Fixing the Bus:  Turning Around a Dysfunctional Board

by Anne Yurasek on November 21, 2011

In Part I, I shared with you the tale of a dysfunctional Board of Directors (i.e. the big yellow bus) with no direction and a lost group of reluctant, but well-intentioned passengers.  To turnaround a dysfunctional Board takes motivation and an investment in time and energy.  How do you get started?
Fix the bus!

Bus Driver = Executive Director: Nonprofit organizations are led by a shared base of power between an Executive Director and a Board of Directors.  That being said, to turn around a Board of Directors requires strong leadership from an Executive Director.  The ED and the Board can collectively create a plan for the future (see #2) and then the Executive Director can lead, support, and cultivate the Board to ensure its contribution to moving the mission forward.  Through participation in a Nominating Committee, meeting with Board members individually, and ensuring the Board understands its role, an Executive Director can be the impetus and leader for improving a challenging situation.

Have a Map: A strategic plan or set of multi-year goals can act as the framework for the Executive Director’s and the Board’s activities.  The Board should create Annual Goals for its work and contribution to moving the strategic plan forward.  The goals should include desired timelines, and Board members should lead the progress toward the completion of the goals.

Get the Right People on the Bus:  Recruit Board members to support the implementation of the strategic plan or multi-year goals.  If the plan includes fundraising, recruit individuals with Board service experience and fundraising experience.  If your organization is undertaking a construction project, consider adding individuals with construction or lending experience.  There should be a correlation between where you want to go and who can help you get there.

Tell People Why They Are on the Bus:   Consistently remind Board members about their responsibilities, whether it be as a hands-on volunteer who helps the organization move smaller projects forward or as a group providing governance and oversight to the activities of the organization - be clear about their role in moving the strategic plan and organizational mission forward.  [Note: This may change depending upon the organizational stage that the organization is in!]

Have Fun on the Bus: If Board meetings are boring and do not let Board members share their expertise with the group, consider ways to improve them by shortening the reports from staff and including topics for discussion or consideration.  Add guest speakers or professional development presentations to raise the skill or knowledge level of Board members.  Track progress against the Board’s own goals and celebrate achievements.  Strengthen the social cohesion of the Board by including opportunities for conversations and relationship building outside of Board meetings.

Stop at Rest Stops: A bi-annual Board survey can tell you if the Board is functioning at its best.  The results can be used as a check-in and allow continuous improvement of Board process and engagement. 

Being a Board member does not relegate you to years of boring meetings with a cacophony of personalities with no direction.  Be the Executive Director or Board member who helps to figure out what the map says, work together to recruit the right people onto your bus, and make positive change happen. 

Photo Credit: LadyDragonflyCC

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