Category Archives: Board governance

Board Strategic Readiness, a Checklist

shutterstock_426708937Board strategic readiness means a board knows and meets its responsibilities for strategic planning and ongoing strategic thinking.  Here’s how:  a checklist of 10 questions from my new book Strategic Planning Guidebook.

  1. How does the board regularly pay attention to the changing strategic landscape and engage in ongoing strategic thinking?
  2. What is, and how do you evaluate and improve, the board’s role in your organization’s periodic and ongoing strategic planning?
  3. How do you ensure that every board member is familiar with your strategic plan?
  4. How does your current strategic plan figure in or guide the board’s work?
  5. What is the board’s role in ensuring your organization’s financial sustainability, including fundraising and development that are needed to achieve strategic plan goals?
  6. How does the board regularly and formally evaluate its composition, structure, and practices—and continuously improve?
  7. What does each successive strategic plan suggest about board composition, for example, the kinds of expertise and stakeholder representation the board needs?
  8. How do you ensure diversity and inclusion that will contribute to strategic thinking?
  9. How are board committees organized to align with strategic plan goals?
  10. When and how does the board plan an annual calendar, and how do you ensure that strategic discussions happen throughout the year?

Naturally, board strategic readiness implies that you continue to learn and improve by asking the questions over and over.

Sometimes you’ll need some help. In my book, I talk about how to decide when to hire an outside consultant, and when you probably don’t need to.

Rutledge Strategic Planning Guidebook 2016 coverWhen you do need help with board building, think about bringing in a qualified team coach to help the board assess its readiness, have the rigorous discussions needed to make new decisions and plans, and adjust group norms and habits.  A team coach works with the board during its meetings, using strengths-focused questions and real-time, on-the-spot feedback. When I am coaching a board, I invite a different board member at each meeting to pay attention to specific aspects of the board’s process. This is one way to help boards learn to self-monitor and continuously learn.

Board leadership

Non profit boards are great proving grounds for leadership. And, many board leaders and CEO’s agree, boards have lots of opportunity for improvement. Four such opportunities stand out in BoardSource’s latest scan of over 800 non profit boards. Boards can:

  • Spend more energy on learning how to be excellent.
  • Take more responsibility for community outreach and help with fundraising.
  • Become more diverse and inclusive.
  • Give more support to the CEO.

Here are resources and suggestions for leading your board to excellence.

Ongoing learning—the path to excellence

  • Make ongoing board development part of your strategic plan. That way, excellence becomes a whole-board priority with specific actions that advance this goal.
  • Consider using a consent agenda, which groups routine board business items together so they are “consented to” in one motion. Consent agendas free up board time for learning and generative conversations.
  • Do regular board evaluations, evaluating every meeting and assessing the board annually in a board member survey.

See this governance practice guide for more suggestions.

Active ambassadors
Be clear with prospective board members that community outreach and fundraising help are part of the job. To be effective ambassadors, board members do not need to be public relations or fundraising experts or have a lot of money. I recently guided a board retreat where we asked board members to think of people they would be willing to talk to about the organization’s strategic priorities. The board learned that, guided by staff who would recommend specific “asks,” every board member can open doors.

A new DonorPath report is full of good suggestions for growing effective board ambassadors.

Diversity and inclusion
Boards should ask themselves what array of people will make effective board leaders at this point in the organization’s life. Will recipients of the organization’s services have helpful perspectives? What subject matter expertise will help the organization? What age spread will help with board leadership succession? As you know, these are only three of many kinds of diversity.

Having a diverse board does not guarantee inclusion, which results from every member having access to and a voice at the table. You ensure such access and equity through specific practices like providing regular training in understanding board financial statements.

My BoardSource research report on diversity and inclusion contains case studies and recommendations.

double rainbow

More support for CEO’s
Become a stronger partner in two ways:

  • Support your CEO’s leadership growth.
  • Commit to the board’s becoming a more effective “thought partner.”

Even non profits with modest budgets can usually underwrite the CEO’s ongoing work with an Executive coach. In this way, your CEO works on real challenges, learns to “live into” his/her potential and learns to use organizational development frameworks, processes and tools as need arises.

At the same time, the board should deepen its understanding of the organization’s programs and strategic environment in order to become a better CEO thought partner. How?

Begin by deciding what kind of board you want to be. Governance as Leadership describes three kinds of boards: fiduciary, strategic and generative. A board that primarily focuses on oversight is a fiduciary board. Further along a continuum are two more kinds of boards. Strategic boards ask questions like, what are strategic drivers and what priorities increase impact? The third kind of board learns to do “generative governance.” Generative boards seek out thought leaders across sectors and constantly consider “what if…” questions and scenarios. How could you move your board further along this continuum?