Non-profit and charity executive directors too often isolated

What does a properly functioning board of directors look like and how can its members pull their weight?

David FullerIf you’ve ever sat on the board of a non-profit or charity, sports organization or even a company, you’ve probably noticed that most meetings are boring.

Usually one person, the president, runs the meeting using Robert’s Rules of Order.

After minimal discussion, the board votes on agenda items, provided a quorum has shown up. Without doubt, the item that gets the most enthusiastic response is when someone moves that the meeting be adjourned.

One of my most interesting and gratifying gigs is that once a month I get to sit down with the executive directors of some non-profits and charities and facilitate a peer support group.

We talk about the opportunities and challenges they face while trying to make the world a better place. They help each other find solutions based on their similar experiences.

I’ve had board experience at local and national levels and I’ve provided professional direction for executive directors of organizations.

I was often frustrated sitting on a board – I found many of the members disengaged. They were preoccupied, short on time and lacked vision. Some members seemed to think that sitting on the board meant you were only expected to show up for meetings.

Most boards I sat on were dysfunctional. Either the president or the executive director seemed to believe that decisions were to be made before board meetings and directors should just rubber stamp all executive decisions.

I’m not the only one dissatisfied at the dysfunction of boards. I’ve learned working with my group of executive directors over the past couple years that most directors are frustrated because their boards don’t function the way a good board should.

So what does a board that functions properly look like?

The purpose of a board of directors is to set the vision of the organization and provide a framework in which the executive director is expected to operate. A board should give clear direction about what achievements they expect from the directors and have key performance indicators (KPIs) measuring success.

A good board leaves operational and managerial decisions to the executive director and supports them by giving them advice when they ask.

Board members should be prepared to do committee work, bringing additional information to the board to help the decision-making processes.

A healthy board meeting should have passionate discussions, not boring agreements. There should be a variety of opinions, backgrounds and diversity.

There needs to be clarity about the roles of the executive director and the board members.

There also need to be clear lines of communication within the organization. Staff members shouldn’t be coming to the board looking for direction, and directors shouldn’t be involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization.

A well-functioning organization regularly reviews the executive director. These reviews should revolve around how well the director is performing regarding the completion of the strategic plan, and how they’re fulfilling the mission and vision of the organization while adhering to the core values.

Having surveyed executive directors in my community, I know that most boards don’t function the way they should. In fact, over 80 per cent of the directors surveyed said their board relied on them to provide the strategic direction for the organization.

Executive directors typically work very hard for their organizations. They often work more than 47 hours a week supervising on average seven employees and 30 volunteers. Most are paid 20 to 50 per cent less than they would receive for the same effort in government or business.

The executive directors I know are passionate about their work. But often they don’t receive the recognition or gratitude they deserve for the effort they put in.

This week if you happen to bump into the executive director of a non-profit or charity, or one of their employees, thank them for working so hard trying to make the world a better place.

Our communities wouldn’t be the same with out them.

Troy Media columnist David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.