Stop Saying “My Board”!

How do you refer to the board of directors which governs the nonprofit you serve?  Many Executive Directors have fallen into the habit of calling it “My Board”. If this is you, I challenge you to change the thinking that would lead to that phrase. Three reasons why:

  1. The nonprofit you and the board both serve is not “owned” by anyone in the same sense as a small business. A healthy nonprofit sees itself as a community asset, “owned” and supported and carried by the donors, grantmakers, sponsors, members (in some cases) and clients.  Claiming the board as “mine” works against that notion.
  2. Boards are not a support group for the executive director, and shouldn’t see themselves that way. The board should focus on the mission, resources and best interests of the organization and the people it serves. As the governing body, the board oversees the executive and holds them accountable to the mission, goals and needs of the organization. Sometimes that can take the form of “support” when the board coaches, evaluates, and provides professional development for the executive.  But any support is toward the larger interest of serving the mission.
  3. Saying “my board” reinforces the “psychological centrality” of the executive, which is the conflation of the executive with the organization in the mind of staff, board and community (think Bill Gates and Microsoft, or Steve Jobs of Apple). People start to think that the organization is centered around, and relies singularly on the presence of that key leader. As Jim Collins observed in Good to Great, high functioning leaders build the leadership and sense of shared “ownership” of the entire organization. They encourage commitment to shared values and clear goals.  They don’t want a cult of personality built around them, because they know the organization must be about more than them. Saying “my board” reinforces the idea that it’s all about the Executive, founder, key leader, whoever – not about the mission and the team.

Instead, try talking about “OUR board”, as in, the organization the board, staff and volunteers all serve together.