One of the biggest challenges for board members as an association grows is letting go of some of the mundane tasks and shifting toward a more strategic approach to governance.

Over time, the goal is to become more of a strategic board and less of an operational board. Unfortunately, many nonprofit associations never make this shift  — and it can hold them back.

Strategic vs. Operational Boards

When you first start a nonprofit association, there’s a good chance that you’ve got limited person power. A few board members are taking care of most of the key roles, and everyone wears more than one hat. You’re all involved in operations, from deciding what food to serve at an event to hammering out employment policies.

For many nonprofit associations, the board is meant to direct operations in the beginning.

As things change, though, and as your association grows, it’s important to begin delegating operational tasks. Your board should instead start focusing on strategy in its governance.

Strategic boards are more concerned about the overall mission and direction of the nonprofit association. Rather than managing the day-to-day operations of the association, they should be shaping the vision for the association, and providing strategic planning to get there. The actual execution of the vision is mostly to the people you hire to take care of operational issues and your volunteers.

Making the transition requires that you bring in part-time, and then full-time staff. Find committees to support the organization. Begin trusting your people — and even accept that not everything will be perfect. A decision might not pan out or a volunteer may not deliver, but, ultimately, you’ll keep moving forward.

Is Your Board Stuck in an Operational Mindset?

It can be hard to let go of some of the day-to-day decision-making power. Unfortunately, when that happens, board meetings can become long, drawn-out affairs in which you spend 30 minutes trying to settle on a location for an educational event and another 45 minutes hammering out the menu.

As much as you’d like to think that you matter, the reality is that there are plenty of people who can manage those aspects of your nonprofit association management. What not everyone can do is make the big decisions about the overarching mission of the association. That’s where your board’s focus should be — not figuring out seating arrangements.

A board stuck in an operational mindset ends up micromanaging while, eventually, board members burn out and leave.

The key to overcoming an operational approach to governance is learning to let go.

Shift to Strategic Governance

Before you bring something to your association board, ask yourself a question: “Does this rise to the level of governance?”

Do you really need to be in charge of the color and style of new t-shirts for volunteers? The answer is no.

If you want to shift strategic governance, it’s vital that you learn to let go of some of your authority. Delegation is essential for a successful nonprofit association to thrive. Hire talented and passionate people to handle operations. You can even outsource some of your day-to-day operations management to a consultant.

The idea is to let other people handle the mundane aspects of operations management. Yes, these are important tasks. However, they are tasks that others are perfectly capable of handling. As long as you hire competent team members, there’s no reason for you to get involved on a daily basis.

Instead, the board can focus on the strategy associated with creating a successful association. Rather than focusing on the menu for next week’s awards luncheon, you can instead look at strategies to grow membership and make sure that your 10-year plan matches with the association’s overarching mission.

Bottom Line

Strategic governance is all about the big picture. While you might occasionally check in to make sure that operations are running smoothly, and that your volunteers and employees are satisfied, it’s not necessary that you be involved in each decision made in your nonprofit association.

You want to be approachable and you want to listen, but you don’t need to micromanage. If you spend too much time as an operational board, you’ll get so bogged down in mundane tasks that you won’t have any time or energy for the longer-term, visionary activities that are likely to have a bigger impact overall.

Companies like TVDA can take some of these operational tasks off your board’s plate. We have decades of experience in nonprofit management and can leave your board free to strategize and focus on the mission.

Until you trust others to take care of the small-picture, day-to-day operational items, you won’t be able to provide the vision needed to take your association to the next level.