Back to School and Board Governance

When you are starting kindergarten, that first day of school can be very exciting.  You have a new backpack, everything is bright and shiny, all your pencils and erasers are in their place and you just can’t wait to wear your new outfit.

Let’s fast forward to high school.  It’s not cool to want to be cool.  It’s more cool to not care.

Mom – “do you need a new backpack?”

Son – “this one’s fine.”

Mom – “but it’s ripped.”

Son – “I’ve got duct tape.”

Mom – “What about your shoes?”

Son – “I told you, I’ve got duct tape.”

And off he goes.

The same can be said for your nonprofit.  When you are a new board member, everything is bright and shiney.  You have your new board binder and you show up at every meeting, prepared to take notes.  You know the rules and are determined to be the best board member ever.

Fast forward a few years.  You know the rules but you also know the unwritten rules.  You know what you want done and you don’t think you need to care about the pencils and financials.  The nonprofit you serve is doing well, so you can focus on the fun stuff like the website, the gala, the gossip.

Almost daily there’s a nonprofit done somebody wrong song.  And, my question is always: Where was the board?  And, the answer is almost always the same.  Worrying about their new outfit and not the important stuff.

Duct tape does not mend a broken nonprofit.  It takes a lot of work to fix your nonprofit when things get broken.

There are basic governance practices that must be followed.  You as a nonprofit board member need to have your backpack in order – calculator for financials, notebook and pens for taking notes and a profound respect for the job that you are undertaking.

A lot has been said about the importance of governance vs. management.  Focus on the mission and not the minutiae.  Let staff handle the details but this isn’t always possible.  Small nonprofits need their boards to be the staff, to take care of business.  When that happens, remember the rules you learned in kindergarten.  Listen to the teacher, do your homework and by all means, take a nap.