Setting Strategic Direction

This is the second in a series of articles we are writing about the specific roles and responsibilities for the board of directors of nonprofit organizations. Last month we wrote about advocacy, this month we are focusing on strategic planning.


While we are concentrating on nonprofits in this series, it doesn’t matter whether you operate in the private, public, or nonprofit sector, strategic planning can help you determine how to take your organization from where it is now to where you want it be in the future. A strategic plan defines the direction of an organization by identifying priorities and allocating resources.


The board is responsible for establishing the organization’s mission, vision and strategic direction in conjunction with the executive director. The mission statement describes the organization’s purpose and is the foundation for how the organization operates and plans for the future. It should be reviewed by the board periodically to ensure it still represents the purpose of the organization. It may be modified by the board if there is a change in purpose or scope of the organization. Boards need to be careful that the organization doesn’t experience mission creep where projects and programs are added that seem like a good thing at the time but really aren’t in the mission of the organization.


A vision statement outlines what the organization aspires to achieve. It is a guiding image of success and should be inspirational as well as realistic. It is important that the board, executive director and staff are all in agreement on the vision for the organization. It is advisable to assess your current situation by analyzing your internal strengths and weaknesses as well as your external opportunities and threats, often referred to as a SWOT analysis. This information, along with your vision statement, serves as a basis for determining your core strategies.


There should be no more than five core strategies that serve as the framework for your strategic plan. The plan is your roadmap to take you from where you are now to where you want to be in three or so years. Once strategies are identified, develop goals that support each strategy. Goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. From these goals, a one-year operating plan is developed that outlines the specific steps that need to be completed in order to achieve each goal.


While the board is responsible for establishing the mission, vision and strategic direction, their level involvement in putting the plan together varies according to size of the organization and how long the organization has been in existence. Some boards are just governance boards and some need to take a more operational role.


To help increase board effectiveness once the plan is developed: ensure board agendas match strategic issues and priorities, monitor the annual operating plan on a quarterly or monthly basis to ensure progress is being made, make adjustments as needed, update the strategic plan and develop a new operational plan annually.   Don’t forget to celebrate when you achieve your goals!

Wyoming Nonprofits and Boards 201: Tell Me About Your Passion

Last month’s Angle provided a Wyoming nonprofit sector overview and a promise of diving deeper into charitable nonprofit governance. Let’s talk about board members and passion this month.

Here at Align, we spend a great deal of time talking about the knowledge, skills and abilities that people need to serve on a board. This includes responsibilities such as thinking strategically about the organization and understanding and monitoring the finances. However, what we sometimes fail to remember is that most people serve on boards because of the passion they have for the organization and its cause. That passion is just as important a tool as any other tool that a board member might bring with them.

Using the passion you have to be an advocate for your organization is crucial. Advocacy is one of the key roles that Align has identified as necessary for a board member to fulfill while serving an organization. However, advocacy is frequently the responsibility that gets the least attention or where we focus the least amount of time. Maybe that is because we believe that if a board member has enough passion to be on the board, they are already advocating? Or perhaps we confuse advocacy with lobbying? Ultimately, it is the board’s role to be organizational promoters and community connection-makers.

This type of advocacy can be done in any number of way, but should typically accomplish the following things:

* Be able to clearly articulate the organization’s purpose and importance to the community.

* Influence the broader political and economic environment in which the organization operates. *Note – this does not mean lobbying, but being aware of the political environment and helping educate those that need to know more.

* Promote understanding of the organization’s direction and operations to the public.

* Seek out opportunities to talk about the organization’s mission and services.

When asked, many of the board members that we work with indicate that they have not talked about the organization outside of board meetings or immediate organizational activities. Align encourages boards to develop a plan for helping members fully understand the mission of the organization and share that mission with the community. Ideas for engaging board members in advocacy efforts include:

* Create “business cards” that state the mission and core functions of the organization for board members to distribute.

* Work with board members to schedule speaking engagements at civic organizations and other organizations with which they are involved.

