Board Member Accountability

I’m continuing my little blog project comparing leading a Board of Directors with leading a staff team. I meet so many great nonprofit leaders, who excel at developing and leading their team of employees. Yet they struggle with supporting their board in an effective way. So far I have covered the topics of Creating a Board Culture and “Supervising” Your Board

For this article let’s dive into holding your board members accountable. Or more accurately, creating the structure so that your board members can hold one another accountable. 

Board Expectations

Having clear expectations is foundational to holding anyone accountable. When it comes to staff, you establish the expectations through job descriptions, employee handbooks, performance standards and annual goals. Clearly communicating these expectations to your staff team will help set them up for success. 

As I shared in the article on “Supervising” Your Board, and went into more detail in here; creating board expectations establishes the foundation of a structure and culture of accountability. Your board has ByLaws, these define how the board functions and what they are legally obligated to. They also have Duties and Responsibilities, which are the generally accepted nonprofit board standards. The board expectations are more specific to the needs of your unique organization. 

In a perfect situation, board expectations will be developed jointly by the volunteers and the staff. I generally recommend looking at what the agency needs from its governance volunteers in the areas of: 

      • Attendance/Service Commitment
      • Executive Director/Staff Support
      • Community Connections
      • Fiduciary Governance
      • Intellectual Contributions
      • Mission & Outcomes
      • Fundraising & Storytelling

Once you determine the expectations needed to advance the work of the agency, the whole board should have the opportunity to review, debate and finally – to approve them. This piece of the process is powerful as it gives everyone the opporutnity to contribute, and ultimately, to commit to what the agency needs from them. Expectations are different from ByLaws in that they are not legally binding (more on that later) and they are easy to update as the needs of the organization change. 

Once you have clearly established expectations, use them! These should be included in your board recruiting process and/or packet. Being crystal clear up front about what you need from your board members ensures that you don’t end up with volunteers who don’t understand the organization’s needs or what is expected of them. This may eliminate some very attractive prospective board members. However, it’s better to do this in the beginning than to travel down a long frustrating road of unclear expectations and an inability to drive the governance work of the organization. 

Board expectations can be turned into a report card. This is especially useful if your board is working to transition to more accountability and productivity. Tracking attendance, board hours, committee involvement, friend-raising activities, and more will give a quick snapshot of who on the board is meeting expectations, and who is missing the mark. Some boards will even include the report card in the board packet at every meeting, providing for peer accountability. 

Since board expectations are not ByLaws, it is not a set of legal requirements. That said, if someone is not fufilling one or more of the expectations, it doesn’t mean you HAVE to do anything about it. Rather, it can be used to drive discussions around each person’s involvement. If a volunteer is really great at storytelling, inviting new people into the organization, and representing the agency in the community, but they struggle to attend board meetings due to timing; it doesn’t mean they need to be booted off. Tracking and knowing this information allows for the ability to have conversations about specific behaviors. 

I have one last point on board expectations. The Board Governance or Board Development Committee is a great place for this work to land. That committee can create the expectations, process it through the board, and manage the accountability report card. By proactively tracking and reviewing board engagement, this group can quickly address any issues. It also provides a structure for an annual board evaluation. 

Annual Goals + Board Meetings

Creating board expectations is not the only tool for holding board members accountable. Boards that do annual planning or strategic planning will usually come away with action plans and goals. Putting the goals into a tracking document, with assigned accountabilities can be used to monitor progress. Include this document in your board meeting packet and on your agenda. Using the action plan tracking document in combination with regular board meetings is an effective way to monitor progress towards your goals and to hold people accountable. 

To Do List + Board Meetings 

One last process that can be used to create a culture of accountability on your board is a simple “to do” system. This is also executed through the board meeting structure. When a volunteer commits to something, it is added to the “next steps” portion of the meeting agenda. Those “to do” items are reviewed at the end of the meeting and then included on the next meeting’s agenda and the group checks-in on their progress. This does two things:

    1. It creates peer pressure for volunteers to follow-through on their commitments, and
    2. If there are challenges to completing the task, it gives the whole board the opportunity to help problem-solve on how to move forward. 

