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The Ultimate Board Member's Book

The Ultimate Board Member's Book

Kay Sprinkel Grace

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The Ultimate Board Member’s Book
A 1-Hour Guide to Understanding and Fulfilling Your Role and Responsibilities

by Kay Sprinkel Grace, 114 pp.

The most enviable boards – those who govern well AND shoulder the responsibility for raising money – know one thing others don’t. They’ve absorbed what is the essence of Kay Sprinkel Grace’s book, The Ultimate Board Member’s Book.

For these board members, there’s zero guesswork about their role and responsibilities. It’s all as clear as gin. You know the feeling when you’re watching a good mystery and suddenly you get it – everything comes together? Well, that’s the effect Ultimate has on board members.

It’s a comfort book, a satisfying 60-minute read that clarifies exactly what’s expected of each board member from Day One. As such, it chases anxiety from the room.

About the Author

Kay Sprinkel Grace is a skilled professional and articulate trend spotter in the nonprofit sector and a seasoned volunteer. Based in San Francisco, she is widely sought as a speaker across the globe. Her recent focus is on the swiftly changing face and fabric of philanthropy.

Kay’s consulting clients span the nonprofit sector: public media, arts, culture, education, health, social services and the environment. Author of seven books on fundraising and boards, and speaker at recent professional gatherings in Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Australia and Canada as well as the United States, she has gathered insights and exchanged ideas with a wide array of leaders.

Kay has received Stanford University’s highest award for volunteer leadership service, The Gold Spike, and was recognized with the Pink Carnation Award from Gamma Phi Beta. In 2013 she received the Henry A. Rosso Award for Lifetime Achievement in Ethical Fundraising from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Table of Contents

I • Noble Service

  1. America’s Nonprofit Sector
  2. Your Unique Role
  3. Why You Were Recruited
  4. What the Job Entails
  5. The Time Commitment
  6. Deriving Satisfaction from Your Service
  7. Honoring Your Position

II • Holding in Trust

  1. The Mission of Your Organization
  2. Championing the Values
  3. Your Legal Responsibilities
  4. The Right to Be Informed
  5. Conflicts of Interest

III • How Boards Work

  1. Qualities of an Effective Board
  2. Decision Making
  3. The Board and Planning
  4. Collective Wisdom, Individual Initiative
  5. Committees and Task Forces
  6. Working with Other Volunteers
  7. Developing Yourself as a Board Member
  8. Subverting Mediocrity

IV • Meetings

  1. The Purpose of Board Meetings
  2. Attendance Required
  3. Your Responsibility After Meetings
  4. Bored or Board: It’s Up to You
  5. Regional and National Meetings

V • Development and Fundraising

  1. Investment, Not Obligation
  2. Philanthropy, Development, and Fundraising
  3. Whose Responsibility to Raise Money?
  4. Your Role in Raising Funds
  5. Serving as Steward

VI • Working with Staff

  1. Role of the CEO
  2. Relating to the CEO
  3. Assessing the CEO
  4. Working with Other Staff
  5. Resisting the Urge to Micromanage

VII • Recruiting and Retaining

  1. Recruiting an Effective Board
  2. The Most Important Committee
  3. Evaluating Your Own Effectiveness
  4. De-enlisting Board Members
  5. Yearly Meetings with Individual Members
  6. When It’s Time to Resign


This article is excerpted from Kay Sprinkel Grace's book, The Ultimate Board Member's Book, ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, please call 508-359-0019 or email us.

Relating to the CEO

Your relationship with the Executive Director depends on many variables: individual personalities, traditions within your organization, what the organization is trying to achieve, and, not the least important, your expectations.

Joe Batten, author of Tough Minded Leadership, tells us something most of us know: we constantly judge people based on our expectations of them. The problem is, often we don’t bother to convey our expectations. We say things like, “I was really disappointed in your presentation – I expected a lot more emphasis on our programs.” Of course, we never told the person what we expected.
It’s the same with the balance of power between board and staff.

Find out directly what the CEO would like in his relationship with the board. In fact, have an annual session that outlines expectations. This can be eye-opening, and often it sets a tone of openness which lasts through the year.

In addition to clarifying expectations, create an environment for candor. If the CEO feels he can’t bring troubling news or failures to the board, he’ll stop being transparent. This can lead to unpleasant surprises.

Beyond this – and on the more personal side — keep an appropriate and professional distance from the CEO.

The reason is simple. As a board member, you may be one of those designated to evaluate the CEO. You can’t let your personal relationship – whether positive or negative — get in the way of an objective evaluation.

Assessing the CEO

The evaluation of the CEO is in many ways the board’s most important function. And yet it’s often neglected. It becomes a point of contention rather than a time for constructive personal and professional goal-setting.

When you join a board, ask about the evaluation policy and practice for the CEO.

  • Who does the evaluation and how often?
  • Does it simultaneously include a salary review or is that a separate process?
  • Does the full board see the review before it becomes part of the record?
  • Are there opportunities for written or verbal feedback by the full board?
  • Does the CEO have the chance to respond in writing to his evaluation?
  • On what is the evaluation based? Does the board as a whole see the CEO’s yearly objectives or does the Executive Committee review the objectives and conduct the evaluation?
  • What standardized method (or unique process) is used?
  • Has the board ever sought legal counsel to ensure a proper procedure?
  • Are there interim evaluations, or is the entire year brought into focus in one session?

Each year, determine with the board and the CEO what performance objectives will be used and how the evaluation will be conducted.

While no one wants to think about firing someone or having to take legal action, it can happen. Writing to the file, having interim evaluations if performance is lagging, and seeking legal or personnel advice about problematic situations are all practices of exemplary boards.

Most importantly, be objective, be fair, but be firm.

Working with Other Staff

As a board member, it’s important to stay connected to the organization’s program. It is the heartbeat, the raison d’etre, the passion point that presumably drew you in the first place.

Programs are the source of inspiration, and their impact on the community is what allows you to successfully ask for money, enlist new board members, and raise visibility for the organization.
It’s only natural, then, to want to have relationships with one or more staff people involved in the programs that interest you the most. But you want to keep in mind two essential points.

The first is that the people who run the programs, do the finances or marketing or fund raising, are paid employees who report either indirectly or directly to the CEO. You are not their boss.

One of the biggest causes of burnout in nonprofits is staff people feeling that they have “too many bosses” – their own supervisor and several (or all) board members. They feel torn by requests and often get caught in the middle.

The second point is related. If staff people with whom you’re working start confiding in you about the inner operations of the organization, particularly matters regarding the CEO, you must handle it carefully, openly, and in a non-conspiratorial fashion.

In some organizations CEOs forbid board members to contact program and administrative staff directly.

Know the boundaries and respect them.