Want to Avoid a Bad Board Experience? Consider Saying No

081413 noEvery day, hundreds–maybe even thousands–of people agree to join nonprofit boards.

Some of these new board members are recruited through careful nominating processes by boards that are clear about the skills and level of engagement they are seeking.

Others aren’t, and many new trustees end up frustrated and disillusioned as a result.

One of the worst board horror stories I’ve heard came from a former trustee who shared her experience at a workshop for nonprofits earlier this year.

The young woma…


Boards Are Not Ready for the Next Generation of Trustees

A rising generation of younger donors and philanthropic leaders could bring new money to nonprofits and fresh energy to their boardrooms—if boards can overcome their current dysfunction enough to engage them.

Next-gen donors’ appetite for engagement was cited earlier this year in one of the first large studies of high-capacity donors in their 20s and 30s (a report that received grant support from the Meyer Foundation, where I work, and several other grant makers).  Some of the 300 participants …


Development Directors Are Not Miracle Workers

Several weeks ago I had lunch with a board member of a small community-based nonprofit that does important work in the D.C. region. The board member also happens to be a seasoned consultant who has written several books on fundraising.

That’s why I was surprised when he advanced an argument I’ve heard many times from board members of other organizations. It goes like this:

“Our executive director is terrific but doesn’t have a background in fundraising or time to focus on it. Our board members w…


Komen Needs a Strong Board That Can Stand Up to Its Founder

The recent controversy surrounding Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the leadership role of its founder, Nancy Brinker, illustrates the special challenges that confront the boards of nonprofits led by their founders, as well as why those organizations need strong, independent boards.

Ms. Brinker, who created the nonprofit in 1982, announced last month that she was stepping down as Komen’s chief executive. Her decision is the latest in a series of turbulent events for the charity, which is still lo…


University of Virginia Firing Offers an Important Lesson for Boards

Last month, after a dramatic and unusually public example of board governance gone awry, the University of Virginia’s board reversed itself and reinstated the institution’s president less than two weeks after accepting her forced resignation.

For board members of all types of nonprofits, this episode should serve as a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when a board and its leaders are not clear about their roles. Trouble often erupts when people forget that boards govern, board members do n…


Nonprofits Need More Help Recruiting the Right Board Members

Much of the work being done to strengthen nonprofit board performance (by national and local organizations, funders, and consultants) has traditionally focused on helping boards and board members better understand their roles.

As a result, anyone with a little spare time and access to the Web can take a crash course on the basics of board effectiveness. Those with an appetite to dig deeper can find books to buy, training sessions to attend, and organizations to join.

So why are many boards still…


How Can We Fix Our Broken Approach to Boards?

While speaking at a conference of Northern Ireland’s nonprofit chief executives last month, I noted that a small but growing number of people are questioning whether the current model of nonprofit governance—a volunteer board drawn from the community (however broadly defined), working in partnership with the chief executive—is so broken that it needs to be scrapped in favor of something better.

I should have known that someone in the audience would then ask a perfectly logical follow-up question…


Hull House Collapse Is a Cautionary Tale for Boards and Executives

Last month’s abrupt closure of Hull House, a venerable organization that provided an array of social services to thousands of low-income Chicago residents, is a pointed reminder that many nonprofits operate with precarious finances. The organization’s collapse also provides a sobering lesson for nonprofit boards and chief executives.

Hull House was started by Nobel laureate Jane Addams in 1889 to help Chicago’s immigrants build “responsible, self-sufficient lives.” Until last month, Hull House h…


For Executive Directors and Boards, Chairmen Matter

Recently I presented the findings of Daring to Lead 2011, a national study of nonprofit executives that I co-authored, to more than 150 executive directors and board chairs.

As I prepared that presentation, I found myself wishing we had done more analysis of executives’ responses about their relationship with their board chairs and examined more closely how those responses correlated with executives’ happiness in their jobs and satisfaction with the performance of the entire board.



Examining the Complex Relationship Between Board and Executive Director

In my most recent post, I invited readers to weigh in on who is ultimately responsible for the performance of a board: the executive director or the board members themselves.

A majority of those who commented (11 of 19, or about 58 percent) said the executive was ultimately responsible for board performance. But it was hardly a ringing endorsement (even though I agree).

As I re-read the comments, two things stood out.

First, this is a complicated issue. Many comments acknowledged the murkiness …