Engaging your board, effectively

by Jini Stolk

If you haven’t registered for Maytree’s September 22nd Five Good Ideas session on Engaging your Board Effectively – led by Robin Cardozo, Chief Operating Officer of SickKids Foundation, in conversation with Jehad Aliweiwi, Executive Director, Laidlaw Foundation; Earl Miller, Board President, West Neighbourhood House; and myself, as Chair of the Ontario Nonprofit Network – you should probably act quickly. I hear that seats are filling fast for this evergreen topic, a facet of the complex, challenging and essential skill of board management.

In my experience, the many challenges of knitting a group of diverse and well-meaning volunteers into a powerful force working on behalf of a nonprofit organization require a life-time of learning, questioning and openness to growth and change. I’m very much looking forward to hearing my colleagues’ experiences and advice on building their board members’ sense of engagement and commitment.

I wonder if some of what they’re planning to say might be negatively mirrored in this piece on 12 Reasons Why You Should Gracefully Resign from a Nonprofit Board which offers a comprehensive check list for anyone losing their drive or passion as a board member. Certainly if “Your conduct at board meetings is viewed by the majority of other board members as disruptive” and “You’re unable to work collaboratively with the other board members in a productive manner” – and you recognize that fact! – that’s a loud signal you should step down.

A larger number of board members would want to consider whether they’re missing a significant number of meetings and are unable to fully participate in board planning, deliberations, and actions; or are not contributing money, time, connections, or other valuable resources to the organization; or are not spending time thinking about how the organization could be more effective at advancing its mission, and helping it do so.

If anyone IS unhappily involved in a situation with a high level of internal strife, this piece about the resignation of the entire 20-member board of the Minnesota Dance Theatre is really a must-read. The MDT is described as “solvent and successful” but obviously rent by bitter disagreement about…vision? direction? leadership style? I’m not sure I want to know the details, but the point of the story is that this amount of board drama damages the organization and the individuals concerned. It talks about the need for careful and honest communication with stakeholders and the public to rebuild trust and reputation, and makes the point that recovery can be slow and painful. (A good case in point is Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer fundraising event, which is still struggling to bring in donations at the high level they enjoyed before their extremely controversial 2012 decision to defund Planned Parenthood.)

Much better to seek professional intervention and counsel before things reach that state, and if needed to take a look at Maytree’s recent Five Good Ideas about Successful Board – Executive Director Relationships with the Chair of the Board and President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Toronto. I missed hearing this one in person, although the online video shows a helpful dialogue about the importance of shared vision and values; defining and recruiting Board members around the diversity and skills you need to help achieve your vision; building trusting relationships; defining roles and responsibilities; and enabling Boards to focus on the big picture and the long view.

Of course, if you’re determined to do an outstanding job of fulfilling your leadership responsibilities as either staff or board you should also sign up for Engaging your Board Effectively. I’ve been reading some great and thought-provoking resources whose ideas I may share with our attendees on September 22nd, but rather than steal Robin’s and mine and the other panel members’ thunder, I’ll write more on these following our session!



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