Great nonprofit boards are hard to come by. I won’t call them unicorns – there are certainly a good number of effective, engaged, value-add boards – but they also aren’t commonplace. Executive Directors complain about how much effort it takes to get their board members to follow through on their commitments or even to attend meetings. Board members complain about the lack of clarity around what they should be doing to support the organization.
The nonprofit board structure is rife with inherent challenges. Board members are volunteers whose responsibilities frequently take a backseat to their day jobs. Boards meet with relative infrequency, leaving precious little time to remain up to speed on the organization let alone galvanize and become a strong, aligned team. Also, we invite people to serve boards without providing them a true understanding of the expectations and the responsibilities of their role. A board may lack the skills that they need to be an effective team. The leader, the board chair, is also a volunteer who may have been selected based more on their willingness than ability to effectively lead the team.
These challenges and more lead to common patterns that keep boards from becoming the asset the organization needs to help achieve their vision. Patterns we commonly see are:
- Communication issues between the Board Chair and the ED
- Unclear vision and organizational priorities
- Lack of board engagement
- An agenda that is stuck in the weeds and non-strategic
- Failure to set clear expectations
- Lack of alignment between board members and the staff
- Shotgun decision-making
- Nonstrategic board development
- Lack of board accountability
Given the complexity of the nonprofit board structure and the unproductive patterns that commonly result, it’s not surprising that your board sometimes needs a coach.
What is a board coach? She’s the objective outsider who can identify the board’s pain points, lay out a plan to overcome them, and guide them through the process. As I stated before, the board is full of volunteers who may need someone to point them in the right direction, motivate and energize members, and keep them on task.
A board coach does just that: helps facilitate, motivate, and hold the board accountable to pursue strategies to overcome the challenges laid out above. A board coach can help:
- Engage your board and get them aligned around a common vision
- Craft a structure that allows the board to do its work most effectively
- Guide the board to lay out its work and develop a culture of accountability to ensure it gets done
- Grow the board you need to achieve your goals
- Facilitate tough decision making or conversations
- Guide leadership transitions and other significant organizational change
The end result of good board coaching is a committed and energized group of talented leaders who are partnered with the Executive Director and staff to propel an organization toward a clear vision. Doesn’t that sound like the team you want to join?