On day one, make it about the board

These days, a honeymoon period for newly minted nonprofit CEOs is little more than a pipe-dream. From day one, it’s problem after problem. Every closet holds another skeleton. As a recently appointed seminary president told me: “My first thought upon waking is, what’s going to go wrong today?”

Little wonder that making time for the board seems a luxury better reserved for calmer days. But is it?

Not long ago, the folks at the Bridgespan Group asked members of their Nonprofit CEO/Executive Director Network, “If you’ve made a move from some other role and sector to the ED role, what do you wish you had focused on those first few weeks on the job?”

To my delight, attention to the board shows up in all but one of the responses.

I encourage you to check out the conversation for yourself. In the meantime, here are board-focused highlights from the peer-to-peer advice.

I’d work with the board chair to develop three to five agreed upon measureable goals/objectives early on (first month) as a way to assess your performance. Make sure they align with the mission and highest priorities, and perhaps have a stretch goal element as well.

My first step has been to conduct a discovery (or assessment) interview with individual board members, past board members, volunteers, a few donors and staff—15 in all. . . The data is being collated, interpreted, and reported out to the board at the next meeting. This data will serve to guide where I focus my time and energy – and help the board focus its resources.

Ask one or more key board members how they see the board’s role, in addition to yours.

Get to know your board members, figure out how to get along with them, and make the most of those connections; they will be the foundation that helps your organization to grow (they are there for a reason so get them to do their job), and learn everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and once you have accessed that you can utilize your team to be a winner. (For more on this topic, see my article “If you ain’t got money, honey . . .”)

The quality of your relationship with your board cannot be overstated. Connect with each of them early and often.

I’ve said it before, and I’m happy to say it again. Strong boards equal strong organizations. The sooner new CEOs get the message, the better – for their own good and that of the nonprofits they’ve been called to serve.

What's your take on this topic?

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