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Board Retreats that REALLY Work

Many of you are involved with associations, chambers of commerce or other not-for-profit organizations governed by Boards of Directors. As a former nonprofit executive, I find this structure can be awfully hard to work with— the Executive Director is supposed to run the show and the board members are key volunteers, but the Executive Director actually reports to them. Many times the Executive is a professional in the operation of the organization and knows much more about how it should operate, but he or she answers to the Board—sometimes well intentioned community volunteers who have no idea how an association or chamber or non-profit is supposed to operate. Yet they are in charge. This can be frustrating and confusing for all involved. The most recent Executive Director resignation at the NAACP is a great example of how difficult these relationships can be.

What can truly help is bringing in someone from the outside to clarify roles and help the organization move forward. I have recently facilitated several board retreats where this is exactly what happened. Organizations that had gotten away from their missions were refocused and put back on track. How did this happen?

It makes all the difference in the world when you bring in someone from the outside. They have no personal agenda and can ask all the hard questions. It’s very difficult for an Executive Director who serves at the pleasure of the board to tell Board members they have lost sight of the big picture or have conflicts of interest, but an outsider can. And FireStar can do it in a way that motivates the group to achieve excellence. It’s an exciting process and because of the dramatic results I’ve had, I’m adding this to my list of services. This is not designed as a big pep rally—it’s designed for organizations that need to advance to a more professional level or need to clarify their missions. Think of it as hiring a personal trainer for your board. We get results you can’t get alone.

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