You’ve GOT to be kidding me. A middle aged guy, walking his dog, just cruised by my house with his headset on and loudly declared into his microphone, “I don’t know if it’s the culture of this organization or it’s the fear of the damned board of directors, but it seems to me that everyone is so busy trying to cover their asses that they don’t have time to make the important decisions!” True story. I just about fell out of my chair. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve had that…Exact. Same. Conversation.
Now, instead of enjoying my beautiful ocean view with the calm and serenity of a female and somewhat better looking version of Buddha, I am suddenly anxious and annoyed at the remembrance of navigating the shark filled waters of non-profit governance. Shudder.
It’s difficult to judge who’s to blame for the whole “it comes from the top down” phenomenon, since most non-profit Executive Directors come as a recommendation from the Board. I suppose it’s quite like the chicken vs. the egg conundrum. If you have an unhealthy, unproductive and generally dysfunctional Board of Directors, chances are your ED is going to reflect those exact same characteristics. Same goes for the process in which board members are chosen. This problem is especially disheartening to staff, who are actually in the trenches with their ED every day of the week whereas the Board may meet once every week or less.
There seems to be a pretty big separation in most non-profit’s today between staff members and the Board of Directors. Your ED should be the bridge that links the two together but if he or she is too scared to speak up for staff, fearing constantly for their jobs if they disagree with the people who hired them, the bridge crumbles right on top of the Billy Goats who live beneath it. And no one likes dead Billy Goats.
So what’s the solution? Again it goes back to the Mission Statement. Every single action you take in your organization should come from the original focus of what your non-profit stands for. ED’s and board members have a very unhealthy habit of recruiting their friends, even if they’re not right for the job. This creates a very sick and fearful culture in your organization that eventually reaches the very people you’re trying to serve.
You don’t have the time or the resources to constantly be “covering your ass”. If your organization has the time to have a constant power struggle between your Executive Director, your staff and your board members, you have enough time to bring in more money to help those you serve. I’m sure that the populations you’re trying to reach would have a thing or two to say about you sitting in the bleachers and holding your tongue rather than getting out on the field and giving them a voice. Batter up!