I recently worked with Steve King, Executive Director, and Dennis Pitocco, Board Chair of Meals on Wheels of Tampa to present an educational session on increasing board members’ participation in their fundraising efforts. Like many boards, this board sees the opportunity for improvement in this area. One of the challenges expressed by many: how do we hold board members accountable when they are just volunteers, not staff members. The next question is often, who should hold them accountable?
In our preparation for the educational session, Dennis said that as board chair his goal was to hold board members “comfortably accountable.” I love that phrase! We want to hold board members accountable but in a way that is comfortable for the board member, the board leadership and the staff.
Here is the goal: comfortably accountable. Here is the What, Who and How of “comfortably accountable.”
Comfortably accountable is an approach that allows board members to hold each other accountable, not with an atmosphere of intimidation and guilt but with an atmosphere of encouragement and celebration.
The best person to hold a board member accountable is another board member. Board member to board member is a peer to peer relationship. Both are volunteers.
How do we achieve comfortably accountable? I recommend these 5 things:
- Clear expectations – start with clear board expectations during recruitment and revisit them at least once a year.
- Focus on the mission – make sure each board member sees how their involvement and investment helps the nonprofit reach their mission.
- Thorough follow-up – insure that board members are communicating on their progress.
- Collegial atmosphere – find opportunities for your board to get to know each other and build trust as a group. Often a board retreat or social gathering is the way to encourage that collegial atmosphere.
- Celebration of successes – make sure that board members appreciate each other and celebrate the successes of the board and the entire organization.
No one wants to serve on a board that is ruled by guilt and fear. Conversely, no one wants to serve on a board that doesn’t really need them. The way to make sure you don’t face either of these extremes is to seek an atmosphere of “comfortably accountable.”