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  • Pat Libby

Howdy Partner! How to get real with your board

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, I must be insane.

My least popular blogs are about nonprofit boards, yet I still feel compelled to write them.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this one will be an exception.

What motivated me to send out a new message into the universe about how to create a highly functioning staff-board partnership was a meeting I had this morning with the staff of a nonprofit.

They were disgusted with their “do-nothing” board.

I told them they weren’t leading.

Anyone who has worked with me, read my blogs, or taken a class or a workshop with me knows that I believe that boards should be organized into working committees that dedicate themselves to the respective fiduciary and strategic functions of an organization.

This blog is about what happens after you set up these committees, clearly delineate their responsibilities, and populate them with volunteers.

You need to lead through partnership.

This isn’t a role that is relegated solely to the CEO/ED – it’s a role that all staff who support committees need to understand and do well.

By this I mean:

1. Engaging the committee chair in an honest discussion about what you need to accomplish at the next meeting.

For example:

“We are very worried about the possibility that financial support for this program may be reduced or eliminated and would like to talk through strategic possibilities for how we should move forward.”

2. Getting an agreement from the Chair on the agenda/issues to be discussed!

That includes agreeing on the information that the committee will need in advance of the meeting so that they can thoughtfully consider – and take action on – the issues you’ll be discussing.

Decisions cannot get made in the absence of information. You need to provide your thought-partners with the most complete set of facts, figures, and research you have that will enable them to collaborate with you on the decision-making process.

3. Being prepared and reminding others to be prepared for the meeting.

Providing the aforementioned information to the committee members ahead of the meeting will allow them to review it and think about it beforehand.

Gently remind people to READ AND THINK ABOUT what you sent so that they will be ready for a robust discussion.

4. Ensuring that you and the chair are on the same page about the decisions that must be reached at the meeting, the timeline for those decisions to be reached/implemented, and next steps for moving things along in the process.

This also includes making sure that when everyone leaves the meetings, you are all clear on the decisions that were made, or if you absolutely could not reach a conclusion, the additional information that you need to make those decisions. You will also need to determine who will do what prior to the next meeting to move this issue forward.

Most Board members are smart, strategic and passionate – if they’re not, they shouldn’t be serving on your Board.

To be true partners with the staff, Board members need to know what you want from them and be provided with the information necessary to take action.

Clear, consistent and open communication is the key to a strong board-staff partnership.

If you want to learn more, join me on September 10th at The City of San Diego’s Nonprofit Academy where I’ll be talking about: Resilient Boards: How to Create and Sustain a Strong Board-Staff Partnership.


P.S. For additional hints about how to have an effective meeting, check out:


Pat Libby is a consultant that helps nonprofits with organizational strategy, board restructuring, and executive searches. Pat has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations for more than three decades.

Get in touch with your feedback and questions!



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