* Ask board members to think of one or two people that they think need to know more about what the organization does and schedule coffee just to chat (not asking for money or time, just chatting).

* Leverage connections, both personal and electronic (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), that board members have in the community to build the organization’s own network.

When was the last time you shared your passion for the organizations that you serve?

Wyoming Nonprofits and Boards 101

Nonprofits across Wyoming help individuals and families daily. They protect, feed, heal, shelter, educate, and nurture our bodies and spirits while investing significant financial and human resources in our communities. The Wyoming Nonprofit Network produced the Wyoming Nonprofit Sector Report in 2016, which provided a look at the breadth and scope of Wyoming’s nonprofit sector.

Did you know there are approximately 3,000 public charities in Wyoming? The Internal Revenue Service designates public charities as 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. In order to be granted “public charity” status by the IRS, an organization must benefit the broad public interest.

The majority of Wyoming nonprofits are small, 79% with budgets less than $100,000. However, Wyoming nonprofits expenditures still total over $1 billion dollars annually. Salaries and program activities account for the vast majority of these expenditures.

So, who is in charge of a charitable nonprofit? Each nonprofit is governed by a volunteer board of directors whose responsibility is to ensure the structure, programs and resources are in place to hold the organization accountable to its mission and the public it serves. The board is the legal embodiment of the organization. What does this mean for board and staff members? Over the course of the next several months we will answer that question by outlining the specific roles and responsibilities of the board of directors as well as how the Executive Director/CEO role relates to the board’s role.

If you would like to read the Wyoming Nonprofit Sector Report, go to

If you were to start over today, would you continue with the status quo?

If you were to start over today, would you continue with the status quo?

If you were to start over today would you choose the same management structure for your organization that you currently have? If your answer is no, are you willing to make significant changes? If you truly aren’t willing to move much beyond the status quo, then this article isn’t for you. However, if you are willing to make big changes, and really take a hard look at how you are structured, then read on.

Reorganization is a common occurrence in many organizations as the goals and personnel of the organization change. They might rearrange a position here and there or shuffle a few responsibilities from one area to the other, and that generally works fine. However, occasionally, it will be useful to dig a bit further into how the organization operates and analyze if there are major changes that need to be made to keep up with our ever-changing world.

“I don’t want to use the word ‘reorganization’.
Reorganization to me is shuffling boxes, moving boxes
around. Transformation means that you’re fundamentally changing the way the organization thinks, the way it
responds, the way it leads. It’s a lot more than just
playing with boxes.”

~Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM

Transforming your organization requires more than just taking the time to set a few goals for the upcoming year and then allocating people and assets to accomplish those goals. Transformation necessitates that an organization find time to step outside of the current reality and look at other possibilities and be willing to implement those possibilities if that is the right thing to do.

When might you undertake a potentially transformational look at your organization? There are a few key circumstances that might trigger a transformational planning process. Turnover at the very senior positions of the organization, major changes in industry standards or requirements, dramatic changes in need for your product or service, or new product lines or services are all valid reasons for taking a hard look. Additionally, maybe it’s just been awhile since you examined why you are doing business they way you are doing it.

The first step in the process is building buy-in from those who have control over the operations or governance of the organization. If there is not support at these levels for potential change, you are not going to get very far. The second step is to assure that everyone is on the same page with what the overall goals and mission of the organization are. What is the organization ultimately trying to accomplish and what are they unwilling to compromise to get there? Once those pieces are in place, it is time to look hard at what changes to structure, thinking, and operations need to happen for you to best meet the purpose and goals of the organization. Don’t start from status quo. Really look at the best way to do it and then figure out how you can get there, or at least get close, within the confines that you have.

For instance, we recently worked with a client that had a new CEO. The current organization had operated under the same structure for many years based on the assumption that it could not be changed due to a variety of rules and restrictions that they did not have much control over. There had been constant conflict and service issues that the new CEO was ready to tackle. After some time working with the senior managers to make sure they were all on the same page with the goals of the organization, the team sat down for two full days and worked through a series of possible new structures that would meet organizational goals and could be done within the confines of the current rules and regulations. The product was a streamlined customer experience and a new way of doing business.

