Is Your Board Too Involved? 3 Ways To Avoid Nonprofit Board Overreach
It’s safe to say that most nonprofit leaders struggle at some point in their careers with either a single board member or a full board that’s simply a little too involved.
And the hard truth is that a nonprofit board overreach can be more than a mild hassle. It can derail the forward progress of an entire organization and compromise a nonprofit's stability.
Board overreach can:
- Scare off talented directors and other staff;
- Cause widespread discomfort that impacts the ability of the organization to work effectively and efficiently;
- Encourage mission drift if members try to influence the direction of the organization's work; or
- Begin a domino effect of bad vibes that results in other committed staff or board members leaving.
Believe it or not, solving an issue like this most often comes down to addressing other common board problems.
Here are three ways to help your board operate at their best and avoid instances of overreach down the line.
1. Champion Tough Discussions
While you never want to encourage confrontation, you don't want to shy away from healthy conflict, either.
Model and encourage honest, open, and constructive discussions. Make space for dissenting opinions and welcome challenging feedback—this is how your organization will grow.
You can help your board learn to debate effectively by getting them all trained in facilitation techniques. Not only will they be better managers of the discussion, they'll be better participants, too.
How does this help when it comes to nonprofit board overreach? If a board member's behavior needs addressing or new board protocols need to be established, working to do this with a board that can communicate in a respectful and productive manner will be much easier than the alternative.
2. Implement Regular Evaluations & Self-Assessments
Evaluations and self-assessments are great ways to shine a light on any less-than-stellar board behaviors. And they'll be far more effective when they're a regular part of establishing a healthy board culture—don't try to use them as a one-time troubleshooting maneuver!
Consider the idea of a "360"-style evaluation. The degree to which it's individualized might depend on your unique nonprofit, but generally, in this model, everyone has a chance to evaluate everyone else.
This kind of a model lends itself to collective growth rather than punitive action. Make sure the metrics you're measuring against are agreed-upon values like mutual respect, participation, and communication standards.
You'll want to use a private process for this and utilize a platform that allows all respondents to remain anonymous throughout. The results should be treated with respect, as well—consider forming a small committee of trusted board members to present the evaluation feedback, or hire an outside facilitator to help.
3. Prioritize Diversity Amongst Board Members
Ultimately, you want to avoid a board that can't self-manage or redirect themselves based on honest, valuable feedback. You need them to understand their role and hold themselves accountable to it. This will be difficult if they all share an inability to see the issues.
There are many reasons to make sure your board is diverse in all kinds of ways. But we often forget that groupthink is much more prevalent when the group is relatively homogenous. Diversity amongst board members can ensure a variety of experiences and viewpoints that can work together in keeping your organization's mission front and center.
Get Off On the Right Foot
The best way to ensure your board operates the way they should is to set appropriate expectations right from the start. Help your board establish a culture of healthy communication, self-assessment, continuous learning, and course-correction when necessary.