When I served as an instructor in the Certified Association Executive ( CAE®) Program, I was often advised by Chief Staff Officers (Executive Directors, CEOs) that their Boards kept piling on the work. In other words, they had unrealistic expectations of the CSO and the entire staff team. Some indicated they (and many members of their staff team) were already working well over a 40-hour week, but that the Board seemed oblivious to that circumstance.
Interestingly enough, when I asked those same CSOs if they had raised the issue of the workload with their Board, their answer was often, "Well… not in so many words".
Can we expect Boards to be mind-readers? I do not think so! I know it is difficult to tell your employer (the Board) that their expectations are too great. Not doing so, however, is the same thing as agreeing to do what they add to your plate. If you keep responding in this way, you and members of your staff team are going to be stressed to the max. Eventually, things will start to fall through the cracks.
And what do members and Board members remember?
The failures, of course, not your successes. When those things start falling through the cracks, you might be a recipient of one of those dreaded pink slips.
How to Alert the Board About Your Workload
Your best approach when your workload expectations are unrealistic is to raise the issue with the Board.
Bring facts to the table.
Do your homework.
Benchmark your staff levels with similar organizations.
But raise the matter with the Board. And when you do, remind the Board that trying to be all things to all people will only result in failure. Trust me, I have yet to come across a not-for-profit organization that has the fiscal and human resources it needs to do everything it would like to. The solution lies in the leadership team determining together what is of topmost priority and allocating resources in accord with those priorities.
Find the Solution that Fits Your Organization
The best associations do not reinvent the work of others. They identify what they can do better than anyone that will have a huge benefit to the members and/or stakeholders, and they hit those balls right out of the park. That is the best way to keep stakeholders enthusiastic about their organization. The well-being of your association may well be tied to your ability to help your Board see the light! And your career just might benefit, too!
If you want to learn more about what Sandi has to say about relations with not-for-profit boards, you should have a look at the book, Guide to Positive Staff-Board Relations for Directors of Non-Profit Organizations - 4th Edition by Sandi L. Humphrey, CAE and Donald G. Evans
Effective Staff / Board Relations Engagement
You can also see Sandi speak in person at her Effective Board / Staff Relations engagement on behalf of CSAE Nova Scotia on May 24, 2017.