Recently, Align had the opportunity to assess our organization and how we want to operate. Over the years, we have continued to grow our consulting and program management services under a traditional top-down structure that was in place when we opened. When our COO retired, and in anticipation of our CEO retiring, it was time to examine more closely what the best structure was for meeting the needs of our clients and employees.

A few years ago, we reorganized into a structure where people directly reported to one person, but took direction from the full management team. As we began the process of looking at how we would operate after the retirement of long-standing leaders, we realized we had organically begun to operate more like a partnership structure. Thus, we put together a structure where the operations would be overseen by a managing director (we are a non-profit corporation) while strategy and leadership of the organization would be overseen by the full management team. This creates a need for more communication and coordination to keep us all moving in the same direction, but it allows all of us to work together better on our clients and provide the very best service possible.

Transformation is a scary thing, but if done correctly, can provide organizations with the opportunity they need to continue to build and grow their organization to meet the needs of their customers and community.

Being a Manager – Easier Said Than Done

We all want to be liked and respected; however, as a manager that is sometimes easier said than done. The goal is to be to be respected, but being liked does not always come with the territory; and that is ok. As they say, “you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.”

As managers we are accountable to someone else in the organization, or to external stakeholders, for being sure the mission and business objectives are fulfilled. Sometimes that accountability goes counter to the desires of our employees and we have to say “no” or give direction that employees won’t like. Be genial; try not to bark orders; be approachable. But ultimately the work needs to get done effectively and efficiently and it is your responsibility for making sure everyone is on board.

If you oversee a manager that struggles to set clear expectations and then follow-up appropriately because they are afraid of being disliked, it may be time for some coaching. Start by making sure that they understand what the performance expectations are for them and their team and what their role is as a manger. New managers, in particular, frequently struggle to understand the difference between getting the work done themselves and working through others to get the work done effectively. Help them see the impacts that being too accommodating can have. Not only can it have an impact on getting the work done, it can have substantial impacts on the team environment. Other employees know when one employee is not effective and will grow to resent the situation, and the manager, if the issue is not dealt with. Then the manager has an even bigger issue.

The next step is to help them find ways of effectively communicating clear expectations and feedback to their team. This includes both positive and negative feedback. Finally, help the manager understand that poor performance by an employee can negatively impact their own outcomes and work as well, thus causing potential negative impacts to their own job. Demonstrate for them how to effectively communicate, be respectful and still hold people accountable.

We frequently find that new managers or managers who still have significant production responsibility, struggle with the management role of setting expectations, giving proper feedback and confronting issues up to and including termination if necessary. They frequently know something is wrong, but may not be willing to or know how to have the necessary conversations. Sometimes getting them headed in the right direction is as simple as setting expectations for them. It might mean a conversation where you point out that continued negative performance within their team may mean a negative review for them and then coaching on how to fix it.

Ultimately the manager needs to be held accountable for the outcomes of their team. Helping them gain the communication and management skills they need to do so, is up to you.

Overtime and Exempt Status Change Delayed


Many of you are already aware that in May of 2016 the Department of Labor issued a final rule with significant changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA’s) overtime rules. The new rules were set to take effect on December 1st of this year and many of you have been working diligently to make sure you are in compliance with these rules which would have approximately doubled the salary threshold for exempt employees.

In late November, a federal judge in Texas stepped in and put a halt to the implementation of the new rule by issuing a preliminary injunction. This stems from an emergency motion for preliminary injunction that was filed by 21 states which claimed that the DOL had exceeded its authority by raising the salary threshold too high and by providing automatic adjustments.

This basically means that everything will remain status quo while the court determines if the department really had the authority to make the rule and if the rule is valid.


So what changes for us?

