There are many reasons why people want to join a not for profit board. It can come from the feeling of wanting to help the community or even a personal experience through the loss of a family member or friend. Some people see the NFP sector as a great place to give back to use their experience and skills to help an organisation that needs their expertise, while others use it to fill a purpose after retirement.
These are all excellent drivers. One of my pet hates is people who get involved only because think it will look good on their resumes, but I’ll leave that for another day.
Well-functioning boards should hopefully have a good mix of backgrounds and expertise driving the rich tapestry of discussion and decision making, adding strength to the organisation.
In my experience, no matter the reason for these people coming together, they will all have different expectations around their roles, responsibilities and reach. The organisation also has expectations of board members that goes beyond their fiduciary duties.
Understanding and discussing expectations is vitally important as they quite often manifest themselves as mental contracts that are created on the acceptance of a board role without being verbalised, and this can lead to problems down the track.
Examples that come up regularly include meeting attendance (‘I will only attend meetings during the day but not on weekends’), committee work and how much work is carried out between meetings (‘I’m only there to attend the board meetings and offer my opinion’), standing in the organisation (‘I am on the board so therefore I can be in charge’) or even offering expertise (‘there is only one way to do things and that is my way!’). And there are many more...
Expectations can come from previous experiences, assumed knowledge or even stubbornness. Whichever way they were created, they need to be managed because left unchecked they can create roadblocks impeding effectiveness of the board.
So, what is the best way to manage board member expectations?
1. Ask the right questions. Your board recruitment process should include questions around what the individual wants to get out of the role. You need to ask about availability, how many hours they can spare and things they don’t expect to be involved in. Questions about their past board roles and why they left might reveal some of their hidden expectations too. Discussion on vision and purpose are essential to aligning expectations and values.
2. Good board charter or policies. Well-presented easy to read board charters or policies are great best practice to get down the board’s expectations on paper. My advice is to start with a list around meetings, board roles, delegations and decision making. You should also articulate conflict of interest and code of conduct for board members.
3. Induction process. All board members should go through a formal induction to introduce them to the organisation and board. This should include discussion around the constitution, strategic plan, policies, codes of conduct and board charter. A tour of the organisation and introduction to key staff is also essential. If you don’t have a formal induction process then feel free to sign up to my online induction course.
4. Meeting evaluations. At the end of your board meetings ask what went well and what could be improved. Creating a formal space for discussion is a great way to bring any underlying process issues to the fore and allowing them to be dealt with.
5. Check in between board meetings. Chairs should periodically check in with individuals to ask their opinion about the management of the board and its effectiveness. Try and have a rotating theme such as strategy or meetings to concentrate thinking and feedback. Also, asking if there are any underlying worries or issues they were reluctant to bring up at the meetings.
Combining these strategies should help you get the right people on board, increase effectiveness and aid in retention of good directors as well.