Group Breakout Activity

What Would You Do If….?

1. You are the executive director of a small community-based social service organization that has been around for 5 years. The organization has a high profile in the community, and is wellregarded by funders. The programs have been very effective. As a result, the organization is on the verge of significant growth. You are a non-voting ex-officio member of the board. The chairman of the board of directors is a founding member and is also the chief of staff of the local ward alderman. The 13-member board consists of a faction of 4 people who are staunchly loyal to the alderman; 5 people who are loyal to one of her potential rivals in the upcoming general election (one of whom is the potential rival himself), and 4 people who are politically neutral, including yourself. The 3 other neutral board members are less engaged than the board members who have chosen alliances along partisan political lines. The aldermanic election is a year from now, but you can sense a difference in the dynamics of the board meetings. It is difficult to get board members to come to agreement on seemingly minor issues. Whereas consensus was easily achieved in the past, votes and opinions now seem to be broken down along “political camps”. There seems to be an “elephant in the room” that hasn’t been addressed. The result has been a diminished sense of cooperation, to the point where there have been delays in getting the necessary approvals for government contracts on a timely basis. The neutral board members have now begun to become even less engaged than they were before. Whereas they at least regularly attended meetings in the past, you have noticed that this is no longer the case. You are politically neutral, and want to keep partisan politics out of the business affairs of the organization. What would you do if you were the executive director? Your main concern is to maintain stability and ensure that the organization continues to grow. 1. What are the main issues? 2. What alternative tools would you consider using to address them? 3. Why?

Valerie F. Leonard Community Development Consultant


2. You joined the board of directors of a community development organization 6 months ago. The organization is the faith-based affiliate of a local church. A total of 4 of the 11 board members are members of the church, including the pastor, the chairman of the board of deacons, the head of the women’s auxiliary, and the chairman of the church’s board of directors. The founding board chairman is also the founding pastor of the church that started the community development organization. When the group was organized 3 years ago, the decision was made to serve as a convener of community development activities, and not to get involved in the actual hands on development of housing. This would ensure that the members of the board of directors who are involved in real estate development as a profession would not be engaged in activities that could potentially pose conflicts of interest. The board chairman has noticed that the low-income community is rapidly undergoing change. Housing values are growing at double the rate of inflation. Most of the new housing units are not affordable for current community residents. At the same time, there seems to be a dearth of commercial development. Community residents have to drive a minimum of two miles on average to find shopping areas to purchase high quality staples. Even though the organization had agreed not to be engaged in hands on real estate development, the board chairman feels the organization should reconsider, and become a primary player in the real estate game. The developers in the area have focused on market rate housing, and not affordable housing. Furthermore, there has not yet been a catalyst for commercial development. The organization has undergone phenomenal success over the past 3 years serving its role as convener. They are also in the process of increasing their own capacity. They have plans to hire new staff, expand their board, and strengthen their programs. You were recruited to shore up the organization’s financial management skill set. As a bank vice president and a volunteer with the local United Way, you have had considerable experience working with boards. The United Way is considering making an investment in the program through a new initiative. You have recently participated in a board retreat to discuss how the organization should go about increasing its capacity. There is discussion as to whether the organization should get into the real estate business or continue to be a convener of development activities. While the board chairman would like to get into the development business, the three developers on the board are opposed to the idea. They don’t believe the two member staff has the necessary commercial real estate development experience or the time to devote to development. Furthermore, they do not want to be in a situation that would cause potential conflicts of interest, since their primary development area is the same area served by the organization. You noticed that even though the majority of the members have expressed strong doubts concerning the notion of getting into the real estate development business, the board chairman continues to press the issue. In fact, he has done so for the past 3 meetings. He has even had guest speakers who have had significant experience in community development to answer

Valerie F. Leonard Community Development Consultant


questions. There is a reluctance to vote on the issue because the board chairman has not yet fully persuaded the board to pursue direct real estate development. You have observed in the past that the board chairman seems to get his way on all matters that come before the board. People with opposing view points tend to miss meetings when there is a controversial vote. Furthermore, the members of the board who are also members of the church tend to defer to the will of the board chairman, (who is also their pastor). After weighing the pros and cons, you tend to believe that the organization does not have the capacity to do hands on real estate development. What would you do? 1. What are the main issues? 2. What alternative tools would you consider using to address them? 3. Why?

Valerie F. Leonard Community Development Consultant


3. You are the newly-hired executive director of a community-based youth program with a budget of $350,000. In this capacity, you would have 8 employees, including an administrative assistant, 2 program directors, a business manager and 4 case workers. You have a master of social work degree, and have recently served as the associate executive director of a citywide youth program with a one million dollar budget and 40 employees. The board of directors of your former agency was well on its way to becoming institutionalized. The board consisted of a number of up-andcoming civic leaders. For the most part, they did not get involved with the day to day affairs of running the organization. They did serve as staff volunteers from time to time, assisting with occasional mailings and phone banking. You accepted the job of executive director of this agency because of the significant opportunity to develop your own leadership skills, while growing the agency. This would be an excellent stepping stone to a leadership position at a larger city wide agency or local affiliate of a national agency. The agency that you are currently working in was founded by a team of dedicated people who have a passion for youth. Seven of the 10 board members were founders. You notice that the board members are very hands on, and seem to be somewhat territorial. For example, the treasurer had responsibility for preparing the financial statements and presenting them to the board of directors. One of the mutually agreed upon goals you and the board set was to begin to transition this responsibility to the business manager. During your first transitional meeting with the treasurer and business manager, you noticed that the treasurer shared information about “what” was done, rather than “how” it was done. This behavior was consistent among the seven founding board members, regardless of what position they held. In fact, there have been times that you would “swear” that some of the board members were jockeying for position with you during the board meetings. While the board chairman insists she is fully “in your corner”, you don’t feel that you have yet established the relationship in which she sees you as her primary “go to” person on board affairs. You have been on the job 3 months and have gotten an outstanding performance rating. While you love the people, the work and the opportunities before you, this is a very difficult transition for you. You would like to see more clearly defined board versus staff roles so that the organization could move to the next level in its development. At the same time, you realize the potential for disaster should you miscalculate the political lay of the land. What would you do? 1. What are the main issues? 2. What alternative tools would you consider using to address them? 3. Why? _____________________
This exercise was created by Valerie F. Leonard, Community Development Consultant, for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Valerie F. Leonard Community Development Consultant


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