The board report is an important tool in any chief executive’s board relationship toolbox.
But far too often, the executive director’s board report is a cumbersome document that is rarely read. In fact, your feelings about the board report might be summarized in the message below:
I’m the executive director at a medium-size nonprofit. Our board meets six times a year, and I spend hours writing board reports before each meeting. I’m disheartened that my board members don’t read the report, and I usually take most of the meeting time to walk board members through my 5- to 6-page report. What can I do differently? Also – do you have some easy board report templates that would save me some time?
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I will share board report templates in word and power point formats at the end of this post, but first let’s consider:
- The board report’s purpose
- The ideal length and format
- Topics to include in your board report
- Topics to exclude from your board report
Purpose of the Executive Director’s Board Report
Unless you are the executive director of an association, the vast majority of your board has never been an executive director. And they aren’t really sure of the unique opportunities you leverage or the challenges you face. For this reason, your report to the board should (a) provide meaningful insight into your work as the chief executive and (b) increase the board’s knowledge about issues not covered in committee reports.
Length and Format
Your board report should be engaging and easily read. Keep your board report short – no more than two pages if it’s a text document. And make it easy to read by changing your line spacing to 1.15 and using bullet points.
Many executive directors have started using a powerpoint board report, which should be no more than ten slides with bullets and graphics.
Topics to Include in Your Board Report
Toward this end, the ideal board report includes just one to two paragraphs on each of the following:
- Mission moment
- Greatest successes
- Greatest challenges
- Looking ahead: Topic of the month
- Opportunities for board member engagement
Mission Moment: This section connects your board with the organization’s mission and demonstrates your deep commitment to that mission. This could include describing a client success, sharing how a donor connected with your mission, or detailing how a specific staff member went “above and beyond” to make a program successful.
Dashboard: The executive director should provide a concise but comprehensive dashboard that highlights all functional areas of the organization: finance, fundraising, administration, programs, facilities, etc. Since the dashboard is simple, short, and easily digested by busy board members, you will simply ask if there are questions, comments or concerns that board members may have about specific items on the dashboard. Keep a lookout for a future blog post about creating your dashboard.
Greatest Successes: Share the triumphs that you and your organization experienced since the last board meeting. Perhaps a funder recognized your organization’s performance for being among the top 10% of all grantees, you successfully re-engaged a lapsed major donor, or employee reviews were completed on time. When sharing your greatest success, also tell the story about how you achieved the milestone and why it is important. Also – give credit to the team members who helped make it possible.
Greatest Challenges: While your board members may not have experience as an executive director, they know that you’re human and experience challenges and obstacles in your work. Share the greatest obstacle you and your management team have been facing. Here are some examples:
- Balancing the desire to provide employees with incredible benefits with the rising cost of health disability insurance
- Repairing and rebuilding a damaged relationship with a donor
- Navigating a former client who has become a vocal, repeated critic on social media
In outlining your greatest challenge, briefly explain the steps you’re taking to overcome the challenge.
Looking Ahead: Sometimes called “topic of the month,” this is an opportunity to ask your board for input, feedback, and guidance. In this section, you are raising a strategic issue and not merely a management one. Ideally, you not only get feedback from the board, but the board may also refer the matter to a committee for further deliberation and consideration. Good “topics of the month” include succession planning, pay equity, infrastructure investments, etc.
Opportunities for Board Engagement: Since your board members are committed to your mission and passionate about your organization, offer them specific engagement opportunities. Here are a few examples:
- Attending an upcoming program event
- Shadowing the front desk staff for an hour
- Participating in a meeting with a donor or foundation
- Phone banking to remind former clients about an alumni event
In offering these opportunities, we need to be clear about whether they would be attending as a board member (like the donor meeting) or as a volunteer (phone banking). Additionally, it’s a good idea to distribute a sign-up list so you can follow-up.
Topics to Exclude from Your Board Report
Operational reports and updates: At an effective meeting, your board will review a dashboard and discuss reports from each of the board committees, not reports on operations that are exclusively under the executive director’s authority. At a minimum, the dashboard and committee reports should cover finance, fundraising, programs, and facilities. In another blog post, I will share a simple dashboard your board can use.
Activities or a regurgitation of your schedule: I often see board reports that summarize the executive director’s activities. It will include “accomplishments” that are just part of the job: attending a conference, hiring a new staff member, meeting with a funder, preparing for the audit, or supervising meetings with staff.
Rolling Out Your New Board Report
If your board is accustomed to an operational board report that includes summaries for finance, fundraising, programs, and activities, you will need to prepare your board leadership and members for a different type of report.
Within your board leadership:
- Discuss the need for an organizational dashboard that covers all functional areas of your nonprofit (finance, fundraising, programs, facilities, HR, etc). Advocate for the organization’s dashboard being a separate agenda item in every meeting.
- Discuss the importance of board committees reporting on their own work (finance, governance, human resources). Build alignment that these reports are best provided by the committee and not the executive director.
- Share a draft executive director report to the board and ask for feedback.
When sending your newly formatted executive director report to the board for the first time, include a message explaining the changes and welcoming feedback.
2 Templates to Get You Started
As promised, here are templates for a Word and PowerPoint board report! (Click on the photo or title to download.)
A lot of our consulting colleagues make you sign up for their newsletter in order to get their templates. We aren’t going to do that, but we would still like you to consider signing up for our newsletter. So if you would like to know about all the great stuff we’re doing, then sign up today and stay informed!
A great board report is one of many tools executive directors have to engage board members. For more ideas to keep your board engaged, check out Cause Strategy Partner’s blog post on The Four Markers of a Healthy Board.
Why I’m Writing About This ?
As part of my work with Successful Nonprofits®, I serve as the executive coach for executive directors. The relationship between executive directors and their boards often comes up, and board reports are an essential part of defining and managing that relationship.
In addition to offering one-on-one coaching for first-time executive directors, I’m also launching a coaching group for executive directors in their first year, in which we’ll discuss even more about working with boards and fostering this essential relationship.
Additionally, check out the following Successful Nonprofits® resources if this post was helpful:
Blog: 9 Ways to Build Stronger Relationships with Your Board
Blog: 9 Ingredients for a Kick Ass Board Meeting
Podcast: Having Productive and Enjoyable Board Meetings with Emily Davis
Podcast: Engage Your Board with Rob Acton