Tips for Managing Board Members

Working with board members is an essential aspect of many leadership roles in nonprofit organizations. When engaging with and managing board members, there are three impactful areas to focus your time and effort.

Define Roles and Responsibilities

Setting roles and responsibilities is perhaps the most important aspect of communication with the board. 

Many nonprofits struggle to balance board leadership, CEO leadership, and the management of individual teams on a day-to-day basis. The board should provide high-level oversight, offering guidance and strategy. They should not spend their time managing daily activities.

The importance of defining roles and responsibilities may be clear in retrospect, but it’s not always obvious beforehand. Put simply, if a task does not fall under anyone’s responsibility, that task will not get done.

In practice, it can be difficult to identify where to draw the line between oversight and management. To prevent confusion on your board, define roles clearly and openly. Maybe the board sets the sustainability standards for the organization, but it falls to the role of the CEO to enact policies that will reach these standards. Spending a few minutes talking about the delineation of these responsibilities could save you from confusion and miscommunication in the future!

Embrace Healthy Conflict

Conflict in the workplace often gets conflated with arguing—and it’s true that shouting and fighting are not things that typically happen in a happily-functioning office.

Healthy conflict is another story altogether. Rather than raised voices and arguments, healthy conflict is simply a diversity of ideas and opinions. Occurring when members of a group disagree over certain ideas or propose potential issues, healthy conflict helps workplaces consider a range of possibilities and move towards the best path.

The biggest benefit from gathering a group of people is the diversity of their experiences and opinions. A board of directors should be engaging in some healthy conflict. If no dissenting ideas are ever discussed, the board has likely become too complacent and ready to let issues pass by rather than addressing them.

You can encourage healthy conflict on the board by presenting it yourself. Express your opinions when they differ from the group and call on your experience to demonstrate other ways that tasks could be completed. Modeling healthy conflict can make your board meetings a comfortable place to discuss a range of opinions, which ultimately serves your organization.

Meet Regularly—and Emphasize Engagement

Emphasizing regularity and engagement during your board meetings is essential. A board that only meets a few times a year and never on a specific schedule will not have the time to address everything a nonprofit organization needs. 

Engagement is essential on a board. Board members should be provided with board reports and important updates before the meeting; preparing these communications in advance means that you can spend more time discussing the nuances of issues at hand rather than getting everyone up to speed.

Without proper engagement, a board cannot effectively lead a nonprofit towards its goals. When board members know their roles and responsibilities and feel comfortable expressing healthy conflict, they are on the way to being an engaged and effective group.

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