Engaging Boards on Hot-button Topics
Some believe CEOs need to engage boards on social issue challenges
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofit boards have been busier than ever—more meetings, more Zoom calls. But despite all that conversation, boards can still struggle to determine their proper role. That’s especially true as pressure to take on social issues has increased. According to a recent “Future of the Boardroom” survey by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), 30 percent of board members say that “CEOs staying silent on social issues” will be less acceptable in the future.
In that environment, boards play a role in ensuring that the organization’s broader goals are established. “It’s the board’s responsibility to steer the company to think longer term,” said NACD Board Chair Sue Cole. “The CEO is in the heat of everything, and has to be very responsive to things that come along. The board can serve as the lens to refocus a little bit on longer-term purpose.”
But that’s not to say that boards don’t have a role in conversations about hot-button topics. Indeed, that’s a conversation CEOs should intentionally encourage, says NACD CEO Peter Gleason, because it’s a conversation about stakeholders—customers, members, and staff. “CEOs are the ones who’ll get asked these questions, but the expectations aren’t just from their shareholder base,” he said. “These are very challenging issues that can put you in very dire straits should you not approach it appropriately.”
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