March 7, 2018
They say “No Pain, No Gain,” and the expression applies to the life cycle of not-for-profit organizations, as well as athletes who hit the gym, tennis court or golf course on weekends.
The point when the aches and growing pains of an organization begin are prompted less by age than by changes in leadership, size, budget or programming.
For example, a local not-for-profit organization may receive national media attention that garners a significant, new source of funds, or a founder may decide to hire an executive director and administrative staff.
If your organization is at the point of making the transition from a board composed of founders to a governing board, you may be facing difficult challenges.
Here are 12 building blocks to help you navigate your growth spurt for maximum board effectiveness:
- Recognize growing pains. Stop briefly and realize that conflict is perfectly normal. This includes conflict between the board and new staff members, challenges with new fundraising mandates, and disagreement about mission and vision. They are all signs of success.
- Acknowledge the situation. Address issues as they arise at board meetings. Conflict won’t resolve itself. As difficult as it seems, there needs to be open communication among the board.
- Be patient. Don’t expect the transition from founding members to a governing board to happen overnight. Some experts say it can take up to three years before a governing board is at its most effective.
- Limit board terms. Growth can’t happen without change, and that often means founders — and founding members — step down. Consider all the options. Some organizations replace their founders with two people sharing equal authority. This lets the board benefit from different, yet complementary, sets of skills.
- Outline responsibilities. Be clear about the respective roles and duties of staff and board members.
- Transfer knowledge. Founding and long-time board members know and do a lot. Set up a committee, non-voting emeritus board or advisory council for members who are stepping down so they can continue to share expertise with the new staff.
- Develop the board. To position itself for growth and change, chairmen should consider educational programs outlining the board’s fiduciary responsibility to the organization and to the public. Board members often don’t realize the scope and significance of their charge.
- Increase professionalism. Founding boards often “do it all,” and they do it without formalized processes. Growth, though, requires committee structure and regular review of financial statements (including a thorough understanding of what they mean). To transcend particular relationships as the board’s composition changes, create a database to track donors and prospective donors.
- Rely on the human element. To make your processes formal, you will have to create job descriptions, mission and vision statements, as well as manuals on policy and procedures. These are all important, but won’t guarantee effectiveness. Remember that it’s ultimately the board members, those people passionate about the organization, who make for a smooth-running and successful board.
- Orient new people. When recruiting board members, be sure they know what’s expected of them before they are voted onto the board. And be sure the board knows the new members’ objectives.
- Avoid token recruiting. Don’t bring on “representatives” of particular constituencies for its own sake. The entire board should be responsible for identifying the needs of those served.
- Accept conflict. It happens and it’s okay – even productive. Don’t be afraid to call upon experts to help address it, facilitate discussions and assist with planning and budgeting. Many foundations, including local community foundations, provide funds for board development and strategic planning.