If you answered a big loud YES, you are not alone. Board members being too involved in operations and losing sight of the BIG picture is a common problem for many nonprofits. But don't be so hard on your good-intentioned board member. Most of the time, it's not their fault and the issue can be corrected with some direction.
I’m here to assure you that there is light at the inefficient, busywork tunnel. A tweak here, and a system put in place there will provide everyone some relief and a breath of fresh air.
But before we jump into how to solve this problem, let's quickly reflect on how we got here and why the problem exists.
Here are a few common reasons for board members being too involved in operations:
- Lack of trust that anyone else can perform the tasks
- Lack of clear direction on what the board member’s role is
- Lack of knowing who, what, when, and how to delegate
- Lack of understanding the resources available to get things done
- Fear of trying to do things differently but expecting a different result
- Lack of systems and standard processes
- Lack of technology and/or not having the right technology
- Lack of staff, contractors, and/or volunteers to help
Okay, so now that we know why, let's tackle how to get your board members from being swallowed up by operations. Here are a few solutions:
The first thing you want to do is make sure each board member is clear on their responsibilities. You also want to make sure they are clear on the responsibilities of the other board members, the responsibilities of your employees, and/or contractors. It would be awesome if they could act as gatekeepers for each other. This can easily be done with a conversation. Maybe a zoom meeting so that it is recorded.
The best practice is to have your nonprofit's responsibilities documented and accessible to everyone. There should be a protocol and process for any tasks and/or issues that come up frequently. You want a document that outlines who handles what and how. When you create an operations manual, the manual becomes law for your nonprofit organization.
Yes, I said “operations manual” because that’s pretty much what this will be. A manual that outlines how your nonprofit will operate on a day-to-day basis. When someone deviates from the system you have in place, it is clear who is out of pocket which makes the problem easier to address and correct.
Your new "operations manual" can be created in a platform as basic as a google or pdf document to just get something down where everyone can reference it and view it. When you're ready to take it a step further, you can load up all of the responsibilities into an intranet that can be accessed by everyone in your organization and easily navigated through.
You may want to consider creating committees for your board members to handle specific goals, responsibilities, projects, and tasks. This way your board member’s efforts are focused and they can have a sense of ownership and praise when they hit their goals in one area.
For example, you can create a Volunteer Committee, Sponsorship Committee, Education Committee, Event Committee, etc. Create committees based on the needs of your nonprofit organization.
Assign Staff and/or Contractors to Assist.
If you have the resources, assign staff and/or contractors to specific board members, committees, projects, and/or tasks. If you do not have staff and/or contractors, consider using volunteers to help.
With all of these suggestions, give your board members time to adjust to the new plan of operating and remind them that these changes are for the benefit of everyone.
Let us know if you plan to implement or have already implemented any of these strategies to keep your board and nonprofit operating like a well-oiled machine.
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