Challenge the Board of Directors

Tips for board engagement and how to deal with your board

A Board of Directors can determine much of the fate of a nonprofit. Your relationship shapes the organization.

Here is a simple way to deal with one of the biggest issues facing not-for-profit organizations:

While it is corny, it is nice framework for the issue of board governance – altitude, attitude and action (the 3 A’s):

Here is a very simple altitude scenario that we use in discussions with boards. We also incorporate it into our presentation design, in meetings and in our planning process.

30,000′ – The WHY; Vision and mission
15,000′  – The WHAT; Goals and objectives
5′  – The HOW; Action plans and action steps

Think about this as it relates to your Board. Where (at what altitude) are the majority of your Board Members focused at the moment? Where should they be focused?

Often, board members are allowed to spend time creating and managing action steps. This should not be the case. If it is, then you may have the wrong board members or you may be providing improper direction to the board. Perhaps, you are not handling the meeting itself properly. If this is happening, you should discuss it with the members individually or at the next meeting, whichever is most appropriate. Your board, as a whole, should be engaged only at 30,000′ around the vision and the mission.

Board Members should be engaged as individuals and part of a subgroup to help at the 14,000′ goals and objectives level. They should be engaged based upon their own talents and strengths. Left brain, financial, numbers people should be helping with budgets and financial projections, account management, etc. Right brained, creative entrepreneurial types should be working on strategic partnerships, organization direction, etc.)

Try to avoid getting hung up in the details of the actions steps. This does not mean that some of your Board will not actually be engaged in some of the work that you do (particularly in raising funds). They’re doing that as part of the team, not as micro managing.


In this regard, you set the pace. Prepare for engaging the board. Pay close attention to the leadership you provide for them. I am not advocating the bed of roses, smoochie poochie approach. This is hard work, full of land mines to navigate.

Make sure that your board plays a productive role in directing operations, not managing operations themselves. If you report in excruciating detail, you are essentially asking them to respond in that manner. If you present the defining issues, then they will focus there.

I have heard so many executive directors crow that their boards need to provide the funding. However, most of those organizations are now defunct. Don’t dump the stuff you dread on your board, or you will be replacing your board frequently. Work hard yourself and be an example of how you expect them to function.

If your board members are willing to champion your cause, they are providing a valuable service to you. Through that, encourage them to invite others to be involved in accomplishing your mission (not giving a few more dollars). It is great if you have a board that is financially invested in you, but I have not found that to be any more successful as a model of longevity and service to the needy.


Again, be a model of getting things done. Be sure to jump at the chance to everything you can to show that to the board. If you find that they do not pick up on that and get into action with their responsibilities, then encourage them, then replace them.

Work hard to have successful meetings and communications. Keeping the board up-to-date can often be overlooked. Routing emails are effective, and infrequent phone calls or conference calls are important. Be prepared with a work plan for your board, and they will realize that they are the important people you chose them to be.



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