A Strong Leadership Team—Elements of Nonprofit Organizational Success – Part 1

Creating a Culture of Asking Series

David A. Mersky imageSince last I wrote, one month ago, I have visited with the volunteer and professional leadership of more than eight current or prospective clients.  Invariably, someone—almost always a member of the board—has asked, either, “how can we be assured of success” or “what will cause us to fail.”  Just as invariably, I would reply, “it is all about leadership…people who do what they say they are going to do.”

This applies to staff—professional and support—and even more so to volunteers.  In this article, I want to focus upon the volunteer leaders, the essential elements of success for any nonprofit organization.

There are ten core concepts of volunteer leadership responsibility – the first five will be covered today – that when applied, will secure success.

1. The first core responsibility of the board is to determine the mission.  Volunteers do this in partnership with the staff by first re-imagining the organization on a regular basis.  Then, the board members consult with representatives of all the agency’s stakeholders to periodically ensure that the mission statement is useful, honest, valid, current and advanced.  This assures that the mission statement articulates clearly why and for whom the organization exists.  Most importantly, the board constantly reviews that its priorities as well as those of the staff are mission-driven and that, particularly, the fundraising strategies are empowered by the mission.

2. The second core responsibility is to select the CEO.  When all is said and done, this is the single, most consequential decision that the Board will make.  In the process, the Board identifies the desire attributes of a CEO based upon a consensus about the organization’s culture and circumstances, strategic priorities and goals.  The Board acknowledges that the CEO’s success is linked to the Board’s effectiveness.  In this context the Board develops a clear succession plan, creates a methodology for determining future leadership and installs an emergency transition plan.

3. Third in the list of core responsibilities of the Board is to support and evaluate the CEO.  First and foremost, the relationship of the Board and the CEO should be marked by mutual respect and a distinction of responsibilities.  The Board manifests its support for the CEO and, by extension, the staff by being predictable, clarifying boundaries so as not to micromanage, encouraging decisiveness, providing encouragement and responding to the CEO’s requests for assistance.  In addition, the Board provides an annual, formal, written performance assessment of the CEO generally conducted by the Personnel Committee and the Executive Committee.  Then, the Board encourages and supports the CEO to assess the staff.

4. The fourth core responsibility is to ensure effective planning.  Through effective strategic planning process, the Board translates the mission into goals and objectives, recommends priorities for physical and programmatic expansion and focuses human and financial resources and energies throughout the process.  The Board maintains focus on mission, vision and values, formally approves agreed-upon strategies and outcomes, and monitors the plan’s implementation as well as the organization’s progress in the fulfillment of the plan – all while staying focused upon the big picture.  Note: The Board maintains the strategic vision of the organization while the CEO and staff “operationalize” the annual plan.

5. The fifth core concept is found in the Board’s responsibility to monitor and strengthen the agency’s programs and services.  This is best accomplished by focusing upon the organization’s impact.  The Board also serves as the arbiter in deciding between competing priorities by asking what is the organization trying to achieve, how it assesses its effectiveness and how it measures success.  They can accomplish this by working through a well-developed committee structure.

NEXT MONTH: A Strong Leadership Team—Five Additional Elements of Organizational Success