Little Red Bus — Your Vehicle for Building a Stronger Governing Board

Little Red Bus icon

Who's Driving the Bus?

It was Molly’s first day driving the Little Red Bus and she had the normal anxieties of any first-time experience. She had been warned that the passengers didn’t always stay in their seats and liked to hover behind the driver. Knowing that the evening’s destination was well marked on the map in front of her, she set out on the day’s journey. Shortly thereafter, one of the passengers told her that he knew a shortcut. Following his suggestion, Molly turned the bus down a narrow dirt road. Soon, a second passenger began to complain about the dust on the road and pleaded with the driver to return to the main road. Not wanting to irritate the passengers, Molly found a side road that she thought would lead back to the main highway. After an hour’s travel down this road, it became obvious to all that they were lost. One passenger asked how Molly could be so stupid as to get them all lost, while another passenger demanded that she quit as the driver as soon as they reached the evening’s destination.

How does this translate into the functioning of a governing board? Nonprofit boards are made up of a group of individuals, each of whom has a sense of ownership of the organization. A well-functioning board will provide an opportunity for all voices to be heard and for lively discussion to take place; however, once a decision is reached the full board speaks in one voice to the executive director and moves forward as a body to address the next important issue.

Questions for consideration:

  • When providing direction to the executive leadership, does the board send one message or several messages, some of which may be in conflict with others?
  • Is there a strategic plan in place that has been developed by the key stakeholders of the organization?
  • Does the board give the executive leadership space to develop and implement the strategies necessary to reach the goals?
  • Is there a designated board member – the board chairperson – identified as the primary person responsible for ongoing communication with the executive director?

Need help with board development?
Contact Jim Storm at jstormcod1@aol.com or 612-616-0256.

Little Red Bus — Your Vehicle for Building a Stronger Governing Board

Little Red Bus icon

Al Capone, Jr

The 36 passengers on the Little Red Bus (LRB) found it increasingly cumbersome and very time consuming to make group decisions and monitor the business of operating the LRB. As a result, they incorporated and created a governing board of eight that would take on those responsibilities. Prospective board members were told that their job would be an easy one as the driver of the LRB was very competent and needed very minimal oversight.

Unfortunately, once selected, the new board members rarely monitored the business operation of the LRB and oftentimes failed to show up for meetings. All felt that the driver, Al Capone, Jr., although stuck with a very poor name, would handle things well. At meetings, they would listen to Al's operating and financial reports while occasionally nodding off. After all, Al was the expert.

It came as a great surprise when the president of the board received a phone call from the bank indicating that the LRB had no money in the bank and was, in fact, overdrawn.

Board members were further shocked to learn that good old Al had been using business funds for his personal use. To make matters even worse, the board members learned that they were personally responsible for the debt incurred.

A key function of a governing board is financial oversight. How is the money being generated and how is it being spent? A failure to attend board meetings and to carefully review the financial standing of the organization are ultimately failures of the Board with individual board members bearing personal responsibility. Pay up!

Questions for consideration:

  • Do all board members understand their legal responsibility of financial oversight?
  • Do all board members understand the importance of their showing up in some manner at board meetings and reviewing the financial information?
  • Do all board members understand that it is the executive director's responsibility to provide them with accurate up-to-date financial information?
  • Are all board members willing to see their names in public should a financial scandal arise in the organization?

Need help with board development?
Contact Jim Storm at jstormcod1@aol.com or 612-616-0256.