When Board Expectations Exceed Resources

What museum CEO hasn’t encountered runaway Board expectations that far exceed the institution’s available resources?

If confronted with this situation, first take a deep breath and draw some comfort from the fact that your Board’s excessive expectations – while being a common Board problem that you need to deal with – is also an indication that the Board is sufficiently passionate about your institutional mission that it wants the museum to do more.  That commitment is something you can work with.

New Expectations Not Included in Current Strategic Plan:  If you have been diligent in regularly developing a Strategic Plan through a formative process that actively involves the Board, as well as other key stakeholders, then you already have the appropriate mechanism for dealing with these excessive expectations.  Your Plan should have already identified priority goals for both the current and upcoming year along with related strategies and action items for their achievement.  If your current Plan doesn’t include these expectations, then they are clearly “new” and quite literally “unplanned for.”

While changing circumstances can sometimes warrant a change in Plan priorities, such changes should be made only after careful consideration resulting in Board consensus, as any effort to meet unplanned for expectations is likely to detract from the institution’s ability to meet the goals already determined to be current priorities.  Consequently, unless the need for action is clearly urgent, new expectations should be noted for discussion during the next update of the Plan to determine if there is a consensus about their adoption as a future Plan element.

Expectations Included in Current Strategic Plan, But Lack Sufficient Resources:  If the Plan already includes these Board expectations, then hopefully it is comprehensive enough to have also included an estimate of any new resources needed for their accomplishment.  Presumably, the fact that these expectations have not yet been met is because the needed resources have yet to be secured.  Here is where the Board’s commitment to institutional mission and to these new expectations can become a welcome motivating factor in obtaining Board member involvement in the identification, cultivation, and solicitation of new sources for these needed resources.

Expectations in the Absence of a Strategic Plan:  Should your institution lack a current Strategic Plan, then dealing with excessive Board expectations becomes an exercise of “catch up” as you’ll probably need to go through many of the steps involved in formation of Strategic Plan:

  • Rank-ordering the expectations according to their perceived priority.
  • Assessment of the resources needed to accomplish these new expectations.
  • Consideration of potential sources of any needed new resources.

However, once such planning consideration has been undertaken, the Board’s interest in these new expectations again presents an opportunity to engage Board members in the effort to secure resources critical to their accomplishment.

John E. Coraor, Ph.D.
Cultural Management Partners LLC