The relationship between nonprofit executives and their board members is evolving: Newer, younger board members tend to value direct participation and palpable, meaningful results that justify their commitment to an organization.
Maureen West hits the nail on the head in her article in the September 16, 2012 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Maureen quotes two nonprofit CEOs I have worked closely with over the years who have been highly successful at actively engaging their board members in making high stakes governing decisions and judgments: Sue Buchholtz of Evergreen Life Services and Virginia Jacko of the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind. Click here to read the whole article.
Sue and Virginia are keenly aware that an essential ingredient in a really rock-solid board-CEO partnership is board members who feel like owners of their governing work, and they know that active, meaningful board member engagement is the surest way to transform their board members into owners. Sue and Virginia both learned early in their CEO careers that merely feeding their board members a steady stream of well-prepared documents and oral briefings wouldn’t be much help in building the board-CEO partnership for the simple reason that audiences for even the most outstanding staff work tend to feel little, if any, ownership.
Sue and Virginia, along with many other board-savvy CEOs around the country, have learned that one of the most effective board member engagement tools available to them is a well-designed structure of board standing committees that correspond to the major streams of governing judgments and decisions that a nonprofit board makes: planning; performance monitoring; and external/stakeholder relations. A contemporary committee structure enables board members to dig into governing work deeply enough to foster strong feelings of ownership. Committees can also serve as a very effective vehicle for engaging board members in designing their governing roles, which tends to strengthen ownership tremendously. For example, Sue and Virginia have worked with their board planning committee to map out how board members will actually participate in such critical processes as strategic planning and annual operational planning/budget development. And they’ve worked with their performance monitoring committee to fine-tune performance reports that the committee will be reviewing.