New research from Pete York and the TCC Group shows that peer-to-peer executive director coaching and support is one of the most effective means of capacity building.
This is no surprise. Groups from CompassPoint and the Gap Inc Foundation have been experimenting with this model for years and seeing powerful results.
When I started Taproot one of the first things I did was create a monthly executive directors support group. It met monthly and provided the thinking partners and emotional support I needed in the rough early days.
This group and efforts by organizations like CompassPoint are important and need to expand, but we also need to look for more integrated and sustainable solutions.
When I serve on boards, I find that much of my value is simply in being an executive director. It helps me better support my peers and make sure the board is delivering what they really need to thrive.
This board work is also some of my most valuable professional development. I get at least as much out of it as the organization and the executive director. It is a wonderful and needed synergy in resource-constrained sector.
Many nonprofit executive directors serve on boards, but not enough in my estimation. Every nonprofit could benefit from having several board members with that kind of experience and knowledge. By logical extension, this would mean having every executive director sit on a couple boards.
There are some basic conflicts of interest that can come up. Executive directors can be great fundraising assets, but the lines need to be clear to avoid conflicts with their own organization’s fundraising. There can also be some of the same challenges you find on corporate boards of CEOs who sit on each other’s boards and are engaged in compensation decisions. This can be clearly avoided with some proactive processes. There are a few structural changes that would help support the adoption:
- Executive Directors benefits should be amended to include a donation match to amplify their ability to make a cash contribution on boards
- An ED’s 360 review should include feedback from the chair of the boards where they serve
- Board conflict of interest policies should explicitly address the issues that arise from peers serve on the board.
Aaron Hurst is the President & CEO at the Taproot Foundation.