I am a longstanding board member of a mid-sized nonprofit organization that is about to develop their next strategic plan – a 3-year look into the future of special needs services in a period of dramatic change. We have recently hired the organization’s 3rd CEO in its 76-year history; they have engaged a planning facilitator who has in depth planning experience but none of it with this organization. They met with the Strategic Planning Committee of the Board, made up almost entirely of former Board chairs.
What could go wrong?
The old adage of Board service came to mind during the meeting: “Noses in, fingers out,” meaning the Board’s role is to ask questions, listen to and reflect on the answers, and offer guidance. By contrast, the Board’s role not to take charge, give orders to anyone in management having to do with how they do their jobs, or make decisions for the CEO. A delicate balancing act for many Board members, especially those with long years of tenure and strong views, which many in our group had.
The good news: nothing went wrong. A spirited discussion ensued about the process, the timeline, the options for doing a thorough SWOT analysis in advance (essential for informing any effective strategic plan), how best to get the Board’s input and keep members advised of progress, and when the Board will be able to vote on a final document. I was actually proud of the way we handled something that often trips up Boards in organizations of all sizes.
Admittedly, there are big differences between a nonprofit Board and a for-profit Board, whether advisory or fiduciary. But some things should be firmly in place in all of them. Here’s my short list of the principles they should all adhere to:
How do I know? Been there, done that.
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