What should the role of your board of directors be, post Covid?
As the Covid crisis begins to ebb, it’s likely time for your nonprofit board’s role to shift as well. Board of directors responsibilities should switch from survival mode, day-to-day focus, and to how to best cope with the pandemic, to thinking strategically again.
It’s critical that boards assess how their agencies came though this difficult time, figure out what helpful nuggets of knowledge they learned, and then decide how best to proceed.
They should work to envision what the future should be, and then list out the steps to make that happen. A little strategic planning right now will go a long way… Simply hoping (or trusting) things to work out in the future — even when everyone is working super hard — won’t cut it any more.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that everything can change drastically in a matter of days…
So what exactly should your nonprofit board be doing?
Here are 8 key board of directors responsibilities that should be a priority as agencies work to create a new normal.
Step 1 — Stabilize the agency so you can get back to delivering services as effectively as possible.
Most of this may fall within the CEO’s responsibility but the board should be ready to help think this through. In times of crisis we often go into firefighting mode, simply dealing with the biggest fires first. But if we’re not careful this can lead to a crisis culture. Take a step back and look at your agency and see what may need to change to resume “business as a new normal” — whatever that looks like for your organization.
Step 2 — Review current revenue sources and assess their future reliability.
Can you continue to rely on your current revenue streams? Does your entire fund-raising system need rethinking? As a result of the pandemic have you lost major donors, grants, or community / state / federal funding? Have any new sources of revenue become an option?
Show your team how important they are.
Step 3 — Find a way to show appreciation for the team that worked worked valiantly this past year.
Figure out how to thank staff, volunteers, and maybe even board members that stepped up to help your agency survive during significant challenges. Host a reception, publicly praise them. How can you show them and the community how much you value all they did?
If budget restrictions are a challenge, think small. A gathering with pizza and/or ice cream might be all you can do right now, but even this small gesture will go a long ways toward helping you team feel appreciated.
Improve communication with the board chair.
Step 4 — Start holding frequent CEO / board chair discussions.
If it’s not happening already, critical board of directors responsibilities should include the CEO and the board chair talking frequently — weekly or bi-weekly. Both must be on the same page. A healthy relationship between these two is critical even in good time. It is even more critical now.
Step 5 — Determine whether virtual board meetings have value and should continue.
Don’t let the convenience of online meetings steal away the intimacy, camaraderie, and effectiveness of in-person board meetings. Send out a quick survey to get input from your board members about future meetings.
Step 6 — Identify and review changes that should stay.
With input from the Executive Director, review all temporary workarounds or new ideas that were implemented during the height of the pandemic. Are there any that should be maintained?
Don’t just fall back into the same old routine. In times of crisis some of our most innovative ideas come to light. It’s important to evaluate these ideas and see which may actually help the agency long-term.
Make the sure the agency is stable, for now and the future.
Step 7 — Ensure the financial foundation of the agency is secure or take steps to make it so.
The board is charged with ensuring the continued sustainability of the agency so it must assess its financial strength coming out out of the pandemic. This isn’t just about reviewing revenue sources, but also taking a hard look at costs and the bottom line.
Did the agency have to take drastic moves to continue operations? How will this impact things moving forward? Have services changed that may necessitate the need to cut staff, or hire new team members to sustain them?
Take a moment to review and reflect.
Step 8 — If at all possible, schedule a mini “retreat” for assessment and discussion.
Include the board of directors, agency’s key leaders, and the CEO. Focus on a few critical discussion items.
- What went right or wrong and how would you handle it differently the next time? What changes should you make?
- Spend time brainstorming the question ” If we were just starting our agency today, brand new, in today’s environment, what would it look like? If it’s different, why shouldn’t we make those changes now?
- How can the board ensure everything the agency does is on mission and in proper alignment? How can it eliminate what isn’t critical or is no longer working?
- A crisis can identify weak points in the agency’s operations. What weak points surfaced and how should they be fixed?
- Do a self-assessment. What did the agency do well, where did it fall short? What could it have done… or done better? Ask the board these very same questions. Should the board of directors responsibilities shift?
- What was the board missing that could have helped them provide better leadership and support? Can you find that now by recruiting new board candidates?
Take time to review the next steps in your strategic plan.
Are they realistic or even reasonable in light of the past year? You may need to change some of the immediate priorities and deadlines. Just stick to your overall plan’s high level strategic initiatives.
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