A new fiscal year sets the stage for collaborative leadership
Happy fiscal new year!
The start of the fiscal year, even if not recognized with champagne and fireworks, often signals new beginnings. In the months and weeks leading up to July, there is often a burst of activity in nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit executives and their boards of directors create and ratify new budgets. Perhaps the governance or nominating committee puts forth a slate of new directors. Officers sometimes step into new leadership roles. In some years, there will be a new board chair; in others, a board chair may be considering how to have an impact during the final year in office.
Develop trusting, mutually supportive relationships
Here are some manageable and worthwhile fiscal new year's resolutions to support nonprofit executives and board chairs working together to foster a productive, collaborative year for leadership and for the organization.
Executive directors and board chairs should meet regularly. Schedule regular face-to-face meetings with additional calls periodically and build trust through candid conversation. Agree that all topics are on the table for discussion. Foster developing a strong partnership that puts the organization first.
Ensure that staff and other directors are brought into conversations as necessary and appropriate. Even if the board wants to hold executive sessions following board meetings, be forthright about the importance of directors having time to "talk amongst themselves" as a way to further build trust and reflect on their own work.
Be a resource
Each leader is a valuable asset to the other.
Executive directors/CEOs: You know everything about the organization and the ways it delivers on its mission. Share what you know so your board chair is also knowledgeable. The more you share, the better you and your board chair can strategize together.
Board chairs: You have the ability to open doors for your organization's executive. Be a connector. Make introductions that may lead to collaborations, increased fundraising, new board members and professional development.
Each of you has something to learn from the other.
Executives: You can benefit from the perspective your board chair has on the organization and the environment. The board chair understands what is going on in the minds of other board members and can demystify it for you.
Conversely, board chairs: You may have much to learn about the true needs of your organization's client base, or what staff experiences day to day.
Working together you can inspire your board and staff to persevere and work with you to achieve the organization's goals.
Ask each other questions and together brainstorm answers. Value and play to each other's strengths. Understand that while your roles are different, your desires for your organization are the same.
Cultivate and nurture your legacies
Everyone wants to leave a mark. Serving on a nonprofit board permits an individual to pursue a passion, champion a cause and support a meaningful effort.
For many, leading a nonprofit board offers the possibility of contributing to the world in a particular, meaningful way that is different from one's profession.
Serving in an executive management position signifies having attained a high level of leadership. Nonprofit executive directors/CEOs come in many varieties. You may be a founder, someone who worked through the ranks to reach your position, or you may have come from a completely different line of work.
A board chair's legacy
While a board chair might not have prior experience in this role, the executive director/CEO is the constant in the leadership equation as board chairs come and go according to term limits. Understanding the organization's past and present puts the chief executive in a prime position to work with board chairs to identify their unique assets and a way to capitalize on them when leading the board.
Perhaps the board chair came through the volunteer ranks of your organization by starting as a committee member and rising to committee chair. If so, the chair is well situated to impress upon other board members the value and importance of engaging with the organization through committee work or asking their friends to participate. The resulting legacy may be focused attention to ensuring that board members participate broadly and share their talents freely with the organization.
Maybe the board chair deeply embraces the duties to support the organization financially, to introduce potential donors to the nonprofit and to introduce the nonprofit to potential donors. If this is the case, the chair may foster a culture of giving that pervades the volunteer ranks. The legacy of this board chair can be a roster of engaged new donors and a board that embraces its fundraising duties.
Perhaps the board chair is emotionally intelligent, a good communicator, and a warm and welcoming individual. With your encouragement, the chair can use these engaging personal traits to inspire a boardroom culture that supports collegiality and candor. If you are lucky enough to have a board chair who understands the benefits of these intangible qualities, harness that energy and see the good that follows.
The chief executive's legacy
Executive directors/CEOs have distinct sets of qualities that serve them well in their leadership roles. Knowing and navigating the internal and external landscapes that support or challenge their organizations are primary. Understanding an organization's needs based on where it sits on the life cycle spectrum is also important.
Maybe a founding executive has nurtured the organization since it was no more than an idea or a dream. With passion, drive and persuasiveness this leader has built something that makes a difference in the lives of individuals and communities. While subsequent leaders will leave their marks, few, if any, will make the same kinds of sacrifices. The founder's legacy is singular and profound.
Perhaps the executive director/CEO has led the organization through a crisis or a time of ambiguity, modeling behaviors such as courage and resilience with staff and board members. This realistic and transparent response in the face of adversity sets a tone of individual and organizational adaptability. The resulting legacy of honest dealings with colleagues may be increased trust in the leader and commitment to the organization.
It is imaginable that an executive director/CEO has risen through the organization's ranks. This leader, observed and promoted by different supervisors throughout a long career, has likely shown initiative, sought out mentors and professional development, and become deeply invested in the mission. Moreover, this individual probably has the emotional intelligence and capacity for self-reflection to understand what it means to supervise former peers. The legacy in this scenario is one of seeking opportunity and rising to all the inherent challenges of leadership. A further legacy is the message others in the organization take and apply to their own growth and professional path.
The new fiscal year is a blank slate ready for new energy and achievements. It is the next installment in your organization's continuing story.
Successful executives and board chairs set an example of what commitment to the organization looks like. They communicate with staff and other board members to ensure open dialogue and shared vision.
Working together, they uncover each other's talents. Capitalizing on their shared leadership experience both enriches and leaves a lasting impression on the organization.
So, raise a glass to your partnership because with each new year — fiscal and calendar — the opportunity of a new beginning spurs creativity and excitement. Cheers!
For more from Amy Wishnick, visit Wishnick & Associates.