Q: I have some board members who tend to micromanage. I see it even when we discuss board training. They ask for training on subjects that I think are more appropriate for staff, such as how to write a management plan. Although I understand that they need to know about the issues impacting our mission, I don’t believe board training should duplicate staff training. Am I wrong? And, if I’m correct, can you provide examples of board trainings or at least descriptions of what board members should be trained in?
Thank you in advance for your insights.
A: I know some who would say you should just be grateful that your board is asking for training! But, you are absolutely right. While there may be some areas of overlap that would make it appropriate, even desirable, to offer the same training to board and staff, that is not usually the case. First, the jobs for which each group is responsible are different. Therefore, the training of each group should reflect the needs of those different jobs. Second, most organizations don’t have the budget or the time to train each entity in areas for which they are not responsible. But third, you hit the nail on the head with your first statement. You would only be opening the door to further micromanagement if you train the board in such staff-related subject areas as you note here.
I believe the board requires training in each of three areas: mission, as you identified above; community; and, governance. “Mission” might include the history of your organization, the issues most relevant to what you do, client stories, statistics around such things as the numbers served, the impact your organization has made and the jargon and acronyms you use. Training in the area of “community” might cover changing demographics, the economy, changes in volunteerism and/or giving or the opportunity to meet key legislators. “Governance” training should better prepare board members to do their jobs. Such training might include tips for soliciting gifts, how to craft an elevator pitch, the latest proven practices, or how to read a financial statement. In your case, governance training might entail reviewing what governance is and isn’t, so as to move the group away from micromanagement.
The amount of time spent on the training in each area and the specific focus of that training would vary depending on your organization and board goals for the year. For instance, if one of your main goals was to get key legislation around land conservation changed, you would probably want to provide information including statistics and examples on the current status of land conservation and the benefits of the desired state, the parameters within which a 501(c)3 organization can lobby and techniques for successfully lobbying legislators. Whereas, you might want to wait until next year to spend training time on how to read a financial statement, as important as that might be. In the same vein, the training might be minimal initially, but get more intense as the issue draws closer to resolution in the legislature.
You can offer your own training. Peer to peer training is always a good way to go because board members are more likely to listen to their colleagues, it provides those doing the training with the opportunity to take on an interesting challenge and people tend to learn best what they have to teach to others. But, you can always use staff, where appropriate, or bring in a community leader or subject expert. You can use such techniques as games, tours, reality practice and videos to impart the information in a more interesting and interactive manner.
But, you can also take advantage of the plethora of offerings available today either on the web (i.e., webinars, teleseminars) or through your United Way, Community Foundation or local college. An Internet search will provide you with not only good options, but also ideas for designing your own trainings.
While I always suggest some board training at every meeting, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It can be as simple as putting a new statistic on the back of everyone’s name plate at board meetings. At the other end of the spectrum, it could involve a several day trip to Washington DC to see the legislative process in action and learn how to effectively lobby within the parameters of your tax-exempt status.
A well-conceived board education plan will go far in helping your board make the best decisions possible for your organization and the community it serves. If you have a board development or governance committee, creating the plan would be an appropriate task for that committee. If your biggest micromanagers are on that committee, perhaps you can work with the board chair to identify a few independent board members – maybe even past board members – who “get it” and would be willing to take on this project.