What’s The Single Best Sign of a Healthy Nonprofit?

I'm a kind blogger. Here's a clue to the answer to today's question.

I’m a kind blogger. Here’s a clue to the answer.

So riddle me this batmen and women.

Tell me the ONE thing that tells you a nonprofit is thriving.

You can pick just one.

No fair you say? Well it’s MY blog so my rules. But let me help you get your creative juices flowing.

Let’s start with the wrong answers. It has nothing to do with:

  • A strong mission
  • A cash reserve
  • The diversity of your revenue streams or meeting your annual revenue goals
  • Your staff turnover %
  • The size of your board

Yes, these things are really important, but the charge here is to pick ONE. And these aren’t it.

OK, give up?

Read on and I’ll give you the right answer.

FIRST, A BIG HINT

OK, here’s a hint. It has to do with a specific kind of relationship.

Which one am I talking about? After all, nonprofits are riddled with important relationships. Maybe I’m talking about the relationship between the ED and staff, or donors, or constituents. Maybe it’s the board and donors. Or the relationship between staff members?

Which relationship in a nonprofit is the single most important indicator of that nonprofit’s health?

Did you get it yet?

THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT HEALTH INDICATOR IS…

In 2013 I became a certified mediator for one simple reason: so much of my work is connected to the dysfunctional relationship between the two true organizational leaders: the Board Chair and the CEO.

In my opinion, this relationship tells you more about the health of a nonprofit than any other single factor.

Take a look again at the list I gave you at the beginning of this article. The one I said didn’t have the right answer. Notice something?

Shared leadership with an invested thought partner with leadership skills can cut them all off at the pass.

But oy! There are just SO MANY THINGS that can go wrong…

THE TOP 10 SIGNS OF A DYSFUNCTIONAL CEO / BOARD CHAIR RELATIONSHIP

I fear you will recognize some of these in your own organizations.

  1. Board Chair didn’t want the job in the first place. Was the only person who didn’t step back when the ask was made.
  2. CEO doesn’t tell the Board Chair anything meaningful. Keeps her at arm’s length. Hopes they don’t interact a lot. Perceives interaction as “intrusion.”
  3. Board Chair intrudes. Sees the role as good old standard boss/employee relationship and attempts to micro-manage the activities of the CEO.
  4. Board Chair actually wants the CEO job.
  5. Board Chair comes in distrusting / disrespecting the CEO and uses the platform to make the case that it is time to boot him.
  6. CEO believes that the Board Chair’s primarily role is to ‘protect’ her from the big bad Board.
  7. Board Chair sees her role as providing cover for CEO and to ‘save’ her from the annoying board with their nutty ideas.
  8. Board Chair is not accessible to the CEO when she needs him.
  9. There is no regular communication in either direction.
  10. Board chair delegates board and executive committee meeting agendas and actual running of the meeting to the CEO

BAD RELATIONSHIP, BAD NONPROFIT

A bad relationship between the CEO and Board Chair causes so many problems.

First of all, major problems get swept under the rug. Nobody wants to discuss them. And when you don’t talk about problems, you don’t solve them, and they just get bigger.

Without a great relationship between the two leaders, the board can become completely ineffective. I’ve seen this over and over. Board members become less engaged and cannot champion the cause. Committees don’t function (especially scary when it’s the Audit and Finance committee we’re talking about.) Sometimes the CEO winds up managing the board and she already has way too much on her plate.

Board problems can become systemic if these two leaders do not lead in building a leadership pipeline.

The CEO himself might be great, but a bad Board chair could fire him or cause him to resign in frustration. And in the other direction, a CEO who keeps the Board Chair at arm’s length is simply not doing her job.

The dysfunction can spill over to the staff. Believe me – they know when this relationship isn’t working. It’s a HUGE morale problem.

Oy. What a mess. So how do you fix it?

Next: Learn how a CEO and Board Chair can create an amazing partnership

 

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  • Frustrated employee

    What do you do when both the board and the CEO of the non profit are both incompetent and the CEO has recruited board members who can only say “yes” to what ever the CEO says, and adding more to the frustration of the staff, the CEO barely shows her face in the office, taking advantage of the “yes” board, who has no idea or desire to exercise their power and put the CEO on the hot seat. No annual evaluations, no proper planning everything is just disgusting.

  • http://joangarry.com/ Joan Garry

    Wow. There is a whole lot of dysfunction going on there. Before determining it is a loss cause, consider your one passion for the work. Is it an 8 or higher on a 10 point scale. If not, you need to consider your ability to stay. If it very high, the only hope is to seek out other board or staff who are equally committed. If you watch Survivor, it’s like building an alliance. Even if it is only you and 2 others. Strategize together about how to transform this into something that functions. What could you do? What would need to happen? If you can’t create a strong alliance, you might be fighting a losing battle. Maybe time to find a gig working at another organization in the sector you care about — an organization that has some real strengths in terms of management and commitment.

    • Frustrated employee

      Thanks for your feed back. I am so frustrated that I am confronting the CEO myself. I really love what I do, that is why I want to fix all these dysfunction. The CEO has done a very good job of hiring people who are good at saying Yes to everything she does. They are frustrated to but don’t have the guts anymore or may be they need the job to support themselves. I don’t blame them. I blame the CEO and the Board. I don’t care at this time, but I will fight as long as I can to see if I can save this sinking ship.

  • http://joangarry.com/ Joan Garry

    Good luck. Sounds like your organization is very lucky indeed to have you and your passion and determination.

  • Frustrated employee

    Thanks for listening. I know I can’t fix everything, but I would definitely like to start somewhere and take it from there. I did try to talk to the CEO last week, she did not listen, but started saying that nobody appreciates how hard she works, and lot of other things. There are only 4 full time staff (including the CEO) and 2 part time, there has been no job analysis done in the last god knows how long, the job descriptions are dated, no performance evaluations done in the last 3, 4 yrs, that includes the CEO – could be even more, no website, no voice mail, dated softwares, no admin help – you name it and we don’t have it or have not done it. I can go on and on with it. The board has never been trained. They don’t even know what their powers are and seems like they don’t even care. The CEO has been with the org. for more than 20 years and I feel she is completed saturated, but refuse to recognize that and would not let go. My question is why do we have to wait for something bad to happen, before we do something. Why do we have to wait for the CEO to really mess up, and hope that then the board might wake up and do something(just hoping). We do a great job within the community, but if we go at this rate, we will be gone in few years and a program that helped so many people have a better life will be gone, because of some silly egos and mistakes that could have been easily prevented. I would like to discuss more if you could contact me through my email. Thanks for listening.

  • bill holston

    Excellent! I just sent this to my former board pres and current board pres. with a thank you for being such effective leaders. I am happy to tell my staff, when I do my annual reviews that I get reviewed by the board, and that I am accountable to the board just as they are to me. It’s a great gift.

    • http://joangarry.com/ Joan Garry

      Bill. A gift. A perfect way to describe it. And sending thank you notes to current and former board president? Smart and kind. Folks need to see evidence of great partnerships. Thanks.

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