On today’s show, I interview Mary Hiland with Hiland Consulting. Mary has been involved with nonprofit organizations for more than 40 years. She went from volunteer to staff to executive director. Mary led two mergers of her nonprofit with 530 staff and has worked with budgets ranging from $100,000-$26 million. Mary is now a consultant and coach for nonprofit leaders and their boards.
What are some of the challenges executive directors face with their boards?
Nonprofits do not orient board members. In a recent survey, 75% of the board members said in terms of understanding governing, they really didn’t get oriented into what that meant. The challenge with that is that the executive director is not in a place to teach the board what their roles and responsibilities are. Board members need to understand the why of what they are there to do and why they are so important to the nonprofit they serve. Board recruitment is another area where there are a lot of challenges – finding the people you need and want. And of course, board diversity is also a challenge.
What are the keys to building a powerful executive to board member relationship?
- Capacity – good executive directors have onboarded/oriented board members.
- Connection – the relationships between the executive director and the board members, the relationships among the board members, and all of those players and their relationships with the external world.
- Culture – the successful board (and nonprofits) have a culture of abundance. Mindset is about the positive things, so they don’t have negative beliefs holding them back.
When you come across boards that are struggling, what do you see that’s not working?
The relationship between the board chair and the executive director is so important. In a recent study, when board chairs were asked what they felt qualified them to be the board chair, 51% of them answered nothing. There was nothing that prepared them to be the board chair. The leadership on the board determines the success of the board; the leadership/recruitment of the board chair and it’s other members must be nurtured. If the executive is the most important leader in the nonprofit, then the board chair is the second – he or she can stall the board for their entire term. This leads back to the initial orientation of the board chair – did they know their role and responsibility? It is your job as the staff to make that volunteer look really good and shine.
You don’t have to have an entire board that interested in fundraising. That’s when you start creating committees made up of members who are interested in fundraising, or other areas like mission, advocacy, etc. All of this should be driven by your strategic goals – where you are going, what you are trying to accomplish, and who are the champions you need.
Do you have a resource for people looking for board development?
I recommend people to look at podcasts because they are free and there is a lot of good advice out there. I also recommend two books: Group Alchemy: The Six Elements of Highly Successful Collaboration by Deborah Pruitt, which is very practical and discusses how to have an effective work group; and Nonprofit Sustainability by Jeanne Bell, Jan Masaoka, and Steve Zimmerman has a model for having conversations about how you make decisions about money with your mission in mind and do it in a way that really works.
What does fundraising freedom mean to you?
I think it means empowerment, feeling like I can make a contribution personally and I can help others make a contribution. I am empowered to both invest in and attract investment in the causes that I care about because this is how we connect with each other and have meaning in our own lives.
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