THE BLOG
03/30/2014 08:32 pm ET Updated May 30, 2014

Nonprofit CEOs Need To Be Peers NOT Powerhouses - Interface More Frequently with Individual Board Members

Simply having board meeting contact with directors isn't sufficient for a 21st century nonprofit CEO. Following are three professional approaches the CEO can take for developing better communications with board members. This especially applies to those, who think as I do that the board should view the CEO as a mission focused peer, not an aspiring powerhouse.

Weekly conference calls -- One CEO has a weekly conference call with his board chair, except for weeks on which the board meets. During these sessions, he updates the chair on strategic progress and operational goals and seeks the chair's counsel on vexing operational challenges. All board members are invited to join the conference calls. This is an efficient approach to keep a constant flow of information to the board, especially to those directors who seek more meaningful board involvement and elect to participate in calls. The process is time and cost efficient by using services such as Free Conference Calls. The informality of the calls enables the CEO to have a better interpersonal understanding of many, not all, of his/her directors.

Informal Meetings - Some nonprofit CEOs schedule individual informal director meetings two to four times a year, -- before after a board or committee meeting or at any other appropriate time. Occasionally they can take place with two directors to make time-efficient use of directors' schedules. The purposes of the sessions are to allow the CEO to update those who have missed meetings, to "trial balloon" new ideas and, most importantly to develop better interpersonal contacts and understandings. Those CEOs who deal with national boards can do the same through phone calls. Some CEOs ask their assistant to schedule the meetings at appropriate times.

Pre-Meet With Board Members* It is healthy to allocate 30 minutes per board member to call (board members) at least a week in advance of board meeting. This can be helpful ... at any meeting where major decisions are to be ratified. For a CEO to try persuade directors to change their positions on important matters during a board meeting is unproductive.

(A CEO) should specifically ask them whether there are any agenda items they would like to add. This is the best way to avoid surprises at a board meeting and the golden rule of board meetings is, of course, no surprises. If directors bring up a controversial topic at least you're prepared for it and know their views before the meeting.

It would seem that this pre-meeting approach would be a proper one if the board meets every couple of months or less frequently. However, if the CEO suspects there might be a critical item proposed which might be only debated in only one meeting, the process could be a viable one irrespective of the meeting schedule.

Purist will hate the idea of pre-meetings. But why would you ever leave anything to chance, (especially if it is a contentious or complex issue?)

Keeping the partnership between Board members and CEO alive is paramount to a smoothly functioning nonprofit. Frequent "meetings of the minds" provide direction, build rapport and solidify mission alignment. It is within the province of the CEO to initiate and sustain this effort.

* Note: Quotations from this source are presented in italics: See here.