Board Portal Strategy Focus
How a Board Portal Can Help Your Board Focus More on Strategy

By Dustin McKissen, January 12, 2016

Six months after I started my career as a trade association executive I was sitting in a meeting of our board of directors when one board member brought up an idea that no one in the organization had thought of before. He asked, “Why don’t we have a credentialing program for individuals in the industry?”

This association already had an existing program that certified businesses in the industry, but no one had ever thought to create an individual credentialing program. Other staff, I, and several board members dismissed the idea. The existing company-level credentialing program was strong, relevant in the industry we served, and already ate up a lot of the association’s time, money, and human resources.

However, the board member persisted, and ultimately pushed the individual credentialing program forward. In the end there was a strong market for the credential, and the first organization to send employees through the program was the largest company in the industry.

This board member proved that he was right about the individual credential, and the program continues to grow. In fact it has become the basis of a new college program—the first of its type in the industry the association serves.

The board member also demonstrated the role board members should play in an organization. Directors are not there to micromanage an organization. Directors are not there to tell the executive how to do his or her job.

Directors are there to help give strategic guidance and hold executives accountable for achieving the organization’s goals. In this instance the board did that, and the association and the industry was stronger for it.

Unfortunately this type of strategic level guidance is rare. Boards are often mired in minutia, and not focused on the big picture.

Why is that?

One reason is that strategy is difficult and good ideas are relatively rare. As a result an organization ends up with extra “administrators” in the form of directors, rather than receiving the type of big-picture expertise that will help the nonprofit stay relevant.

Nonprofit executives need to guard against the tendency for boards to engage in “administrative creep”. The best way to do that is to make sure there isn’t a reason for directors to get involved in day-to-day operations. Manage your organization using nonprofit best practices. Don’t end up in a legal, financial, or public relations crisis. Failing to do so may result in a board becoming involved in day-to-day operations, and it’s hard to undo that once it happens.

Lastly, you can help prevent administrative creep by using board meetings to demonstrate competency. As a nonprofit consultant one of the first and most frequent complaints I hear from board members about staff competency relates to disorganized board meetings, and specifically materials that are incomplete or distributed at the last minute. The perception of incompetence that stems from disorganized board meetings can result in more than just administrative creep—it may result in the hiring of new staff.

BoardPaq’s suite of tools will help prevent that.

Organized board meetings, accurate records, and agendas and minutes that are accessible on time and electronically will help keep a board focused on the big picture, and just may help your organization find its next big idea.

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Dustin McKissen is the founder of McKissen + Company, an association management and marketing firm. He is a Certified Association Executive and has served as an executive or consultant to a wide variety trade associations, professional societies, and nonprofits.
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