People often ask me, “what’s the worst mistakes you see from all the nonprofit boards with which you work?”  Since I’ve worked with hundreds over the past 30 years, here are a few of the more common mistakes I see…..and some ways to avoid falling into those same ruts.

  1. Micro management of the CEO.  You hired a CEO. Let him or her do their job. Boards set vision and goals. CEOs prepare and oversee the plans and budgets to implement objectives and strategies to reach the goals set. See number 5 below!
  2. Lacking clear expectations and an annual evaluation of the CEO. This goes in lock-step with number 1. I can’t tell you how many CEOs tell me they don’t get annual evaluations. No one likes to work without feedback and appreciation. It is not fair to the CEO or the organization. Board chairs (or their designees) need to work with the CEO to set a process, timeline and instruments — up front. Really advanced organizations also provide feedback to board members through self-evaluations and those completed by governance committees that look at attendance, contributions, service through committees, fulfillment of commitments, advocacy, etc.
  3. Poor fulfillment of commitments. If you make a commitment to the organization – fulfil it. If life gets in the way, which happens to us all at various points, pick up the phone and apologize. Ask to be released from the commitment, but don’t just ask like it does not exist! Let folks know so adjustments can be made.
  4. No accountability to each other. This piggybacks number 3. Hold each other accountable. Written expectations are great for recruiting board members and for holding each other accountable. Decide as a group, what the expectations are – and how you will hold each other accountable to deliver.
  5. Lack of planning. Have a strategic planning session – and then build a plan – sets the vision for the organization. From this the CEO can create the annual work plan and budget. When everyone is clear where you want to go, getting there gets a whole lot easier.

Be focused, clear and accountable. That’s a really good start to building an effective governing board and nonprofit organization.