NPL 273  Introduction to Nonprofit Leadership

Readings from The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management, Robert Herman ed. (1994)

Ch. 6  Board Leadership and Board Development, Nancy Axelrod


I.                    Board’s Basic Responsibilities

a.       Basic duties:

                                                               i.      Care--Conserve and protect the assets

                                                             ii.      Loyalty--Fulfill mission

                                                            iii.      Obedience--Accordance with State & Federal Law

b.      Overriding duty is fiduciary (duty to act for the good of others), although specific responsibilities vary by

                                                               i.      Size and scope of organization

                                                             ii.      Developmental stage

                                                            iii.      Method of Board selection

                                                           iv.      Method of management (staff vs. volunteer)

c.       Major Board responsibilities:

                                                               i.      Determine organization’s mission & purpose

                                                             ii.      Select and support the chief executive

1.      understand organization’s current strengths

2.      clear description of duties

3.      engage in a systematic search

4.      allow executive  to assume responsibility and assert leadership

5.      outline expectations of executive, but take at least some responsibility for difficult decisions

6.      provide renewal and professional development for executive

                                                            iii.      Review the executive’s performance

                                                           iv.      Plan for the future

                                                             v.      Approve and monitor organization’s programs and services

1.      If we were starting today, would we do it this way?

2.      Do our actions match our mission statement?

3.      How are we like and unlike the best in our field?

4.      What do our intended beneficiaries think of our performance?

5.      How are the next five years likely to be different?

                                                           vi.      Provide sound financial management

                                                          vii.      Enlist financial resources (“Give, get, or get out”)

                                                        viii.      Advance the organization’s public image

1.      public relations strategy

2.      policy in place to handle crises

                                                           ix.      Strengthen it own effectiveness as a board

II.                 Using Board Development to Apply Theory to Practice

a.       Characteristics of Board development program:

                                                               i.      Continuous process rather than a single event

                                                             ii.      Board chair & chief executive must be committed to it

                                                            iii.      Board must be willing to invest in its own development

b.      Specific activities

                                                               i.      Orientation for new Board members

                                                             ii.      Retreats, workshops, conferences

                                                            iii.      Keeping job descriptions current

                                                           iv.      Developing a systematic selection process for new Board members

                                                             v.      Maintaining a governance information system

                                                           vi.      Conduct periodic self-assessment

                                                          vii.      Provide opportunities for Board to observe and participate directly in organization’s services

c.       Reasons for neglecting development

                                                               i.      Relentless pace of business

                                                             ii.      General uncertainty about how to proceed

                                                            iii.      Fear of change

                                                           iv.      Literature overload

d.      Remember:  “A good board is a victory, not a gift.”

III.               Governance vs. Management

a.       “One of the best things that a board can do for the nonprofit it governs is to look ahead.”

b.      Policy and administration are often interconnected.

c.       Problems with micromanagement:

                                                               i.      Lowers staff morale and productivity

                                                             ii.      Little time left for issues that will have greatest impact



Bonus Material

The Carver Model :  Basic Principles of Policy Governance

Cf. Boards that Make a Difference, 2nd Ed.  John Carver (Jossey-Bass, 1997)


I.                    Trusteeship

a.       Board speaks for the “owners,” who are not present at the table.

b.      Can be difficult to decide who the owners are (who “owns” KGAC?  Or the Red Cross?)

II.                 The Board speaks with one voice or not at all

a.       Votes are not necessarily unanimous—but once vote is taken, there is a single decision

b.      Beware of “letting the officers do it” or “death by committee”

c.       Three principles:

                                                               i.      Establish written policy that no single Board member has authority over the executive

                                                             ii.      Allow assessment of executive performance only against criteria established by the Board

                                                            iii.      “Courteously disregard” a renegade Board member who persists speaking alone

III.               Board decisions should be predominantly policy decisions:  Four types:

a.       Ends (which “consumer” results are to be achieved, for whom, at what cost)

b.      Executive limitations (of means)

c.       Board-staff linkages and assessment

d.      Governance process (philosophy, accountability, and specifics of the Board’s job)

IV.              Formulate policy by determining the broadest values before progressing to more narrow ones

V.                 Define and delegate, rather than react and ratify

VI.              Determination of Ends is the pivotal duty of governance

a.       “An issue is an ends issue if—and only if—it directly describes what good, for whom, or at what cost.”

VII.            Board’s best control over staff means is to limit, not prescribe

VIII.         Board must explicitly design its own products and processes

IX.              Board must forge a link with management that is both empowering and safe

X.                 Performance of the executive must be monitored rigorously, but only against policy criteria



© 2004 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 5 July 2004