Boards run amok…or the stress, the stress, the stress

on in Nonprofit

I got another one of those calls today –

I don’t know what my board thinks it’s doing but they’re hurting each other’s feelings and they’re not making it any easier for me to get my job done.

And after my initial reaction:

What the heck is going on with these otherwise reasonable people?”

I started thinking about the stress level of Board members today.

Red ink abounds.

Groups are facing very difficult programmatic scenarios – way beyond cutting just travel and staff development costs.

Boards are making tough calls about invading endowments, spending rainy day funds, projecting deficit budgets and white knuckling it through.

And while the stress on nonprofit staff is not to be diminished, the stress on board members hasn’t been talked about much. 

And add to that board members’ own job-related stress.  Or, worse, lack-of-a-job stress.

What I sometimes see coming out of that pressure is a brusqueness, a rush to get the hard decisions made and live with the consequences – and a lack of process and relational behavior. 

Now I’m all for plain talk about the key issues in the room (does this program really return mission-value? what would happen if we cut out or deferred this entire budget line?), but running rampant over each other doesn’t help anybody.

It’s a tough Fall.  Let’s be good to each other.

So here’s my personal example.  I’m a board chair and last week as part of a regular chat with my executive director, after we went over the current grim financials, she complained that the staff was working at 150% yet there was no praise from the board, only picking at errors and omissions.  After a wave of defensiveness, including, I’ll admit, feeling guilty that as board chair I can’t personally solve the organization’s difficult financial straits – I channeled my better self.

I took a little time out of the board meeting later that day, to thank her, and the staff.  I noted that while we were all under a lot of strain, and continuing to hone our vision and programs under excruciatingly tough financial circumstances, we, the board, could go home, whereas this situation was, in fact, the staff’s “home” – where they lived everyday.

The whole tenor of the room lifted.  The sniping stopped, and a climate of gratefulness and graciousness took hold.

How can we bring more of that to the nonprofit universe?
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