Back to the Drawing (Hospital) Board - BASICS

I'm privileged to sit on the Board of Directors for MEDBANK of Maryland, Inc. (www.medbankmd.org), a Baltimore-based nonprofit providing free prescription medications to more than 35,000 low-income residents in need via partnerships with pharmaceutical firms' patient assistance programs (PAPs).

As a relative 'newbie' to the world of nonprofit governance, I find myself occasionally drifting back in time, wishing desperately for the dog-eared copy of Robert's Rules of Order we used during my tenure in a college service frat (Alpha Phi Omega). Oh for a gavel...

When the Board's discussions deteriorate, opportunity for progress and innovation (much less moving forward from issue identification to implementation) also breaks down.

My point? Whether you sit on the board of a nonprofit, a for-profit, a hospital, a tech startup, or your daughter's summer lemonade stand (action item 1: buy 12 cans of frozen mix, 2 pounds of sugar) there are few ways to encourage an atmosphere of effective collaboration like breaking business down into stats that are as easy to swallow as Sally's Special Lemon-Cranberry blend.

Although good old Robert sure has it right when it comes to strictly ordering the events at a meeting, it's far more important to be sure your Board members get the right information to advance decision-making.

Will@2-speed.com has done a great series on Board effectiveness that I couldn't hope to duplicate. Instead I'll share one of his best recommendations - the Board summary. FIRST THING in a Board meeting distribute this 1-pager (minimum) to 3-pager (max). Will makes the point this may be the only darn thing some of your Directors read/assimilate, so make it good.

According to the gospel of Will, the summary should include:
  • High-level sales statistics, including major or important deals
  • Rollouts of products or services
  • Changes in key customer, partner or channel relationships
  • Important legal or accounting issues facing the company
  • Changes from the staffing plan - major hires and unexpected departures that will impact the business
  • Unexpected changes to the financial position of the company
  • Unusual market or competitive moves
  • Status of major initiatives within the company
Obviously for a nonprofit, the list would go more along these lines:
  • High-level partnerships, including joint fund-raising events, campaigns, etc.
  • New services/offerings and appropriate market info
  • Changes in key member, partner, or channel/audience relationships, including legal/political/regulatory
  • Important legal or accounting issues facing the organization
  • Changes in the staffing plan, volunteer plan, and Board plan including major recruiting efforts or departures that could have a major effect on operations/fundraising
  • Unexpected changes to the financial position of the organization including major gifts
  • Unusual market or competitive notes
  • Status (dated) of major initiatives with progress note
A great source for building an effective nonprofit board (although I recommend their e-newsletter for all) is BoardSource. Visit www.boardsource.org for more info.

Now, Boards and executives, go forth and participate (banging gavel)!

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