Founders are invested in their organization’s heart and soul and often do far more than any other executive would. This makes them invaluable, but it also means that there may be large gaps when they depart. For example, founders are frequently much more hands on with the board. Today we will look at how to increase the board’s capacity in preparation for a founder transition.
Strengthening the board’s role requires the founder be ready to take a back seat in some areas. Assuming that the board and founder are all on the same page, there are several areas in which board members should increase their engagement and skills before a founder departs. Research shows that boards of founder-led organizations meet less often and that the founders commonly design the meeting agendas. This points to the first place that the board can shift their engagement. Founders can coach the board chair to develop their skills in managing board business as well as share management materials that they’ve developed over time.
Since founders have been there from the beginning, not to mention their tendency to be charismatic individuals, they often have a monopoly on the important relationships in the community. This impacts the board’s role in both fundraising and board recruitment. While remedying this problem may be a bit more complex than handing over facilitation of a board meeting, it is both possible and imperative. Founders will likely feel a responsibility to inform various constituents of their impending departure, which presents a wonderful opportunity to build a bridge to board members. Including board members in a face-to-face meeting with the funder, potential board member, or other constituent is a good start. A great start is to prepare the board member to be an effective advocate for the organization and to give them a chance to demonstrate their leadership in each constituent meeting.
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A Guide To Leadership Transition & Succession
Two other areas in which a founder’s board may be shaky are setting the organization’s strategic direction and financial oversight. If strategy is an area of weakness, the board can take time to reflect either on the organization’s current strategic plan and its progress or engage in visioning for the future. This process will benefit from facilitation by a neutral third party. If the board is not fully confident in financial oversight they can benefit from a number of things including: training by the founder and/or senior finance staff on the organization’s financial management systems, utilizing outside resources or training by an MSO, or recruiting new members with a strong financial background. Last, but certainly not least, many founder-led organizations lack strong executive oversight processes. It is crucial that the board develop, and stick to, an executive accountability protocol. With this protocol in place, as well as increased engagement in other key areas, an organization will be ready to launch into a new era, with a new executive successor and a strong board working hand in hand.