The Role of the Board in Setting Strategy

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” —Sun Tsu, Ancient Chinese Military strategist

What’s your organization’s strategy status? Do you have a plan for how you will accomplish goals in the near-term (next 12 months) and long-term (next three years)? If not, what’s keeping you from forming this plan and then executing it? Organization development firm Brighter Strategies is passionate about advancing nonprofit planners. After all, operating an agency without a strategy is like building a house without a blueprint.

To end the year strong, we will dedicate Q4 of 2017 to a blog series on strategy. In October we’ll look at the act of setting strategy as it relates to the Board of Directors. Next month we’ll discuss strategy execution. Finally, in December, we’ll conclude our series with a focus on plan adaptation.

Strategic Planning and Your BOD

When it comes to strategy, a nonprofit’s strongest – and often unused – muscle is its Board of Directors. Think about it: You have access to a group of business savvy community leaders who are volunteering their time to provide oversight for your organization. Put them to work! The BOD is one of your strongest strategy assets.

Board Composition

Because your BOD is vital in helping to shape the strategic vision of your future, it’s important that you are tough when it comes to vetting members. The composition of your Board is a critical factor for strategy success. Consider the following when recruiting your board:

  • Diversity: The group composition should be diverse of gender, race, ethnicity, and age. Such diversity ensures a variety of perspectives and protects the whole from groupthink.
  • Industry: Ensure the board represents at least three separate industries, such as finance, healthcare, and education. Nonprofit boards should also include a member from the public sector, specifically someone well-versed in regulatory and compliance standards.
  • Professional experience: Nonprofit exposure, prior board commitments, and leadership roles are all factors to consider when selecting individuals for your board.
  • Skills: The board should comprise a variety of competencies such as emotional intelligence, analytical thinking, technology savvy, business intelligence, and communication skills.

Board Expectations

According to Brighter Strategies’s resource guide, “Nonprofit Governance: A Guide for Building a Strong Board,” the activities of a Board fall into four major categories, the first of which is “strategic direction.” When interviewing potential Board members, be clear about your strategic planning process, and your intentions for them to actively contribute. Set expectations up front via your Board by-laws, or rulebook. These procedures serve as the manual that will help to guide your BOD through the orderly operation of your organization. Finally, establish a standing committee dedicated to strategy execution, and ensure those members with a combination of strategic planning skills, experience, and interest are sitting on this committee.

In our next blog article we’ll focus on the process a Board should follow for helping a nonprofit to set its strategic direction. Stay tuned!