Too many nonprofit organizations find themselves in this case. A typical evolutionary table governance pattern is for the founding director to populate the board with friends and/or acquaintances that are passionate about the quest. Although a good start, to be certain, this approach is not totally adequate. Many of these board people may well not completely understand their governance role. In the early stages of organizational life, when many board members tend to be wearing multiple hats (board fellow member, volunteer staff person, fundraiser, community spokesperson, and so forth ), this lack of understanding might not exactly surface as a problem.
As time passes, however, a particular pattern of board governance behavior starts to emerge and becomes established. In fact, sometimes the board seems to take on a life of its own that is often at odds with the needs of the organization. Major environmental changes, like the recent economic depression, create shifts in financing or reinvent how work is accomplished, and yet the large A board appears to carry on as though absolutely nothing is promoting. Rather than unintentional oversight, it is more likely that it is lack of foresight that often pushes boards to the point of turmoil, when reacting is the only option left. It is at this point that an organization feels trapped – like it is constantly playing catch up.
Transforming patterns of behavior is one of the most challenging efforts individuals undertake. Changing the pattern of behavior of a group of individuals can feel insurmountable. An organization may have a long history filled with many stories and legends that new members buy-in to, including the board. That acceptance of current practice, while efficient, may eventually lead to an inability to see the main issue, ensuing in undesirable long-term effects.
To become unstuck, a board must decide which patterns of behavior it wants to alter. Current stats, however, indicate that practically 70% of most change initiatives fail. That’s an extraordinary waste of resources – resources that most nonprofits cannot afford to waste materials. There are many approaches to employing organizational change, many of that can be very effective under the right conditions. A new board that is caught in the rut of ineffective governance, however, poses unique challenges that do certainly not lend themselves to traditional approaches to change management.
The primary barrier in taking a traditional strategy to implementing change is the fact most models require management commitment. If an business is struggling just to get enough board members to attend a board meeting, trying to help them see the need for change in their habits, let alone committing to that effort, will be almost impossible. Their concentrate is most likely on the present, and they may be totally unaware of how board conduct is impacting the overall organization. Given their lack of awareness and experience, they are unlikely to see the value in most traditional methods to change management.
Shortage of resources, both time and money, also make it difficult to consider traditional methods to change management. When the organization is experiencing financial pressures, it will be particularly difficult for the board to see the value in spending important dollars for an outside consultant. The panel is most likely centering on the short-term, and a change effort is not likely to make a difference in the short-term. Most models of organizational change also require a fully commited team of individuals who meet on a regular foundation over a lengthy period of time. Given that many boards meet, at best, monthly, this is a substantial barrier for many nonprofit organizations.