By Nanette R. Fridman, MPP, JD
During volunteer appreciation week, I have been thinking that board chairs and presidents deserve their own special day of recognition. After all, they are the ones whose phones ring and emails ping all night and day. The buck stops with them.
One of the biggest trends in my coaching practice over the last 10 years has been the growth of nonprofit board chairs and presidents as clients. In some cases, their organizations pay for their coaching, sometimes as part of a leadership development program or initiative. However, in many cases, board chairs are paying out of their own pockets. This speaks to their dedication and desire to serve their cause well.
These board leaders are successful, bright, competent people who manage companies, are successful professionals and/or run households and families, and are deeply engaged in their communities and have volunteer experience. And, yet, they seek outside coaching because nonprofits are messy and increasingly complex. Expectations and the stakes are high. Leading is challenging.
The most common things that I hear from board leaders are:
- I feel so overwhelmed. I didn’t know it would be this much work.
- There are so many things that need my attention in the short-term that I can’t get to any of the initiatives or projects that made me excited about becoming board chair.
- The board meetings planning is always a fire drill and feels more difficult than need be.
- How can I make board meetings more engaging?
- One board member is really challenging and managing him/her is taking a lot of energy, time and patience.
- I really like the executive but … [issue].
- I can’t get my board to … [usually this is followed by fundraise].
- The committees except for … [usually finance and one or two others] don’t really function.
- I feel stressed out.
- I feel burned out.
- There is no succession plan.
Combine this with the fact that 51% of board chairs did nothing special to prepare for their position. In my consulting and coaching practice, I have seen firsthand the stress and anxiety that both the board chair and the executive director or CEO too often experience – or worse the missed opportunity from lackluster leadership. I wrote my new book, Holding the Gavel: What Nonprofit Board Leaders Need to Know, to give current and rising chairs and those with whom they work the knowledge, guidance and confidence to be empowered and successful.
Nonprofits are tackling big challenges and face formidable challenges. Leadership is the differentiator. Leadership matters. Leaders matter.
For sure, our leaders need proper training and coaching. Our board leaders deserve our deepest respect and gratitude, maybe even their own appreciation day. But who will call the meeting to order to vote on it?
Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is a catalyst for values driven organizations and leaders. Her company, Fridman Strategies, is a multi-service consulting firm providing results for its varied nonprofit, foundation, and corporate clients. The firm primarily focuses on governance, fundraising, strategic planning, leadership coaching, and talent development. She is the author of On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know about Nonprofits & Board Service and Holding the Gavel: What Nonprofit Board Leaders Need to Know and writes regularly about management and leadership. She can be reached at www.fridmanstrategies.com.