Top 5 Tips for dealing with Charity Boards
Whether this is your first CEO role or you've moved across to another charity as their new CEO, you're probably thinking "What's in store for me at my first Board meeting?"
It can be daunting, so here are my top 5 tips for dealing with new Boards.
1. Establish an open and respectful relationship with your Chair. It's a really fine line. The chair is not your new best friend, so don't treat them as such. But neither should you feel wary of asking for their support. So be open with them - ask how they want to work with you and tell them what you expect from them. Have those conversations early on, as it helps to define those boundaries and CEO / Chair relationships.
2. Remember the 80/20 rule when it comes to Boards. Some trustees are fantastic and are very helpful. But great trustees are usually in a minority; maybe about 2 or 3 on a Board. Some are deadwood, there's no denying it. But some just need encouragement to increase how they can contribute to the charity. So, if you don't think some are pulling weight, then consider how you could suggest ways to increase their involvement. They may happily surprise you.
3. Don't fill the Board with your friends or "yes-people". Besides being a cause for breaking up friendships when they refuse to accept a recommendation that you really care about, it is important to have diversity, experience and the appropriate skills on the Board. So recruit trustees to fill the gaps in expertise or for those people who are well connected that can open up opportunities. Include trustees from your beneficiary group or a service user, to ensure their voice is represented. Advertise if you have too; but make sure you vet everyone before they join your Board.
4. Encourage the Board to think strategically. How many times have I been in a Board meeting and the conversation turns to what type of biscuits or cake to have at a forthcoming fundraiser? This is a waste of yours and the trustees' time. So take the lead. Suggest instead that those conversations happen off-line, outside of the Board meeting. Focus the Board instead on discussions about your new strategic plan, your charity's KPIs or your latest impact analysis.
5. Manage the meetings. Produce a good report for the Board that covers the essentials of what you think they should know. Not war & peace. Not just the "good news". But a good, open and factual account of what's gone well and what needs further work. Send it at least a week or two in advance and tell them to read it beforehand- as they won't be able to absorb it all and join the discussion during the meeting - so it will be taken "as read" and you won't need to explain what you've previously written.
Also, as there can be a lot of talk (and waffle) at meetings, it's helpful if you are clear about what you need from the Board. For example, specify what decisions they need to take or what input you need. And don't leave the meeting until you get what you need!
So that's it. My top 5 tips.
If I had to add a 6th tip- it's "Keep Calm! You've Got this!"
In my time as CEO of charities, I've experienced great as well as poor Boards. But what I discovered is that the CEO's role is to help even the worst performing Boards to raise their game. So, if you're a CEO facing a new Board, good luck and I hope this blog helps!