Earlier this month, we were fortunate to have Barbara McCreedy from ICF International join us for a webinar to share her thoughts about how ECE directors can lead develop and lead an effective board of directors. (Watch the recording here!) Barbara also offered a number of great resources, such as a evaluation checklist for your board that you should check out! Unfortunately, we couldn’t get to all of the questions during the webinar, so Barbara kindly offered to answer the unanswered questions in writing. Here are her responses:
Q. What is the best size for a Board?
A. There is not a one size fits all but I generally say between 9 – 13 board members. You want enough members to avoid “burn out” in getting the job done but not too many that you cannot get through a discussion or must spend a great deal of time on coordination and organization of the Board. Remember not everyone who is doing work for the center needs to be on the Board. They can work on a committee or just carry out a task because of their skills and interests
Q. How can you get members to be on a board when no one seems to want to be?
A. You will have to work hard to make being on the board important and easy. Often the “gossip” is that being on the board is a lot of time, work and burn out. Change that! Make meetings start and end on time, meet regularly but not too often, serve snacks, acknowledge and thank the board. Put up a Bulletin Board with photos and bios make it look impressive to be o n the board, add “Message to the Board” in your newsletter. Add a welcome letter and “About the Board” note in the new enrollment packet. Have teachers work with the Center Director to identify the most likely candidates – cooperative, hard working interested in the center individuals– and have the teacher approach them about this opportunity. Infant parents are often the most eager to get involved and then you have them for a few years!
Q. What about teachers and staff on boards?
A. Attending a Board Meeting is very helpful and informative to the Board but voting is another thing. A teacher or staff member may have vested interest in certain policies, just as parents sometimes do. Attending as a non-voting member is very appropriate.
Q. Do most Center directors have a vote on their boards?
A. No, the Center Director is a critical part of the board sharing expertise and best practices but is generally a non-voting member.
Q. How do you discuss staff benefits with staff on the Board?
A. Staff can be very helpful regarding staff benefits but they must understand they are there to help provide rich discussion but will not be a part of the voting. Staff members must also work to represent all staff voices not just their personal opinion or needs. This can be very tricky when talking about benefits such as child care discounts and tuition. Any staff member who cannot be professional at a board discussion should be counseled not to attend but to submit their concerns or needs in writing for consideration. Some board meeting had the best intentions of information gathering but ended in tears and yelling. Staff surveys or appointing one staff member to collect thoughts and ideas from staff can work as well.
Q. What does MOU stand for?
A. Memorandum of Understanding – generally a document between an agency and the non-profit Board outlining the conditions of working together.
Q. What do you do when you are the director of a program, and there is an executive director above you, and she is the one who goes to the board meetings in which you are not even invited nor included in attending?
A. See how you can become her partner. Ask if you can attend too in order to learn and grow. See if there is some way you can be helpful to the Executive Director ask what tasks can you take on to support the Board work.
Q. We are a long time preschool, always had two teachers and the executive director on the board–voting members. Push back now is to have “executive session time at each monthly board meeting when all staff leaves so other members can speak their mind “freely.” Pretty volatile times here. Any suggestions?
A. Unfortunately this dysfunctional cycle can happen. It is important to work on re-building trust and a working relationship with this board. Don’t take it personally. What would you do with a parent that has lost trust? Reach out to them communicate more, ask how you can help, offer your services without being upset if they don’t take you up on it, give it time, Reach out to the President first, ask to come have coffee before a meeting hold honest professional pre–meetings, be helpful ask how can we work on building our partnership again? Don’t gossip or spend a lot time worrying, With the right amount of attention and professional actions they will rebuild their trust.
Q. We are run by a parent board and have problems with them being too involved in decisions as well as bringing up personal concerns in an unprofessional manner at meetings and I am not sure how to approach them regarding this without offending them.
A. Start by working with the Board President and discuss if you are both seeing the same thing. Then take a look at the Board tools. Is there a job description, new member orientation, or a code of conduct that helps board members to understand that they must make decisions on what is best for “all children”? Is there a clear chain of communication that outlines if a parent has a complaint whom they should go to? The board president is the “gate keeper” for ensuring board business is talked about at the board meeting and parent business goes to the teacher or center director at a separate meeting. You and the Board President may want to practice some phrases to keep things in order such as “That sounds like a parent issue at this time, will you work with our Center director and then let us know if it needs to come to the Board” or “As the Center Director I can help you with that, let’s meet tomorrow.” See my Board Book for some sample tools and forms.
Q. How do you implement these new ideas? Do we need a board retreat to start this healthier process?
A. A board retreat would be fantastic but is often hard to schedule. The important part is to start with an honest evaluation of how well is the Board operating at this time. Use an evaluation tool such as in the Board Book. Then pick 2 -4 priorities in conjunction with the Center Director such as adding a new board member with a marketing background, developing a communication policy, working on staff education benefits, raising funds to repair the playground. Pick the priorities that are the most important for a high quality program and that will make the biggest difference for meeting the mission. Then work on action items, who is responsible and by when each priority will be completed. Report monthly on the activities and progress adjust action items as needed but stay focused on the priorities until complete.
Q. My program is in a rented space. my board is talking about buying a space. I am really anxious about this issue because I really think we cannot afford it. What should I do?
A. This is a very important decision. Make sure you have strong financial and real estate thinkers helping you on this one. You can even bring on a local financial expert (perhaps pro bono) to help analyze your financial situation now and into the future in order to make the best decision. Once you understand the finical obligations and the pros and cons then all parties can make an informed decision.