Holding board members accountable can be a tricky thing. Afterall, they are volunteers; what are you going to do, fire them? Assuming positive intent, most people join boards to help advance the cause and make the world a better place. When they do not perform well as a board member, it’s often because they didn’t understand what was expected of them, or they aren’t being held accountable. 

By leading your board to create a culture of accountability and structures to support that culture, the great thing is – they hold themselves accountable. Unless your organization is very new, the role of having the “accountability conversations” should fall with the volunteers. Sometimes the Board Governance Committee will address issues, and other times the Board Chair needs to step in and drive the conversation. The Execuitve Director should not be put in the difficult position of “discipining” their board members (AKA – their bosses). 

Developing a Board Governance Committee or creating Board Expectations are great strategies for getting the most out of your Board of Directors. If you would like to visit about how to build up your Board of Superheros, email me at, or schedule a Discovery Call today. Let’s connect!

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.

Structure – Getting it Right to Grow

James cash penney quote

The staff structure you create for your business can mean the difference between growth and stagnation. The unfortunate reality is that all too often a company’s organizational structure is never considered. Especially as small businesses start to grow, the staff structure evolves organically and often haphazardly; rather than being thoughtfully developed.

When a new business is born, there are usually just a few people involved, and they do everything. Susan might be best at finance, so she handles the books. Angie might have big ideas, so she is creating products or services. And Olivia may be very charismatic, so she takes the lead on sales. This is a great start!

As the company grows, they bring in team members to help with sales and production and service. When they are still small the company can get by without creating much formal structure. This is often preferred as they want to remain responsive and nimble and casual. As long as everyone is productive and working well together, this free-flowing construct can work for companies up to about 7 to 10 people.

Challenges arise when the company starts to grow bigger and the structure doesn’t get addressed. The bigger a company gets, the harder it is for the leader(s) to keep their finger on the pulse of what is going on. Team members have less accountability if there is no clear chain of command. Expectations may be misunderstood. Decision making becomes inconsistent and confusing. This is the point where companies that have solid growth potential, start to stagnate.

Components of a Strong Structure

You may be wondering what it means to create a strong structure. Here are the key components that can help you organize your team for greater growth:

  • Organizational Chart

  • Clear Accountabilities

  • Delegation & Mindful Expansion

  • Thoughtful Supervision

Organizational Chart

This is a simple concept. Everyone has seen an org chart and understands how they work. The tricky part lies in finding the right one for your business. Generally speaking, the work of a business can be divided into three categories:

  • Finance

  • Sales

  • Operations

When thinking about your organizational structure, think about groups of accountability. In a smaller business, one person may be responsible for everything related to finance. As the business grows they will likely need help managing things like payroll, accounting, budgeting, and more. It usually makes sense to add staff or contract services under the person who is responsible for finance. That forms a department.

Depending on the type of business, you may have multiple departments in each category. For example, if you deliver several different product lines, each one may be a different operational department. If you sell to both the general public, as well as to corporations, those may be two different departments under the sales category. A department may grow too big for one person to manage and rather than adding layers, it might be best to divide it into different departments.

In addition to having departments leading finance, sales, and operations, there needs to be one or two leaders above this level. This is usually the business owner or owners. They are responsible for setting the vision and culture, creating new ideas, key decision making, leading staff, and driving strategy (as well as a million other things). In his book “Traction”, Gino Wickman titles these roles as Visionary and Integrator. The Visionary sets the course for the company. The Integrator drives the work. Depending on the size of your business, one person may serve as both roles.