1. While the court works to determine the validity of the rule, employers do not need to make any changes to their payroll structure by the December 1st deadline. There is still a possibility that the courts will allow the rule to move forward, but many things could evolve between now and then. We suggest that you be prepared to implement changes should the change go through, and keep in touch with Align to see how things might be amended with a new administration and the courts.

2. If you have already made changes, you may feel like you need to change back immediately. We suggest holding off for now and leaving your modifications in place. We understand that you may have raised salaries or started paying overtime and may want to revert back to your previous pay practices. However, frequent internal changes to pay policy is going to cause significant morale issues in the workplace and we do not know yet how this will end up. We suggest hanging tight and seeing how things turn out.

3. Continue to follow the changes. It looks like things are going to be interesting for a while, so you will want to stay abreast of what is happening. Here at Align, we will continue to monitor the changes closely and keep you up to date. If you have any questions, we are here to help; feel free to get in touch.

Align Leadership Transition

In April of 2017, Phil Van Horn, President and CEO, will be retiring from the Align Team. As Van Horn transitions out, the Align board and management team will be transitioning to a new leadership structure that will use the existing talents of its leadership team to serve its clients. Within this structure, Kathy Cathcart has been asked to serve as the first President and Managing Director, to oversee the day to day operations of the organization and to work closely with Vice Presidents Jody Shields, Bill Benskin and Brittany Ashby to move the organization into the next phase of its development.

In making the announcement, James “Murph” Murphy, President of the Align Board of Directors, said, “We are delighted to work with Ms. Cathcart and the leadership team as they continue to grow the company and bring Align’s outstanding services to more people across the state and region. The Align leadership team is a group of highly competent leaders who each bring strong talents and a wide breadth of experience to the table. The Board is incredibly grateful to Mr. Van Horn for his years of service, during which time he played a significant role in the development and successes of Align.”

Cathcart stated, “The entire leadership team, including our Board, agrees that a change to our management structure will better suit our organization. The Managing Partner vs CEO structure will allow our leadership team to focus more as a group on the services we are providing.” Ms. Cathcart went on to say, “The current plan is for me to serve in the President and Managing Director position for three years and then one of my colleagues will take on that role. I’m very humbled and honored to be named to the position. I’m invigorated knowing that the change, and then rotation, will preserve the stability, continuity and continued growth of Align.”

Align is a nonprofit organization specializing in planning, consulting, training and program management for a wide variety of businesses across all sectors and in multiple industries. Based in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the firm works with clients throughout Wyoming, in western Nebraska and down the Front Range of Colorado.

Overtime and Exempt Status Change Starts December 1

Come December 1, any employee earning less than $913/week – or $47,476/year – must not be considered exempt from receiving overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in any given week. Said the other way around, unless an employee makes at least $47,476/year, s/he is not exempt from overtime rules. Period. Bear in mind that even if an employee earns the minimum amount to be considered for exempt status, there are other tests related to the duties of the job. Just earning at least $47,476/year does not automatically make the employee exempt from overtime rules.

The change to the salary test went into effect on May 23, 2016. Check out 29 CFR, Part 541, which you can find online. It’s 162 pages. The executive summary – the “why” of the change – is fascinating. While strong business and human resources lobbies worked hard to prevent this dramatic increase, and hopes to yet get it changed, it’s imperative that your business plans immediately begin to assume this is the new law of the land.

While there are two other “tests” for exempt status, until the employee’s pay is equal to or greater than the new minimum (thus passing the salary level test), the other tests do not matter.

There are some positions that are exempt from following the rule – certain IT personnel (but not all); outside sales employees; teachers and practicing doctors and lawyers.

