Little has been written to help executive directors of nonprofit organizations with one of the most important parts of their job: working with their Board of Directors. Previous studies show that board-related behaviors are responsible for the difference between effective executives and their less effective peers and that neither academic nor professional literature adequately addresses the board/executive relationship. Behavioral definitions of a "good board" can be found in books written for board members, but no definition could be found that reflected executives' opinions on what behaviors they value most in the boards with which they must work.
This study developed a definition of a good board from the point of view of 200 executive directors of health and human service organizations In the San Francisco Bay Area. The executives were first asked to· rank 25 board behaviors as to their importance to the executive in his/her job performance. These data were then analyzed, and the 12 top-scoring behaviors constituted the good board definition. This definition included the following:
1) The board stays out of administration.
2) The board president runs meeting effectively.
3) The board understands its legal responsibilities.
4) Board members review financial statements and ask for explanations.
5) The board makes pol icy rather than rubber-stamping the executive's suggestions.
6) The board is active in long range planning.
7) Board members accept positions of leadership on the board.
8) The board chooses new members with regard to the skills and connections they offer.
9) Board members prepare for meetings by reading material sent them before the meeting.
10) The board promotes the organization in the community.
11) The board evaluates the executive's performance annually.
12) The board opens doors to possible funding sources.
This composite definition was incorporated into a second questionnaire asking the same 200 executives to rate their boards on how often each of the 12 behaviors was actually true for them. The executives were also asked for Information about their board, their organization, and themselves. Scores on the good board scale were then correlated with demographic and situational variables to determine which characteristics of the board, the organization, and the executive were related to their board's effectiveness.
The following variables were found to have a significant positive relationship to scores on the good board scale: 1) attendance at board meetings; 2) number of years the executive had been a CEO in this job and others; 3) amount of time the executive spent with the board president; 4) number of members on the board; 5) number of active committees; 6) number of women on the board; 7) number of middle Income members; 8) frequency of board retreats; 9) the executive's service on a board him/herself.
It is concluded that executives can Improve board effectiveness by considering an increase in the size of their board, Increasing the number of active committees, working to increase attendance at board meetings, spending more time with the board president, encouraging the board to hold frequent retreats, serving on other boards themselves, and seeking the advice of more experienced executives. The findings also suggest that organizations reverse the traditional dominance of men on nonprofit boards and refrain from seeking members simply for wealth or social prominence.
Further research Is recommended to test out the definition of a good board on executive directors In other types of nonprofits and other geographic areas. Additional recommendations for further research Include studying how board size is related to board effectiveness and exploring the dynamics of the executive's relationship with the board president.
Fletcher, Kathleen Brown (1989). A study of nonprofit boards of directors from the chief executive officer's point of view. Working paper (University of San Francisco. Institute for Nonprofit Organization Management); no. 6. San Francisco, CA: Institute for Nonprofit Organization Management, College of Professional Studies, University of San Francisco.