Developing Great Board Chairs

The chair of a nonprofit board has significant power to shape the organization, but all too often, that chair is not prepared to lead. More often than we’d like to admit, the previous board chair needed to step down unexpectedly and someone without training reluctantly takes the position. In a recent study, over half the respondents reported they did nothing to prepare for their role as a board chair. The new board chair is frustrated, because they aren’t sure what to do. The executive director is frustrated, because they have an ineffective board chair. The rest of the board members start pulling back and don’t want to attend meetings. None of this helps the organization grow.

It’s unfortunate, since a great board chair has a real opportunity to make a positive difference for the organization. They can inspire their fellow board members to do their best and support the executive director tremendously. Board chairs need to have a wide range of skills, especially in working with others. They also need to have the time to focus on the board and the organization. The process to choose the next board chair should be deliberate, but it is too often made in a time of panic as the previous chair leaves.

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Crafting an Operating Manual for Your Organization

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As your organization grows, you will develop the best ways to carry out certain tasks. Sometimes these are best practices in a nonprofit, other times they are simply the way your bookkeeper or funder wants you to do things. The more of these procedures you develop, the more important it is to document them.

In addition, as your organization grows, more staff will be taking care of different duties, and no one person will know how to do everything. It’s important for everyone to document their work.

This documentation has a wide range of uses. First, if you take a vacation, it makes it much easier for others to cover for you. Imagine how much easier it would be to prepare to leave for a two week trip if you have all your day-to-day tasks already documented. Second, if you do leave your position, it will be much easier to hand things off, and know that the organization will be in good hands moving forward. Third, documenting this information will allow you to see where you can delegate tasks. If you can train someone on a task now, why not have them take it on permanently? Finally, having this documentation will help you be more efficient. In creating the manual, you’ll be able to think through your regular tasks and find ways to do your job more efficiently and effectively. You’ll also have all the information you need documented in one place. For example, you’ll have instructions on how to fill out that complicated form you have to fill out only once a year.

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Successful Transitions – a program that works

The possibility of a long-term, trusted and high performing executive director leaving their position is a scary prospect for most boards. It can be made more manageable by intentional planning and open discussions. In addition, taking the time to explore succession planning and leadership development now will benefit the organization immediately through reduced workloads, better trained staff, and the opportunity for future growth.

Through a new program called Successful Transitions, Lincoln organizations developed their plans and prepared for the future. The first Successful Transitions cohort consisted of six nonprofit organizations. One has an executive director who had a firm retirement date less than a year away. Two others have founding executive directors considering retirement some day in the future, but knew they needed to put plans in place for a smooth transition. The other three have no departure plans, but understood that succession planning would benefit the entire organization now and in the future. There was also a wide range of organizations size (staff sizes between 1 and 75) and executive director tenure (2 to 40+ years).

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Change is Hard

Change is Hard! How to Make It Easier for Everyone

We all deal with changes in different ways. What significantly affects one person is no big deal to another. The same event has various impacts on different people. For example, someone leaving a job will be thrilled at the new opportunities coming, while a co-worker is devastated to lose a fantastic colleague. At an organization with a new executive director starting, one of her program managers could be excited at the chance to work with someone new, while another manager is afraid of someone coming in and demanding to run programs in a new way.

Change is especially evident when an executive director leaves their position. This transition will affect everyone’s work load and level of comfort, but often people expect that a change is affecting others the same way as it does them. I often see this when a board has known about an upcoming departure for a month or longer, and staff don’t. When the staff are told, board members expect them to be ready to move on to the next step right away, forgetting that they also needed time to process this change.

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Learning to Be an Interim Executive

Being an interim executive director is a challenging role, and one that not many people have the training and experience to complete successfully. I have had two interim director roles, but I knew I had much more to learn. In late January, 2019, I attended the Interim Executives Academy developed by the Third Sector Company.

The training gave me a solid foundation to use to grow my skills as an interim. It was also helpful to meet other interim directors and talk about our challenges and our successes.

There were three fundamental aspects that I learned during the training:

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Starting a nonprofit – necessary policies and procedures

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Starting from scratch with a new nonprofit organization is your chance to do it right. Doing things correctly from the beginning will save you a ton of headaches down the road. On the other hand, if this seems overwhelming, you might want to reconsider starting an organization. A nonprofit has a lot of responsibilities beyond just helping people.

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Why Develop a Contract for your ED?

As an executive director, I had a board that I enjoyed working with, but there were friction points. I now realize that the answer to these was simple, I needed a contract.

The truth is that boards aren’t great employers. The board-ED relationship is always a somewhat awkward one. An ED has 9 or 12 or 15 bosses, who are technically supposed to act together, but in reality they don’t always manage to do that. Plus the board composition changes regularly, so the ED’s relationship with them changes as well.

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