February 26, 2010

“When people are passionate enough to give of their time, money and loyalty, it’s very difficult for them not to expect a platform for input and the respect of the decision-makers.” Brilliant insight from Mary at SMU, where I teach each summer.

I’m thinking of parents serving on that independent school board, or members of the YMCA who also serve on the board. Any board member anywhere.

During screening and recruitment, did you clearly explain to all candidates their scope of responsibility and the limits of their authority? Did you explain to them what the board talks about (governance) and what is a management issue? Do you regularly remind board members of authority and limits – governance and management – when you present issues and facilitate conversation?

So if a parent is dissatisfied about something at the school, does that go to the board? Nope! It goes to management first – and maybe never to the board. I know a board chair who makes sure that board members understand: “The board’s focus is the future. Our work is not about your child in this school. It’s about the future kids in this school.”

Yes, it’s hard. I’m a board member. I’m passionate. I give my time, money, and my loyalty. I do expect a platform for my input – but I expect my input to be limited to governance areas only. (Of course, if management asks me for my input outside of governance, I’ll give it – recognizing that management doesn’t have to use my input.)

I realize that I’m not a decision-maker in most areas. And within my decision-making authority, I’m part of the group that is the board – so my single vote may be trumped by the majority at any time. By the way, if, in my enthusiasm I sometimes forget the boundaries, I expect staff leadership and board member colleagues to call me on my inappropriate comments. Graciously, sure. But intervene! I can take it. I expect it!

Of course, as board members we deserve the respect of the decision-makers, in this case, the staff. We keep that respect by deserving it, understanding our limits, and clarifying when we can give input. And our input better be focused on the institution, not our own personal agenda. There is no platform for a board member’s personal agenda. This is about the cause, those we serve, the organization, and the community.

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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