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The secret behind good partnerships

2 min read

Iggy Pop may never have been inside a boardroom before writing track four of his 1979 album New Values, his tale of the “chairman of the bored” is more than just a play on words.

Likewise, a board chairman probably has no understanding of what it would be like to be a singer like Iggy Pop.

“Since each person’s reality is constrained by the conditions that surround him, this means the likelihood of each ever being able to see things from the other’s perspective is fairly low.” (Smith, 1980)

As individuals in not-for-profit organisations, we are seldom given or we rarely make the opportunities to experience what it is like on the opposite side of the table. In many cases, a board director cannot comprehend the everyday challenges of an NFP staff and executive team. Likewise, staff members are unlikely to understand the world of a board director.

Within this complex dynamic, board directors and executive team members have a responsibility to the organisation to form a strong partnership. How might the inevitable challenges be negotiated?

Here are some suggestions to help directors and staff build effective partnerships across the board table…

  • Balance the meeting agenda

As stakeholders, both the CEO and board can influence the items included on the meeting agenda. Board meetings should not be limited to governance and operational oversight. Each agenda should have interesting content and allow time for discussion and debate. Perhaps invite a guest speaker to inspire passion and excitement about relevant topics.

An engaging meeting ensures you maintain interest and encourage participation, as well as reduce meeting apologies and retain members for longer tenures.

  • Plan strategy and creative thinking sessions away from the office

The board and executive team have responsibilities to develop, implement and adjust strategic plans. Taking time away from the office to immerse the board and executive team in collaborative planning will help stakeholders embrace their responsibilities, and the process will nurture relationships across the imaginary divide.

  • Swap roles for a day – literally

Plan a board meeting during office hours. Invite the CEO and executive team to spend several hours in the boardroom performing board tasks without the directors present.

Meanwhile, the board directors should tackle a to-do list left by the executive team. Focus on tasks that will expose the board members to activities they may never have tried before:

  • Answer phone calls and speak to supporters
  • Write a press release
  • Open donations and record data in the CRM
  • Write a thank-you letter
  • Manage a key supporter portfolio, do research and make follow-up phone calls
  • Produce the monthly financial report for the board
  • Write reports and results presentations
  • Manage social-media responses and make changes to the website

Whether you are on a board or part of an executive team, your organisation can profit immensely from a supportive and nurturing culture, engagement and relationship-building activities. It can also benefit from each person’s dedication to their chosen cause, and humility to walk a few miles in someone else’s shoes.

A final note:

“If you want to transform your dysfunctional garage band into a legendary board-CEO team headed for the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, make a commitment to ‘come together right now’ to create the close-knit, trusting band your non-profit’s mission needs and deserves.” (Lockwood Herman and Gloeckner, 2016)

Paul Bailey, fundraising and communications strategy consultant.

This article originally appeared in Third Sector’s September edition- click here for more info.

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