Nell Edgington shared an interesting perspective on how to get Boards better engaged and working more effectively in her blog at Social Velocity. The premise was around five questions to ask the Board which made them think about what they were doing to actively support the charity.
I agree with her suggestions but want to add some more as I believe we need to be a bit more specific with our Board members and try to align their thinking with what it feels like everyday to try and deliver the strategies they come up with.
In all the successful charities I work with, there is a tangible link between the Board and the charity teams (including volunteers) and a shared empathy. This is cultivated and nurtured over time as genuine relationships are built between the groups and each feels they are both listening and leading in their own ways.
With that in mind, here are my suggestions for questions to ask your Board – or more appropriately, questions to ask your Board to ask themselves in an honest and reflective moment:
How would you like the vision and strategy of the charity developed and shared if you worked here?
Imagine you’re at the start of a career and come to work to have fun on a Friday night as well as do some good. How is the strategy and vision relevant now? Could it be created or articulated in a way that makes it powerful AND relevant to the folks who have to eat, sleep and breathe it?
What are the day to day impacts of the decisions you make on the staff, volunteers and beneficiaries?
Decisions made in the isolation of a board room are often a necessity but they shouldn’t be without context. And I don’t mean a 30 page paper or proposal which invariably won’t get assimilated thoroughly. How often do the Trustee teams get out and amongst the teams, meet volunteers or attend beneficiary forums or events meaningfully. It’s a great idea and incredibly useful to Trustees to get out to the coal face and experience for themselves what the day to day reality for their charity actually is.
Do we know how other charities are doing with a particular issue right now? Have they been able to innovate or think their way around it?
The recession and ongoing government changes mean that doing the same things in the way we have always done them may not be the way forwards. We can look across the sector and to other organisations for ideas and it will not be a sign of weakness on our part. The charity sector is excellent at sharing.
In this very fast-moving digital world, can the Board accept that we need to make decisions based on imperfect information and sometimes without a proven track record?
Sorry, but we cannot provide five years’ worth of statistics to back up why we should consider social media as a proactive part of fundraising activity.
Could you help the Board to consider risk as a sliding scale rather than an absolute ‘yes’ or ‘no’?
There is risk in every decision. Not all risk can be removed although we do our best to mitigate the worst... enough said.
In my experience, most Board members are motivated to contribute in the most positive way they can. Perhaps the rest of us could help by providing some of the direction they can apply their energies to? I say this as a Trustee who regularly meets with the coal-face teams and invites their opinions on issues I know will be under discussion and it seems to work for us...
What questions would you want to ask your Trustee Board?