Beyond Conventional Wisdom
Working with Your Board
By Howard Shiffman
and is all that is needed to have a successful board operation.
eing candid, how many nonprofit CEOs would say
they enjoy having a board of directors? Have a great On the other hand, I believe most successful nonprofit CEOs
relationship with their board members? Look for- will agree that in today’s competitive, high-paced, heavily reg-
ward to board meetings or spending a full day with them in ulated, and often under-funded environment, the CEO must
strategic planning? I venture that most CEOs would answer use conventional wisdom only as a foundation. In my experi-
these questions negatively, and in fact could fill a small book ence, this conventional wisdom should be built upon but not
of disaster stories about time with their boards. On the necessarily unequivocally followed. Conventional wisdom
other hand, as CEO of Griffith Centers for Children, Inc., in tells us that some of the major roles of the board are to:
Lakewood, Colorado, I answer these questions with resound- ■ Define the mission.
ing positivity. I enjoy working with my board because I am ■ Hire, supervise, and evaluate the CEO to carry out
not willing to be boxed in by the conventional wisdom out-
lined by so many authorities on this subject.
■ Strategically plan.
Conventional Wisdom for ■ Assure fiscal responsibility.
Nonprofit Boards ■ Fundraise.
The criteria put forth by many professional organizations ■ Promote the organization in the community.
outlines how nonprofit boards should operate to meet indus- Stepping outside the box, another major role of the board
try standards. This wisdom surrounds topics such as board in today’s environment, often overlooked, is to act as profes-
structure, the role of the board members versus the CEO, sional consultants and coaches to the CEO. In fact, this is
committee structures, terms of membership, responsibilities the most important role on my board. Significant areas of
of the members, mission attainment, strategic planning, consultation and coaching can include finance, marketing,
community outreach, board composition, conflicts of inter- public relations, legal areas, risk management, business
est, and fundraising. Perhaps this wisdom has been proven models, and human relations.
28 Children’s VOICE ■ November/December 2008
Fred Chaffee, President and CEO of Arizona’s Children To help facilitate the CEO’s leadership role and get the
Association, uses this model in his organization. “The consultation and coaching sought, the CEO must regularly
arrangement that I have with the board has developed into coordinate with the chair outside of the boardroom. “The
one where they consult with me on certain things, but it is CEO must organize the work of the board, keep them on task
not around operations unless I solicit their expertise,” he says. and on time, and ensure that the board leader makes informed
“For example, we need to get into the 21st Century in our IT decisions,” says Bill Holicky, CEO of The House of the Good
area, and I have a sub-committee that has board members Shephard in Utica, New York. “This requires that the CEO
with a great deal of expertise in that arena and we rely on and the board chair regularly meet, exchange information,
At your board room table sits your communi-
ty’s most savvy and well-respected citizens and
professionals. They know enough about your
organization to apply their years of expertise and
knowledge. They are fully vested in reaching your
mission because they are part of it. Furthermore,
they have come to know you personally and want
you to be successful, as their success is tied into
yours. As an added benefit, their dedication, skills,
and consultation do not cost the organization any
money. This type of consultation in today’s envi-
ronment is crucial to giving your organization the
competitive edge it needs. For those of you now saying and plan for the future. At a board meeting, I may appear to
that you need a fundraising board, keep in mind that if be the chair’s assistant, but the reality is tha