Part II: The Board
In my first article
about responsibility, we examined the responsibilities of individuals
who serve on boards. Now, we take a look at the collective responsibility
of the board.
One of the most common
plaints we hear from fund raising professionals and chief executives is
"I cant get my board to ask for gifts." And Im sure
you receive many promotional brochures such as one that recently arrived
in the mail with this statement on the cover, "You want to motivate
your board members to raise money."
The attitude which
these reveal is insidious. Too many of us who work for nonprofit organizations
have taken it as our responsibility to motivate our boards to raise funds,
to advocate, to take any action at all.
This attitude masks
an expectation we have that our board members are simply unpaid workers
who are supposed to do willingly what we believe they should. Theres
that odious little word, "should." We need to extinguish it
from our vocabulary. It conveys the wrong message: a command; an imposition
of our will. When combined with "have," it expresses the subsequent
disappointment of our expectations.
It is not our role
to motivate board members. If that is in your job description, it is an
inappropriate expectation. I have a hard time believing that any board,
even one functioning minimally, would tell the organizations staff,
However, the belief
that we have a responsibility to motivate board members demonstrates how
far many nonprofit organizations have departed from their origins. Most
were brought into being by a group of people working together to seek
change: to right a wrong; to offer hope where there was none; to provide
opportunity where none existed. Even today, newly formed nonprofit organizations
commonly arise from the concerns or interests of a group of people.
As nonprofit organizations
evolve, they become "professionalized." They hire staff to manage,
to provide services, to coordinate activities, and to do all the other
tasks that must be done in pursuing their missions. Its a natural
and necessary process.
are deeply committed to the institution and those whom it serves. They
become proficient in providing these services. They are expert in meeting
regulatory requirements. They develop an arcane language whose meaning
is impenetrable to outsiders, even board members in many cases. Gradually,
they take on an attitude of ownership of the organization. Sometimes,
they begin to believe that they care more about the organization than
the board and that they know best how it should be managed. Then the board
becomes an infringement, a nuisance, a tolerated legalism.
Therein lies the
problem for many organizations today. John Carver in his excellent book,
Boards that Make a Difference, notes that a board acts as trustee
on behalf of the organizations owner. A nonprofit organization serves
to further the public interest, so the owners are essentially those members
of the public who have an interest in its success. However, because this
identification of owners is so nebulous, I prefer to think of the board
has having the ownership responsibility for the organization.
Most boards have
forgotten their own histories; they dont see themselves as a continuing
body that originated with that first group of people who brought the organization
to life. They dont realize that they are the owners, not
the staff. Therefore, they dont have a deep sense of responsibility.
They may understand that they have legal and fiduciary responsibilities,
but they fail to recognize that what the organization is and what it will
become rests in their collective hands.
Read your organizations
articles of incorporation. It is likely to have wording to this effect:
the board of directors shall have powers which include conducting, managing
and controlling the affairs and conduct of the corporation. It will probably
contain a statement that the chief executive shall have such duties and
powers as may be assigned by the board of directors.
The governing documents
make clear who is in charge. Why is it that so many board members believe
and act as if they serve at the pleasure of the chief executive? If they
dont actually believe that, then they probably think that as long
as the chief executive is doing a good job whatever that may be
then thats the extent of their responsibility as a board.
Is it any wonder
then that few boards assume much responsibility for fund raising? Thats
what the development director is hired to do further "professionalization"
of the organization, further distancing of the board from its ownership
responsibilities. This situation is substantially exacerbated for those
organizations that derive a large proportion of their funding from earned
revenue sources such as third-party reimbursements, dues, fees and sales.
So, if it is not
our job to motivate the board to assume its responsibilities (as we perceive
them), whose is it? It requires a willingness of at least one board member
to assume leadership. That doesnt necessarily mean the chairperson
or, by assuming a leadership role, that the individual is committing to
chair the board. It means that someone is willing to challenge other board
members, to question and provoke.
How can this be accomplished?
It can happen in the context of a board retreat. Often a board member
will feel more comfortable raising or responding to probing questions
in a setting facilitated by a skilled professional. Alternately, you can
invite a board member to a workshop that will provide a forum for opening
discussion of these issues. If the organization uses a consultant, utilize
that individual to help the board examine its role and responsibilities.
Or meet with a member of the board whom you believe has potential to take
a leading role to discuss how to improve organizational performance. Sometimes
success will create a desire for more success. Involve one of the board
members in a prospect call that you believe will be successful and ask
that person to talk about the organization. The point is that you have
some options, you dont have to passively accept the situation as
Look for someone
who is willing to answer Peter Druckers questions in Managing
the Non-Profit Organization. "What should I hold myself accountable
for by way of contribution and results?" Any change effort has to
start with a single individuals commitment to make a difference,
to assume responsibility, to take the lead. This is a powerful question.
It places the onus where it belongs with the individual board member.
"What can I contribute? What results do I want us to achieve?"
The answers are not
easy to determine. Many organizations dont have a clear idea or
vision of what results they want to achieve. Too often, their vision is
just doing better what they already do. Thats a matter of management
or efficiency, not leadership. A boards responsibility is leadership
leading the organization to have a greater impact in serving its constituency.
As Drucker writes, "Every non-profit organization exists for the
sake of performance in changing people and society."
Once one individual
is willing to ask him- or herself those questions and in turn to ask others
on the board, the board is on the road to asserting its ownership of the
organization. It is a long process of transformation that will stall and
stumble along the way. But if even one person has the commitment to make
a difference and holds true to that conviction, it can happen. You may
be able to provide the spark, but the flame has to take hold inside the
heart of one of the board members.
When the board assumes
an ownership attitude and acts in accordance, then the development director
or chief executive doesnt have to ask how to get the board involved.
The board will hold itself accountable for funding the activities that
will produce the results it wants to achieve. Achieving those results
will reinforce within them the desire to make a difference. That is the
interior motivation that leads them to give substantially and ask others
to join them.
Carver, John, Boards
that Make a Difference, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, 1990.
F., Managing the Non-Profit Organization, HarperCollins Publishers,
New York, 1990.
Gardner, John W.,
On Leadership, The Free Press, New York, 1990.
K., Servant Leadership, Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey, 1977.
R. and Smith, Douglas K., The Wisdom of Teams, HarperCollins
Publishers, New York, 1993.
Michael R. Maude,
Partners In Philanthropy