Monday, May 18, 2015

Talking About Resources at the Board Table Is Hard

But I'm not sure why.

Most associations--and many other organizations of both the non- or for-profit variety--face the same reality. Their goals are bigger than their resources.

But instead of admitting this, lots of Boards and lots of staff executives silently agree to pretend it isn't true. They go through their annual process of setting goals and objectives, and no one says the obvious. That the organization is incapable of achieving the objectives that are being identified. It's not that the objectives aren't worth achieving. Or that there isn't a desire to do so. It's that there isn't enough time, talent or money in the organization to do what the Board is asking it to do.

Why doesn't someone speak up? I've found myself in this situation more than once, both as the Board member and as the staff executive, and I've tried to speak up, but in both situations I was treated like I had done something socially inappropriate. As a Board member I was thought to be questioning the competency and dedication of the staff, and as a staff executive I was thought to be admitting that I lacked passion for our mission.

Neither, of course, was true. I thought I was only trying to add some realism to the discussion. If we care about our mission, then let's make sure we identify the things that we can actually do that will move us towards its fulfillment. And if we respect the talents and dedication of our staff, then let's give them goals they can actually achieve with the resources that they have. Pretending the organization has capabilities it doesn't serves no one's interest.

But what really strikes me as odd about this situation is that many of the people who sit on the Boards that I'm familiar with deal with this exact situation in their day jobs. They are association executives, or company presidents, and they run organizations that struggle with the same problem. Their own goals--non-profit or for-profit--are bigger than the resources they have to apply to them. And their ability to succeed in their environment is directly tied to their skill at marshaling what resources they do have in the areas that they can have the greatest impact.

I don't understand why they seem to lose this perspective when they find themselves around a Board table.

Do you?

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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