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Nonprofit boards: time to move from hierarchy to partnership

Part one of a two-part series

Are your board members engaged, active, and working in committees to advance the organization? Does the board chair check in with the president or CEO every week, and vice versa? Does the board make all the decisions and then tell the executive director what the staff should do? Or maybe your board focuses on reviewing reports prepared by staff, working from an agenda prepared by staff? Does your board and executive team work together, or does one or the other have the “upper hand?”

The relationship between board members and nonprofit leadership can represent the best of what nonprofit staff and community/business volunteers can accomplish together. Or it can be a lopsided relationship. We are long-term advocates of a partnership model where the board and staff work closely together. Yes, each has specific roles and responsibilities, but they can be carried out in a spirit of collaboration where all parties are focused on the best outcomes – both short-term and long-term.

We recommend taking time to evaluate what is working well for your board and how things could be improved. While we don’t believe in any one model for working together, we resonate with the partnership model suggested by Donna Murray-Brown, Vice President of Strategy and Development at the National Council of Nonprofits. In her column for Candid, “Embracing partnership: A promising paradigm for nonprofit governance,” Murray-Brown makes the case that “the best work gets done when the board and staff collaborate closely.” We agree, 100%.

We need real and active partnerships between nonprofit staff and boards, and this takes some worthwhile effort. First, you need to talk together about the current status of the board and staff relationship. What’s working? What isn’t? What could be different? Are there suggestions that board members – or staff – have based on their work with other nonprofit organizations? Consider using a short anonymous survey to surface different opinions that may not be put on the table through open conversation. The results can provide a neutral starting point for conversation. When reviewing these together the board can learn what their peers are experiencing, what they would like to see, and what patterns emerge, especially around how board members would like to interact with each other in meetings of the board and in subcommittees. When individuals – and the positions they represent – move away from hierarchal systems and increase their collaboration you can find there is more shared responsibility, creativity, and more resources available to all.

Ideally, you want to create a partnership where individuals fulfill their responsibilities and are comfortable suggesting improvements. You want an environment where people ask questions, plan for the future, and – in the case of fundraising – work together to secure funds that will bring the organization’s mission and vision to life! Let’s move beyond reading and approving reports into collaborative, expansive action.

Part two: Board members: it’s time for collaborative fundraising

Copyright 2024 – Mel and Pearl Shaw of Saad&Shaw – Comprehensive Fund Development Services. Let us help you plan for 2024! Video and phone conferencing services are always available. Call us at (901) 522-8727.

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