An Executive Director's point of view


April 20, 2017: Board pre-orientation

Category: Governance
Posted by: David M Patt
Let members know what Board service entails before they declare their candidacies.

You can conduct a Board of Directors pre-orientation for all members as part of the "Call for Nominations," so they can become familiar with the duties and responsibilities of Board service before deciding whether or not to vie for a Board position.

Waiting until they've been elected may be too late.

February 06, 2017: Board recruitment fail

Category: Governance
Posted by: David M Patt
I received a form letter from somebody I don't know inviting me to serve on the Board of a newly formed organization.

I declined.

If this had been a bona fide organization assembling its Board of Directors, I would have been contacted in a more personal manner and the reasons for my selection would have been specific to my background.

The organization that contacted me appeared to be trying to establish legitimacy. To me, it flunked the smell test.

When soliciting somebody for a leadership position in your organization, it's OK to send an initial email. But it should not contain the "sell."

The email message should be swiftly followed by a telephone call and nominees told who suggested them and why it was felt they were suited for leadership of the group.

They need to be told how they can make a meaningful contribution to the work of the organization.

Don't expect people to succumb to the flattery of having been asked to sit on a Board. Those who do will probably be lousy Board members.

And they'll simply be helping your group look more legit (which is maybe all you want, anyway).

November 21, 2016: Self-nominations

Category: Governance
Posted by: David M Patt
Many organizations look down on self-nominated Board candidates. They are often viewed as unqualified applicants who offer themselves because nobody else will recommend them. They are frequently the last choice, if a choice at all, of nominating committees.

However, quite a few trade and professional organizations rate self-nominated candidates as their top choices. They often feel those folks possess the drive and ambition to serve the organization well.

So, in many groups, a "Call for Nominations" may generate a full complement of Board candidates, mostly self-nominated, and the job of the nominating committee will be vetting the prospects, not searching for them.
Category: Governance
Posted by: David M Patt
Category: Governance
Posted by: David M Patt
I've always felt that the CEO should NOT be a member of the Board of Directors and should certainly NOT vote on Board matters.

The CEO is a "hired gun," and no matter how much authority that person holds or how much deference is given that person by Board members, s/he is still simply a resource and should not be a formal part of the decision-making process of the association.

But there are two instances in which it would actually be helpful for the CEO to serve as an ex officio (no voting privileges) Board member:

1. When talking to the IRS and it insists on speaking only with a member of the Board.

2. When the Board meets in Executive session (which should be a rare occurrence). The Board should only meet without the CEO when evaluating that person. So, being an ex-officio Board member means the CEO cannot be excluded from the meeting. (If the Board wants to conduct business without the CEO present, there is probably a problem in their relationship that needs to be quickly remedied).

So, it may not be such a bad idea for the CEO to be a Board member.

November 06, 2015: Meeting schedules

Category: Governance
Posted by: David M Patt
It's best to set annual Board and committee meeting schedules at the beginning of the year. Participants can then clear their calendars ahead of time and are more likely to avoid conflicts.

And don't change the meeting schedule because of candidate debates, sporting events, or other activities that have little or nothing to do with your association - even if those activities interest your Board or Committee members.

If you schedule on a meeting-by-meeting basis, people will always have conflicts - work and otherwise - and may expect the groups to accommodate their needs.

Don't do that. Agree to a schedule ahead of time and stick to it. Folks will make a greater effort to participate and attendance is likely to be better.

August 05, 2015: Board member freebies

Category: Governance
Posted by: David M Patt
A prospective Board member wanted to know if his membership fee would be waived if he was elected. He wanted to know if he would be granted free registration to the annual conference and if his travel and lodging expenses would be paid by the association.

The answer to all of those questions was "no."

Board membership, he was told, was a service, not an honor, and there weren't any perks.

He accepted the nomination anyway. Hopefully, he'll serve the organization well and won't ask again about perks.

Category: Governance
Posted by: David M Patt
Committee Chairs may be very successful in their professions. But they may be ill-equipped to chair meetings and facilitate association decision-making.

You can help them.

When doing so, always appear helpful and supportive, not challenging or critical, and show respect for the Chair, the committee members, and the profession.

