The Nonprofit Board/CEO Relationship When the Future is Unclear

Drexel University’s Gupta Governance Institute and Grant Thornton’s biweekly Nonprofit Directors Dialogue Miniseries features nonprofit leaders and board members as they share insights and strategies for turning today’s challenges into tomorrow’s successes.

How can boards support nonprofit leaders in determining a clear vision for the future during uncertain times?

I mentioned I was chair of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and, like other organizations, they were hit pretty hard. Unfortunately, cancer does not wait for the pandemic to pass and that work needs to continue. So Liz and Jay Scott, who happened to be the co-CEOs, came to the board and said they need our help and expertise in certain areas. Some of the people on the board were assisting them as it related to the PPP process. Part of that was whoever was at the table first, may be in line in a better position. Other people talked about if we needed to create a COVID type of fund, which they did, because these families were traveling to get cancer care wherever they were in the country had greater expenses and the precautions that they had to put in place were higher.

I would say what COVID-19 has done in that respect is that the board has had to lean in and be more engaged. I wouldn’t say in an inappropriate way, but just need to be more present and need to be more willing to, in some cases at the CEO’s discretion of the organization, get their hands a little bit dirtier than they normally would have, or be assigned to certain things that they may not have been before. In many cases, many of these nonprofits have staffs that are being reduced or they have many people that are on furlough, so they’re managing less resources, challenging conditions, or all of the above.