It’s also possible to include some bonus and incentive pay to create a salary of at least the minimum amount; however, this exception doesn’t apply to all bonuses and incentives; nor may an employer consider benefits when calculating the minimum salary.
The unintended consequences create a longer list than we have space for here; but we can tell you what we think the choices boil down to for each and every employer in the U.S.:
1. Make your currently-exempt employees non-exempt and have them start “punching the clock” (probably a computer keystroke). Of course, that means you’ll have to watch those “little extras” that you have historically asked them to do – and probably that they enjoy doing. But if your key and largely autonomous personnel aren’t making the new minimum and you can’t afford to give them all pay increases, this is the affordable option. Get ready to manage a workplace where employees may resent time keeping; and where you may need to do more tasks yourself in order to avoid paying overtime that you can’t afford.
With this option, there are additional considerations.
If you choose this option you may want to budget for some overtime pay for these formerly-exempt employees. Thus, you aren’t paying the full increase to get them to the required exempt pay level, but they will end up earning extra income because you will be paying overtime rates for work that can’t be completed in a 40-hour work week.
You might also decide to add some staff – at least part time – if that costs less than paying overtime to non-exempt employees.
You could research and decide to use a “hybrid” pay category in which employees are non-exempt but are salaried – that is, they earn the same pay each week regardless of the number of hours worked up to 40. After 40 hours are worked in any given week, the employee must be paid overtime. When converting employees from exempt to non-exempt, this option can provide the flexibility the employees are used to, thus taking some of the sting out of the transition.
2. Give them all the increase to meet the new minimum for exemption from overtime. We suggest this means that employees already making that new minimum should also get a salary increase so that they are receiving comparatively the same difference from the exempt employees that have to be given raises to meet the minimum – but that certainly isn’t a requirement. If you choose this route, get ready to scrutinize your budget to see what you can do without so that you can afford higher pay.
In order to determine what works best for you, there are spreadsheets and long talks in your future. Don’t just jump to a conclusion without doing some calculations, including determining how many more than 40 hours each week your exempt employees work on average. Also consider the culture of your business and the impact to it if you want or need to make currently-exempt employees non-exempt. This will be an exercise in change management, no matter what choices you make.
Much has been discussed about whether nonprofits are exempt from the new rule. The possibilities for claiming exemption haven’t changed from the current rules, under which it is difficult to establish that either the nonprofit itself is exempt or that each employee of the nonprofit is exempt. The primary downfall for most nonprofits is the practice of interstate commerce, which has been broadly defined as using the US mail service, processing payments of any type that originate outside your state of business, and even using the internet for routine business, such as buying supplies. If you’re serving on the board of a nonprofit, or you are an executive director, you must take responsibility for learning more and determining the impact to your budget, your workforce and/or your workflow.
One more piece of news: as it’s published, the new rule mandates an increase in this minimum every three years. So keep an eye on this rule from now on. If you don’t, it could sneak up on you, and again cause a major business disruption.

Time to Step Aside

Leaders in every organization must grapple with their eventual departure. And common to most organizations are the challenges presented when top leaders just aren’t ready to step aside, even when they know the next generation of leadership is eager to take the reins.

“I want to stay busy,” they tell us. “I still have ideas I want to try out here.” “I’m not sure the next generation is really ready yet. Let me work with them just a bit longer.”

Here’s what we ask senior leaders that have reached age 60 to think about: What age were you when you got to take on a senior role in your organization? And how old are the members of your junior leadership group? If they are as old as or older than you were when you got the big break, how long do you think they’ll stand in line waiting for you to be ready? And honestly, do you think you’ll ever really be ready to give up what you love doing? If you work until you keel over at your desk, what will the future look like for this organization you’ve poured your brains and energy into for umpteen years?

Boomer, get tough with yourself. Quietly, to yourself or with your life partner, pick a date a ways in the future – at least a year – and begin to think about what you would do if you were retired as of that date. Look around the workplace and ask yourself what you would miss; and whether you could get that from another source. The “theys” that know these things say that in retirement, people want to continue to feel life has meaning – that there’s a purpose for getting up each morning; activities that energize them; companionship; and an overall sense of identity after they are no longer an employee or an officer or a partner at the firm. So during this “pretend like you’re retiring” time, think about how you’ll fill the gaps left when you leave the workplace you’re currently in.

