The role of the board always is to assess situations in the context of the organization's mission, values and capacity. The board needs to be clear about its role in relationship to the change facing the organization. Typically, major changes have an impact on the board in three arenas:
Governance and leadership. When a major decision needs to be made -- such as whether or not to merge with another organization, purchase property or start a new program -- the board must determine what factors to consider when making the decision. Questions for the board to address include:
- What does the board need to know in order to make an informed decision?
- What resources are required to accommodate the change? In addition to financial considerations, resources may include staff availability or knowledge, board time and expertise, space and/or technology.
- What risks are associated with the change? How will these risks be managed and minimized?
In all cases, it is important to understand that responding to the challenge at hand may well require some fundamental changes in board operations.
- How does the change affect the board's role in the organization?
- What is the impact on the board's work? On the board's work in relationship to the staff's?
- What new board practices are required to respond to the change?
- What new expertise is required on the board?
- How will these new roles be reflected in the board self-evaluation process?
For example, in the case of new reporting requirements, how will the board make sure that the organization is in compliance? Under which committee does oversight fall? What data will be required from the staff?
Volunteer or helping roles. In many cases, board members are key volunteers for the organization. For example, board members frequently play a hands-on role in technology, public relations or financial matters, fundraising or advocacy. Board members may even fill in when the executive director is unavailable due to a personal emergency. The board may have to assume some of the executive director's responsibilities until s/he can return to the position. Questions for the board to consider include:
- What kind of support does the staff need from the board to navigate the change facing the organization?
- What helping roles will the board let go of as the staff grows and becomes more professional?
Board/Organizational culture. When funding requirements, reimbursement guidelines or other contractual demands require the board and/or professional staff to act in ways that contradict their beliefs about quality service, organizations can be torn. Questions for the board to consider include:
- What is the relationship between our values as a board and as an organization vis a vis the change that is taking place?
- Can we bring the two sets of values into alignment?
- Can the change be implemented in a way that minimizes conflict between our basic values and the requirements being imposed on our organization?
- What will we do if we can't reconcile the two? Will we compromise our principles or will we refuse the funding, even if it means going out of business?
In addition to the general questions posed above, each challenge requires its own set of specific questions and activities. Click the following links for more information about specific situations.
Transition to Paid Staff
Hiring an Executive Director
Mergers and Affiliations
Seizing New Opportunities
Externally Imposed Changes