D is for Director

Time after time I am reminded by both the staff of charities and board members that many boards of directors are not doing an effective job of fulfilling their role. The results are frustration on all sides, and eventually a decline in the impact of the organization. The best resource I know of for understanding the role of a board and of directors is The Imperfect Board Member by Jim Brown. It is well worth reading for all directors and senior staff. In fact, when I was a board chair it was required reading for directors and leadership team members. For an even quicker perspective on the role of the board, remember that D is for Director. A boards role is to Discuss, Decide, Do, or Delegate. Never to Dither or Dawdle. Discuss: Board meetings should be designed to favour meaningful discussion on issues critical to the charity. Insightful materials should be shared in advance and the chair should fulfill the role of facilitator to ensure that everyone is able to contribute their insight. Decide: Ultimately the board table is a place for decision making. When the time for decision comes it should be clear, actionable, and properly recorded and communicated. After a decision is made the directors are expected to support it consistently. Do: Everything the organization does falls under the authority of the directors. This rarely means they are actively doing everything, but they must understand which actions they are going to do and what authority they are expressing when they do. Delegate: In most charities the bulk of the work is delegated by the board to staff and/or volunteers. If there is a lead staff person everything not done by the board should be delegated to the lead staff to then do or further delegate to others. Effective boards know how to give away responsibility and follow up with accountability. Don’t Dither or Dawdle: Too many boards take too long to make solid decisions. Too many issues and opportunities are put off for future meetings. Too many discussions are left hanging. There should be a bias to action and matters should only be tabled if there is critical information to be gathered to ensure a wise decision.