Just like graduating from high school or college, all possibilities are open to retirees. You can work somewhere else; work part-time or part-year; start your own business; spend more hours volunteering; travel; read books you’ve put off; build a car; or sit on the patio with your feet up if you want to.

Once you mentally try on retirement, and you realize it won’t be all bad, then set a date “for real” and say it out loud to your board, your boss, your colleagues and your family. We’ve invested so much of who we are in what we do that there will surely be a grieving process. That’s going to be true no matter when you retire or how happy you are to do so. You’ve got to go through it sometime. Maybe you should do it now, before that bright talent you’ve been grooming gets bored (or frustrated) and moves on.

If you found a copy of this article on your desk, left there anonymously, don’t be offended. It doesn’t mean they don’t respect and admire you. It just means they want their turn.

The Challenges of Being a Board Member and a Parent

As dedicated stewards of our community, Align consultants not only work with a variety of boards of directors, we also serve on many boards ourselves. Through this experience we have encountered occasions where members of governing boards brings their own agendas with them and have a hard time really focusing on the good of the overall organization. There is one situation where this seems to be a larger issue and can really be among the most difficult boards with which to work. These are boards comprised of mostly parents of the organization’s focus customer; including nonprofit childcare centers, private schools, school boards in charter schools or small school districts (generally it is more difficult to only focus on your own kids in large districts), or nonprofit organizations such as boys and girls clubs that have not diversified their boards.

We all know that as parents the most important role we play is raising and advocating for our children. So, when our children participate in schools or programs, it seems natural for some of us to step up and serve on the governance board for the organization. We do so with the expectation that we will help improve the environment for the kids. What we tend to forget is that sometimes fulfilling our governance role can contradict what is best for our individual child and it can be very very hard for a parent to step back and say “yep, this is what we need to do even though it may not be what is in my own best interest.”

It can also be very difficult for parents to differentiate between the roles they play in the school. In Align’s training and development of other nonprofit and public boards, we often talk about board members wearing two hats: board member and volunteer. We help them look at how these are different roles and have different expectations depending on which hat they wear at the moment. Add yet a third role to the mix: the role of parent, and now the board member must think about when she is advocating for her child, serving in a governance role, or volunteering on an operational committee.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

1. You are a parent serving on a local nonprofit childcare board. You are in the center every day and have a great relationship with your child’s teacher as well as some of the other teachers in the building. One day your child’s teacher approaches you and says she wants to talk to you as a board member because she is very upset about the behavior of another teacher. Her complaints are primarily based on how she interacts with co-workers, but are not immediate safety or legal concerns. She has talked to the executive director, but is not satisfied with the response. What can you do?

2. You serve on the governing board of a public charter school that your children also attend. The board has been having discussion about reorganizing the organizational structure. However, the reorganization will put your child in a classroom that you do not think is a good fit for him, but will likely be beneficial overall. What can you do?

3. You serve on the school board in small, rural school district. You have a disagreement with your child’s teacher about how she chooses to run her classroom. Is it appropriate to bring this issue directly to the school board? Click here to find out.

4. You serve on a nonprofit preschool board where your child attends school. You don’t like the new extracurricular program that the executive director has added to the programming at the school. What can you do as a board member?

5. You serve on the board of a local afterschool program where your child attends. Last week your child was disciplined which, per the operational rules of the program, caused him to lose the ability to participate in a fun new program. You want to see the rules changed. Can you bring them up at the board meeting?

6. In addition to serving on the board, you also serve on the teacher appreciation committee for the school. The committee is looking at ideas for celebrating “Teacher Appreciation Week” and did not choose the direction you would like to head. Can you use your position on the board to bring it back in line with the direction you would like to see it go? Click here to find out.

Let’s take a look at each of these.

