February 2018 – A reflection by Jim Hayes, Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center.
Thanks to Our Board of Directors:
I follow a number of feeds related to best practice in the nonprofit world. Recently, on Joan Garry’s blog, which offers lots of useful information on nonprofits, I ran across a description of a Five Star Board Chair:
THE “GREAT BOARD CHAIR” CHECKLIST
- Do you want the job? Seems like a pretty obvious question but a reluctant board chair doesn’t work.
- Do you respect the work, skills and attributes of the CEO? This person will be your partner for a minimum of two years. Can you work together effectively?
- Do you have time? Now, most Type A board members being considered for leadership positions are so busy they can barely breathe. That doesn’t mean they don’t have time. Karen was ridiculously busy in her day job but we planned, and she understood the commitment she was making to work closely with me. She made the time.
- Do you have schedule autonomy? Typically, meetings are scheduled. But things come up that require board chair attention. If you have a boss who drags you into meetings with regularity and does so with precious little notice, this can be a problem for an ED with a pressing issue. And frustrating too. Because ED schedules are no less challenging.
- Can you ask someone a tough question in a really constructive way?I’m going to put it out there. ED’s have thinner skin than you think. They get defensive. After all, they know their organization backward and forward. You? You’re just a volunteer. You don’t know what it’s really like. It can be very unflattering. Board chairs need to, in that context, learn how to ask smart, constructive questions that lead to productive conversations rather than a 15-minute defense.
- Can you meet face to face with your CEO at least monthly? You need time that is not focused on a narrow and tactical agenda. You need to exhale and breathe through larger issues, issues that are coming down the pike. You need a partner to brainstorm with, a thought partner. And if you are talking about centerpieces for the event tables rather than a strategy for capitalizing on the event to build your major donor program, you miss the most important part of the relationship. The most valuable.
- Can you enthusiastically model good fundraising behavior?Board members will follow your lead. If your rolodex is open and being mined, board members will see what that looks like. And if they choose not to go that route, it won’t be because they don’t see what that looks like.
- Can you mentor and guide committee chairs?Done properly, today’s committee chairs are tomorrow’s board leaders. Have the chairs worked with their committees to set annual goals; to identify a project they want to work on? Do they meet regularly? How is attendance? What kind of agenda is circulated? How is the meeting facilitated? Far too often, the staff liaison takes responsibility for the meeting agenda and the forward motion at the meeting. Not her/his role.
- Can you take the time to appreciate the successes of the staff? When something happens, are you going to be able to make time to shoot an email to staff ASAP? More importantly, can you command the attention of the board to encourage them to do the same?
- Would you consider yourself a good coach / mentor? The role of board chair is a delicate one indeed. You really don’t tell the ED what to do but coaching them to ask the right questions, to consider more dimensions of the issue — this kind of guidance can be invaluable.
That last bullet really caught my eye.
You see, I’ve been mentored over the past year by our board chair, Mary Gottschalk. Mary and so many other members of our board of directors have made my job easier because of their dedication and leadership. I am grateful for their service. Mary helped to guide the succession planning as we prepared for Ellery Duke’s retirement after 40 years of service to the Center. She then helped with the search process that ended up with yours truly. She led board meetings for two years and worked hard on our recent strategic planning process. Mary and I met regularly in my first year as executive director. Her insights and advice were invaluable. I/we can’t thank her enough for her two years as president. I am also excited to begin serving with our new board president, Sally Wood, yet another in a long line of Five Star leadership at the Center.
Of course, board chairs don’t work in a vacuum. Our board of directors is exemplary in talent and commitment. You can find them listed on our web site:
Board membership is a big responsibility and can take up a good bit of volunteer time. We believe it’s also one of the most rewarding opportunities one can find. A board member helps to guide our organization and keep us faithful to our important mission of understanding, hope and healing through counseling and education. So much of their work is behind the scenes and can be underappreciated. I am so grateful for their service. I hope others who care deeply about our mission will consider board service in the future.
I am especially grateful for those who have completed their terms:
They have made us better through their efforts.
We look forward to on-boarding new members as they begin their term at the February board meeting. We have much work to do and I am confident we have the leadership necessary to move us to greater heights.
More blog posts from Jim Hayes here: www.dmpcc.org/Jim