executive, said Jeff Stratton, Board & Administrator for Administrators Only editor, who shares nonprofit executives' tips to build the board/administrator relationship.

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, 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,” 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, reported.

Quinn told 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. (
  • 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. ( 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.”

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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