1. This is a tricky situation to navigate as you don’t want cause problems in your relationship with your child’s teacher. However, as a governing board member it is not appropriate for you to take the concern directly to the board. As a governing board, you collectively hire the executive director who is then responsible for hiring and overseeing the rest of the staff and operations. Thus, if one teacher has a concern with another teacher, it is really the executive director’s responsibility to deal with the issue. Most of us have been in situations where co-workers just don’t get along and those situations are not the province of the board of directors. When individual board members attend to staff concerns without using the appropriate procedures they undermine the ability of the executive director to do his or her job and cause huge organizational issues that we have seen lead to organizational failure on more than one occasion. If approached by a staff member, the board member needs to let them know that they appreciate their concern, but they really need to use the appropriate grievance process.

Read question 2

2. As a governing board, you are the recognized legal entity for the organization. Thus, you have a legal duty to set policy for the benefit of the whole organization. As a board member, you can express overall concerns, but if the board as a whole (in accordance with the by-laws or other governing documents), decides to move forward, it is your obligation as a board member to support that decision. If you cannot support the decision, then you have a right to step-off or move to a new organization. What is absolutely wrong is for you as a board member to stay on the board and undermine the decisions that were made. When a board does not move forward as a unified team, it can cause a fracture in the organization that we have also seen lead to the end of an organization.

Read question 3

3. Again, the executive director has ultimate responsibility for the day to day operations of the school. While this issue is important to you and your child, it probably does not rise to the level of a governance concern. You can directly raise the issue as a parent with the executive director, but cannot use your position as a board member to force or intimidate the executive director into doing what you want her to do. The executive director has the ability to make teacher hiring, firing and management decisions based on the overall mission and policy of the organization. As long as that is happening, it is not a governance issue. If there is concern about how the executive director communicates with you as a parent or her approach, that can be given as feedback as part of the overall evaluation process, but just because you don’t like the decision and you are on the board, does not mean you have a right to know all the detail of how the situation is handled or to dictate how the school is run day to day.

Read question 4

4. In most effective organizations, programming and operations of the organizations ought to be set by management and staff. As long as it fits within the mission, budget and policies of the organization, the executive director should be able to manage the day to day operations of the school. The board has the ability to evaluate the executive director; however, evaluations should be based on pre-set goals and outcomes that the board has discussed with the executive director ahead of time. Just because you would not do it that way and serve on the board, does not mean you get to have a say in all the day to day operations and procedure. Stick to Mission and Policy.

Read question 5

5. Rules around who can and cannot participate in specific daily programs likely do not rise to the level of a governance decision. The board may review and approve high level discipline policies, but the day to day consequences of discipline are likely part of the operational procedures that are the domain of the management and staff. However, if this is part of a high level policy that is approved by the board, you are welcome to bring it forward for review, but there should be a broader reason for the review. Does it discriminate based on a protected class? Is there a broader mission based reason to change it? Remember, just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean it isn’t correct.

Read question 6

6. Finally, let’s talk about the different roles that a board member might play within the organizational structure. As a governing board member, you have six roles: hiring and evaluating the executive director, assuring financial stability, setting high level policy, advocating for the organization, board development and assuring legal compliance. Thus, many boards have board level committees such as finance or policy review. However, many boards also have operational committees that are ultimately the responsibility of staff or volunteers that are not at a board level. Board members may serve on them, but they don’t act as board members at this point. They are just volunteers and thus have the same authority as other committee members at that point. Individual board members do not have the right to dictate committee work or assert their authority in the group, unless the full board has given the committee direction based on one of their key responsibilities.

Ultimately, having a board primarily made up of parents of customers is a very challenging situation for everyone involved. However, it is workable with a bit of planning. If you serve on a board or manage a board made up of parents you need to make sure to have regular and ongoing board training that helps them understand what the role of the governing board is and is not. The board also needs to have ongoing conversations about how they do and do not interact with staff and other parents. You might also consider adding outside board members to the team. Having perspectives from past parents, community members or donors can help bring a much needed balance to the board that is difficult to achieve when it is all parents. Going from all parents to a mix can be a challenge, but it can be done with a little thought and effort. Ultimately, parents want what is best for both their child and the organization. It just requires a little more effort to balance the two.