Focus on Boards: Give your non-profit Board a strong sense of identity

Chairman of the Board

Meeting socially can foster a sense of board identity. Just don’t feel you have to buy all the drinks!

In this continuing series, Henslowe Irving Associate Maurice Ward takes a look at the role of the Chair and Board in a non-profit arts & culture organisation.

The Board is a team and the Chair is its leader.

It is a well researched fact that generally teams make better decisions than individuals. The most effective teams are where the leader clarifies what the aims of the team are, who is in the team, what their role is and the team’s important values.

Often Boards only have meetings also attended by participants or observers who are not a part of the team and there is a lack of clarity around these subjects. Members of a team want to know who is in it, who is the leader is, and see them lead.

  • In many cases is that the Board meetings are always “attended” by the CEO and other senior managers and the Board is often managed by the CEO who makes up the agenda, invites other attendees and leads discussions. Except when there are formal votes the notion of “attenders” is meaningless: if you are in the room you are in the meeting.
  • Meetings of the Board without any other attenders including the CEO or more informal meetings of Board members may be arranged. It is also important to have a “closed session” at or after meetings where only Board members attend and minutes are not widely circulated.
  • The Chair, or his/her secretary (dream on), should always if not make up then, at least, approve and always distribute the agenda, not the CEO. The Chair should open the meeting, lead, steer and time discussions, determine meeting style and decide if and when to take votes.

It can be helpful to move to a more informal gathering directly after a non-profit board meeting. Some boards have a glass of wine or coffee/tea after the meeting for twenty minutes or so, or if the board meeting is in the evening, retire to a local pub for a drink together.

These ‘off the record’ meetings can be good to discuss ideas or clarify points in smaller groups without the pressure of minutes or attendees present. These gatherings also help give board members a sense of belonging, a stronger sense of group identity, and an opportunity to put on a ‘different hat’ and be more relaxed.

They’re also a great opportunity for the Chair to mingle and make an effort to get to know his/her board members better. Sometimes you can find out some surprising things about your members when you chat to them ‘off the record’, and understanding their motivations and aspirations more fully is part of being a good Chair.

Maurice Ward is an Associate Consultant with Henslowe Irving. He has over 35 years’ experience of leading in both small and large private and public sector organisations. He is currently Chair of the Maltings (Berwick) Trust which manages The Maltings Theatre & Cinema and Berwick Visual Arts in the UK town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.  He was formerly Head of Organisational Development for the UK National Health Service Information Authority and has served on numerous boards including Amnesty International (UK).

“This series of articles is intended for those embarking upon the task of chairing or considering doing so.  It is assumed that most readers will have experience of being on Boards. There will be those who are natural-born Chairs, who may get by with charisma alone, so all or most of this will be unnecessary.  I am not a natural so I had to learn it.

The advice in this series of articles comes from a combination of formal management education, experience, making mistakes and the downside of not heeding the good advice of others.  All the advice comes from practical use and experience and not what management books or consultants tend to suggest which is often a sledge hammer to crack a walnut and is rarely fully implemented.  I use these ideas, tips and techniques on a daily basis.” – Maurice Ward

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s