Behind the curtain, though, you need to be adept at utilizing political skill to obtain the desired results. And you should not be afraid of conflict. Those qualities may provide you with an edge over members who are less sophisticated about organizational processes.

Here are some things you can do to help a poor committee Chair:

1. Offer to draft the agenda. Many committee Chairs don't know how to do that and will be relieved to have somebody else do it for them. Submit a "proposed agenda," and ask what changes they would like. They may be fine with your draft.

2. Tell them, or list for them, the desired outcomes of the meeting. It may help them better understand how to get from point A (the agenda) to point B (the final decisions).

3. Offer some tips about chairing the meeting - how to select speakers, ask for motions and seconds, conduct discussions, mediate debate, stick to the agenda, etc.

4. Warn the committee Chair ahead of time of any problems you anticipate with committee members or matters under discussion. Suggest ways of handling those problems and offer to handle them yourself.

5. Offer to intervene to prevent members from hijacking the meeting. A poor committee chair may be reluctant to do that and will meekly withdraw in the face of assertive challengers who raise issues that are not on the agenda or who too forcefully pursue their proposals.

6. Assuming your offer of help is accepted, intervene as necessary, to stymie hijackers. Your willingness to confront them may be enough to stop them.

7. Speak out in the meeting, but be sure to act as a committee resource, not as a committee member. State the pros and cons of proposals as you see them. The committee Chair may not ask for your opinion, but that may simply be because your role in the meeting is not understood.

8. As much as possible, support the committee Chair and protect the Chair's leadership position. Your job is to ensure the committee meeting functions properly. That will be easier if the committee Chair functions properly.

9. If the committee meeting yields inappropriate results, notify the Board Chair and develop a strategy to undo bad decisions at the Board meeting.

10. If, in your opinion, the committee Chair performs poorly, notify the Board Chair of the need to establish stronger committee leadership.

September 16, 2014: Thinkers and doers

Category: Governance
Posted by: David M Patt
Boards of Directors should be populated with strategic thinkers, not with worker bees.

But many volunteer-driven organizations, especially those with no staff, usually don't adhere to that practice. Instead, they meld thinking and doing, often relegating thinking to a lower level of importance.

After all, they say, if everybody is a thinker, who's going to be the doer?

Here's a way to solve that problem when there is no staff:

1. Elect strategic thinkers to the Board of Directors. They should deal with long-term issues, not with the details of current activities. They should govern, not manage.

2. One of their duties, though, should be to recruit a cadre of doers, some of whom may also be Board members, to do the things they have thought up. One of those doers should be designated the coordinator (in lieu of a professional CEO). The coordinator, not the Board, should manage the details of current activities and report to the Board.

3. Appoint Board members and other thinkers to committees that are part of the decision-making process. They should discuss issues and make recommendations to the Board.

4. Establish committees of doers (in lieu of professional staff) but call them something else to avoid confusion with Board committees. Their job should be to carry out the work of the organization. They should not have to be Board members.

5. The Board Chair should not also serve as the coordinator (and that person may not have the skills to do that, anyway). Thinking entities and doing entities will do better jobs when they do what they are best at.

6. Keep individual and group responsibilities separate. A thinker who sits on the Board of Directors, for example, may also volunteer as a doer in the cadre. But those are two separate responsibilities and should not be merged into one.

June 24, 2014: Avoid email Board votes

Category: Governance
Posted by: David M Patt
Conducting Board of Directors business by email voting should be a rare occurrence in an association, reserved for emergency situations when a decision just can't wait.

In some states, like Illinois, email voting requires 100% participation and 100% agreement. So it is not an easy task to achieve. Everybody must respond and everybody must agree.

Besides the cumbersome logistical requirement, frequent email voting also sidesteps Board meetings, and may give people the impression they can just vote electronically for lots of things and not bother to schedule meetings or discuss anything.

So, avoid email Board votes except when they are absolutely necessary (which should not be very often).

Instead, hold more frequent Board meetings, even if they only last a very short time, and place several important matters on the agenda at each.

People can then discuss the issues (which may lead to better decisions) and vote. That will protect the integrity of Board meetings, ensure Board members actually discuss issues, allow business to be conducted even if everybody is not present, and not force the organization to achieve unanimity.
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