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Collaborating With Your Nonprofit Board

As a nonprofit leader, you likely understand the importance of collaboration and effective communication in achieving your organization's goals. One key partnership that can have a significant impact on your nonprofit's success is that between the board of directors and the staff.

A boardroom with black chairs and a long table, set up and ready for a meeting

When staff and the board are in conflict with one another, progress toward the organization’s mission can grind to a halt. For example, Alex Counts, former CEO of Grameen Foundation writes “I have seen directors berate staff members for lacking detailed answers to their questions, ignore or minimize obvious conflicts of interest (such as companies owned by directors doing business with the organization), disregard people's novel solutions because acknowledging them would highlight a problem that the group wanted to ignore, and change the subject during a formal meeting instead of making a crucial decision.” There is much to be said on this topic, so this blog will likely only scratch the surface, but it is clear that board relations can make or break an organization.

Minding the Gap

At times, CEOs or Executive Directors may not feel that they have much influence over board proceedings. One of the key insights from Leading With Intent’s BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices was that executives and boards were not aligned in their priorities. “When asked to rate how much time is spent on each board area, executives reported that not enough time was spent in three areas: Building a Diverse and Inclusive Board With a Commitment To Equity, Understanding The Context In Which The Organization Is Working, Building Relationships Within The Community That Help Support and Inform The Organization's Work (Separate From Fundraising). But, when asked about how important these areas are, executives placed them very low on the list in terms of their expectations for the board.” Fortunately, peers have shared their best practices for getting staff and board members on the same page.

What makes a strong partnership?

An article on BoardSource highlights the importance of building a strong board-staff partnership, emphasizing that the board and staff each have an important role to play in advancing the organization's mission. So, what are some best practices for building and maintaining a strong board-staff partnership?

  1. Clarify Roles and Responsibilities: It's crucial for both the board and staff to have a clear understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities. This clarity helps avoid confusion and conflict, and ensures that everyone is working towards the same goals. Clearly defining roles and responsibilities also helps ensure accountability and transparency.

  2. Foster Open Communication: Effective communication is key to building a strong partnership between the board and staff. Regular meetings and open communication channels help ensure that everyone is informed and on the same page. Encouraging staff and board members to share their ideas and perspectives can also help foster innovation and creativity.

  3. Build Trust and Respect: Building a strong board-staff partnership requires mutual trust and respect. This trust can be built by being transparent, honest, and respectful in all interactions. The board should also take the time to get to know the staff and understand their perspectives and concerns.

  4. Focus on the Mission: Finally, it's important to keep the organization's mission at the forefront of all board-staff interactions. Both the board and staff should be focused on advancing the organization's mission and making a positive impact on society. By working together towards this common goal, the board and staff can create a strong partnership that benefits the organization as a whole.

Building a strong board-staff partnership is essential for the success of any nonprofit organization. By clarifying roles and responsibilities, fostering open communication, building trust and respect, working collaboratively, and focusing on the mission, nonprofit leaders can create a partnership that supports the organization's goals and maximizes its impact. While each board and each executive are different, the challenge of board management is almost universal in the nonprofit sector. Navigating the relationships that steer your organization can be difficult, but as a member of CALO, you have access to resources and support to help you build and maintain a strong board-staff partnership and achieve your nonprofit's mission.

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