Keeping Your Board Focused on Their Responsibilities (and not yours)

The following are my notes from a recent Institute for Organization Management webinar led by faculty member Claire Louder, IOM, CAE, MP, Louder Nonprofit Strategies, LLC.

She started out with the question.  “Are your board members wanting to get more involved in your chamber?”
If your board members lack direction, that can result in disfunction, including but not limited to, micromanagement, rogue committees or special projects just to name a few.
Six Keys to Success to keep you on track.
  1. Strong Bylaws – gives you structure and lays out the roles and responsibilities of your board on what they should and should not do.
  2. Board Orientation – setting expectations upfront will pay dividends down the road.  And I’m a fan of repeating these expectations on a regular basis.  The things to focus on would be roles and responsibilities, and what I call the big three fiduciary responsibility – Duty of Care, Duty of Loyalty and Duty of Obedience.  Go HERE for a previous blog post on that subject.
  3. Strategic Plan with Big Goals – keep your board out of the weeds and keep them focused on the big issues facing your business members and communities.  Your plan should drive your board meetings and keep them focused.  You could focus on one or two of your goals per meeting.  She did not suggest reviewing all each meeting.
  4. New Chairman Orientation – I would expand this to having a yearly orientation with your current chairman and your incoming chairman at the same time.  This will give you continuity through the transition.  Board sets policy, staff implements that policy.
  5. Open Board Chairman Communications – regular communications is a key component to a successful relationship with your chairman.  I call this the “no surprises” rule.  Your chairman should never hear about something related to the chamber by someone other than you first!  Commitment to a communication plan and stick with it.  It could be once a week, every other week or once a month.  Find out if this is a phone call, email, or in-person meeting.  I’ve suggested in the past about creating memorandum of understanding – you can go HERE for that blog post.
  6. Succession Planning – every chamber should have a succession plan in place.  A communication strategy on notifying the proper stakeholders is key (i.e., staff, members, and the community at large).  How are you identifying your next volunteer leader?  I suggest use your committees as a training ground for future leadership on the board.
Speaking of succession planning, I suggest you have one for the CEO too.  CEO’s leave for a number of reasons but the big three are retirement, left for a new job or were relieved of their duty.  Your chamber does not want to be caught off guard no matter which of the above three caused the change and be seen as floundering until a new person is hired.  Go HERE for more detail on creating a succession plan for the CEO.
Claire ended with the comment “keep your board focused on the big issues,” they will thank you!

For more resources on board management go HERE and HERE.

The Making of an Esteemed Board Chair

This was a fascinating session from the recent virtual ASAE Annual Meeting.

The discussion was led by Tom Dolan and Mark Engle, both longtime association executive CEO’s.
They started off by identifying the characteristics of three problem chairs:
  1. Power Grab Board Chair – be careful, they will go rogue on you.
  2. Entitled Board Chair – they spend the chamber’s money, at the best restaurant, expensive venue for the board retreat, and they think they can push things through when the board has already voted it down in the past.
  3. Speaker for Life Board Chair – they stay around and continue to insert themselves in board activities.
After that discussion, they delved into the ways you can have an esteemed board chair.
  • Minimize the level of disfunction.
  • Keep the board at the theory level.
  • Build a partnership between you and Board Chair.
They talked about the role of the CEO and how they need to bring the board chair along on major issues the organization may be facing.  If there is bad news, you need to let the board chair hear it from you and not from someone else.  I call this the “no surprises” please rule of management, at any level.
They went on to give tips on how to build a relationship with your new board chair:
  • Find out how your board chair wants to communicate with you?
  • Go over the issues and policies facing the chamber on a regular basis.
  • Remind them of the role between the chairman and staff.  Let them know that 90 percent of staff time is to keep the doors open.
  • Have dinner the night before the board meeting to go over any last-minute items.
  • And don’t forget to meet with the new chair-elect as soon as possible.  Begin by establishing open communications with your chair-elect.  They’ll be your chairman in a year!
At the end of the day, build a relationship with your board chair and make sure there are no surprises by communicating with them on a regular basis.  And remember, communicate with them the way they want to have those communications.
A final nugget of information they said, "any board member can become chair."  Be mindful of that and keep track of who would make a good future board chair and who would not!