The Nonprofit Board’s Role during COVID-19

By Janetta Cravens, vice president of programs, OKCNP

No one wants to go through a crisis and leading an organization through one can be daunting. And yet, that is the position boards of directors are in as they navigate through the uncharted waters brought on by COVID-19. Strained by supply challenges, limitations in personal protective equipment, significant changes in funding sources, and workforce adjustments, a good response requires a lot of things we know to be true in building a sustainable organization: resilient leadership, business continuity planning, the importance of human capital, and back up plans.

To get through this season, boards of directors and Executives and their management teams must work together to lead the organization through the challenges ahead. Nonprofit staff members cannot do this alone, and boards of directors need offer leadership and guidance that helps the nonprofits they serve navigate the decisions that lie ahead. The Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code states that “Nonprofits depend upon effective leadership to successfully enact their missions and programs. Effective leadership consists of a partnership between the board and management, each of which plays an essential role.”

The challenge is finding what “effective leadership means” during a time when emotions tend to run high and critical decisions are needing to be made. In times of stress, people tend to have “fight, flight, or fawn” responses, which might make a board more prone to disengaging in a difficult season (flight) or overstepping and micromanaging the organization’s resources (fight), or give in and do whatever management thinks best (fawn). For a board of directors, a good response may be connected to a clear understanding of the role of the board — knowing when to step in and when not to, how to engage in decisions and external activity such as communicating with stakeholders.

Boards may need to meet more often and have a firmer grasp of their role as governor and what the responsibilities of a board of directors are as they steward the organization with fiduciary and legal responsibilities.  The Standards for Excellence Institute recently posted a good blog about the board’s role in managing through a critical season such as this. And it may be a resource to use in guiding your own board/management relationship.

On June 2, the Business for Breakfast conversation is going to focus on the board’s role in a crisis situation. Guest conversationalist Marnie Taylor, is the President and CEO of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits and a leading expert on board governance. Her experience as a board member on over 30 boards and Chair-elect to the National Council for Nonprofits, and most recently in supporting the state’s nonprofit sector through the COVID-19 crisis, has given her a unique vantage point to witness board governance through difficult seasons. Marnie will share leading best practices for what good board leadership might look like during this time, and offer some possible suggestions for how Executives and Boards of Directors could work together to lead the organization in such a way that they – and the organization – are stronger. Even in a crisis, the board can act as the stewarding body of the agency, both guiding the immediate decisions in the fight for survival, and also seeing that the organization emerges stronger and more resilient.

*Register for Business for Breakfast on June 2, 2020 with Marnie Taylor, president and CEO, OKCNP

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