There is not a “right” org chart that will work for every company. You need to determine what your different departments look like. You need to figure out what gets lumped together and what needs to stand alone. The number of layers is dependent on the needs of your company and how you want it to function. The focus, purpose and vision of your business will determine how this looks and what’s “right” for you.

Clear Accountabilities 

Establishing your organizational chart is the foundational step needed for clear accountabilities. In addition to listing positions and names on your org chart, this step involves listing the things that each position is accountable for. Keep it fairly high level, not including every task that the position manages, just the items that the person in that seat is expected to take responsibility for and drive.

Each position should have 3 to 7 elements listed. Anyone who supervises staff should have LMA (Lead, Manage, hold Accountable) on their list of accountabilities. Other items to include could be managing of processes (like payroll), ownership of outcomes (such as sales numbers), and production expectations. Again, the work of the business will drive what goes onto these lists. Everything that the business needs in order to function, needs to be on someone’s accountability list.

Delegation & Mindful Expansion

You will notice that each of these structural components builds on the previous one. Establishing clear accountabilities helps determine where delegation is needed. When listing out the accountabilities for each position, watch for lists with more than 7 elements. This will often create a barricade as the person in that position has too much on their plate. This could be by choice (control issues, amirite?) or because the company isn’t to the point where they can add positions yet.

Choosing to hold onto everything is very common in small, growing businesses. The person or people who created the business often feel like they are the only ones who can do it right. Unfortunately, this practice is not sustainable. The person choosing to be responsible for everything is going to eventually burn out, while at the same time keeping the business from growing and thriving. When this is the case, a crucial conversation needs to be had, explaining the problems created by the behavior.

As a business is growing it is important to make staff additions conservatively and thoughtfully. The finances need to be able to sustain the addition and it needs to be made based on the most pressing demands. The org chart and accountabilities can clearly show where the pain points are. When your chart shows that a position has 8 or more accountabilities, you have the opportunity to think through your options. Is there someone to delegate some elements to? Does the company have the financial ability to add a position or split the position? If the resources are not immediately available, plan out what your next move will be based on where the work is concentrated.

This method for planning your staff growth helps ensure that the squeaky wheel isn’t getting all of the resources. It allows for decision making based on what will allow the entire team to be most productive. It also helps determine if there are internal roadblocks limiting your capacity.

Thoughtful Supervision

Finally. The last element in a strong organizational structure is supervision. And not just regular “I report to him, you report to me” supervision, but thoughtful and intentional supervision. This can be a tough one for small businesses. Especially when the business was founded by friends or family, and now all of a sudden we need to hold people accountable. Establishing clear supervision can be tricky and feel uncomfortable at first, but it is 100% worth the pain and effort.

I find that many people truly hate supervising people. They get frustrated by having to tell people things more than once. They expect people to have the same level of understanding or work ethic as they have. They dislike the confrontation of redirecting staff when they are off track. And all of that can be difficult and uncomfortable if you haven’t taken the steps of creating an organizational chart, clear accountabilities and delegating/mindfully expanding.

By establishing this clear structure, your supervisors have a much easier job. The organizational chart creates a clear chain of command. Every person in the business knows who they need to go to for support and direction. The expectations are clearly outlined in their accountabilities. Staffing decisions about how to delegate and expand are made easier because they are informed. Now all of this is not meant to imply that supervisors don’t need training and practice on how to effectively LMA, rather that this structure sets them up well for success.

Similarly to the number of accountabilities per position, it’s important to be intentional about the number of direct reports to a position. The general rule of thumb is that a supervisor leads up to seven staff or staff positions. That means that in a department with different people managing different functions, a leader should have no more than seven direct reports. However, in a department with several people doing the same thing, a supervisor can manage more people. For example, if a department has 15 cashiers, one supervisor can manage them effectively because they are all doing the same job. Ensuring a team leader has a manageable workload is paramount to setting them up for LMA success.

Need help establishing the right organizational structure for your business? Email me at to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to see how we get you moving on the path to growth!