Connections - 07.29.21

Keys to Creating a Successful and High-Performing Nonprofit Board and Executive Leadership Team

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by Dennis C. Miller, Dennis C. Miller Associates

The following is part two of a three-part series on how to successfully assess, develop and improve the performance of your board and executive leadership team to fully achieve your strategic vision and sustain your mission for years to come.

 Dennis C. Miller

Most nonprofit organizations have great causes and powerful missions that are being advanced through the efforts of dedicated nonprofit leadership professionals, board members, donors and volunteers. Everyone has high hopes and dreams for their organization and is very proud to be associated with it. I have found this to be most certainly true in my work with organizations and professionals who are providing services for individuals with disabilities.

I see so much passion poured into caring for society’s most vulnerable members, yet I also see the struggle to build a strong organization that is capable of sustaining a challenging mission in the here and now, let alone an inspiring vision for the future. And too often, I see these seemingly competing ideals – passion and sustainability – collide, falling as they do onto the shoulders of the board chair and CEO.

A key responsibility of every nonprofit CEO and board chair is to engage and motivate the board and leadership team toward a shared passion for the important work the organization is doing in the community. I appreciate that adding another “key responsibility” to your already extensive list of urgent to-dos might be one too many, but stay with me for a minute. I promise that 1) this can be manageable, and 2) that it will help align your organization’s leadership. When everyone is rowing in the same direction, hard work becomes easier and more productive, and also more enjoyable.

If you are in the board chair or CEO role, ask yourself the following:

  • How do I engage and motivate my board to be more passionate about our mission?
  • How can I enable my board to gain more self-confidence to participate in our philanthropic initiatives more actively?
  • How do I recruit and develop new board members who can assist me in achieving our strategic vision?
  • How do I develop my leadership team to learn the new competencies needed to achieve our strategic goals?
  • How do I develop an organization-wide leadership succession plan to develop future leaders for our organization?

A good first step is to build nonprofit leadership and governance best practices into your professional and board development program. It is likely that your board and executive leadership are already fulfilling professional development and training to meet licensing and grant funding requirements. I encourage you to add nonprofit leadership and board governance best practices to your list, covering the following topics:

  • The characteristics of high performing nonprofit boards, and the common obstacles to becoming high performing
  • The contemporary role and responsibility of the nonprofit board chair
  • Board and executive leadership succession
  • Board recruitment focused on competencies that are ideal for your organization
  • The board and CEO relationship
  • The board and CEO role in philanthropy and strategic planning
  • Addressing difficult board behavior, and
  • Measuring and evaluating the board’s annual performance
  • Building your leadership’s competencies in visionary thinking, emotional intelligence, entrepreneurial spirit, positive brand identity, strategic collaboration, and inspirational motivation

This may seem like a tall – and potentially expensive – order, but it doesn’t have to be. While organizations with generous budgets may be able to enjoy the luxury of on-site training, there are affordable options. Our firm, for example, offers online board and leadership training at a very modest cost – as low as $40 per person per year if you enroll 25 members of your team. Our two courses, “How to Become a High Performing Nonprofit Board” and “How to Become a High Performing Executive Leadership Team” cover everything you need to know to help your organization achieve new heights. Best of all, the courses are designed to be viewed any time, on any device. They are presented in short, easy to digest 5 to 10-minute modules. Ideally, they are completed over the course of a full year to facilitate discussions in your board room, executive staff meetings, retreats and orientation sessions.

A nonprofit CEO who took our board governance course recently was quick to recommend it to others. “I highly recommend this course to anyone serving on or running a nonprofit board who is looking to improve and energize their board,” she says. “Whether it be leadership succession, how to activate board committees or to understand the roles of board chair, CEO and others, this course is well worth taking. It gives great guidance on how to educate, engage and challenge everyone.”

Whether or not you choose my courses as the basis for your nonprofit leadership development programming, I encourage you to go forward. High performing nonprofit boards and executive leadership teams experience greater levels of personal satisfaction, professional recognition, and a significantly greater positive impact on those they serve.

We all know the many challenges your leadership team and board have had to address over the course of the pandemic crisis. But the challenges and opportunities ahead for all of us are better met with boards and leadership teams that have the tools and know-how to become high performing organizations. The ultimate beneficiaries are those you serve.

Dennis C. Miller, Founder and Chairman of DCM Associates, Inc., is a nationally recognized strategic leadership coach and executive search consultant with more than thirty-five years of experience working with nonprofit board leadership and chief executives across the country. DCM Associates, Inc. is a GOLD Partner of ANCOR, proudly serving those who serve society’s most vulnerable members.

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