Recently, there has been a lot of material published on running efficient and effective boards in the not-for-profit environment. We have a few suggestions geared specifically to childcare centres:

Focus on the primary objective of your organization
Providing quality childcare at an affordable price is the primary objective of most licensed childcare centres. Most, if not all, of the major decisions your board must make can be analyzed in terms of a trade-off between benefits and costs; the benefit being quality childcare and the cost being affordability. You might find it useful to step back and focus on this objective when the decision making gets stuck.

Clear and honest communication
Clear and honest communication between board members, staff and parents is critical to quality care. In an environment of financial stress the worry of being laid off is always present. If staff do not believe they are receiving clear and honest communication then unrest and dissension can develop. This will raise tension in the centre and may reduce the quality of care provided. Consequently, your board should ensure that lines of communication between the board and the supervisor, and the supervisor and the staff are not only honest and clear but are perceived to be honest and clear by all groups. This is a quality of care issue.

Deal with the significant
When discussing financial plans and necessities in an environment of cost cutting it is crucial that your board focus on the significant. For example, if your monthly cash flow shows you are short a significant amount of cash each month (say $3,000) and cost reduction is the only remedy then you must focus on reducing significant costs. Staff salaries and benefits are generally the only category that even come close to significant levels of expenditure. Focusing the discussion on reducing expenses for play supplies, food or trips will serve only to reduce the quality of care provided and will not resolve the real issue, a cash flow crisis. In short, keep the board focused on significant items and attempt to avoid the trivial.

Consider giving staff responsibility for all expenditure decisions up to annual or monthly amounts approved by the board. This could reduce discussion of a lot of detail at the board level.

Focus on the future
Focus on the future trends and developments and try not to get buried in analyzing the past. Enrolment trends are the most significant indicator of future financial health. Have your board focus on enrolment trends at each meeting. Update your monthly cash flow forecast for the remainder of the year for changes in your estimates and discuss what you need to do in the future to achieve your objectives.

There are many excellent books to provide a starting point for volunteer board members wanting to read more about efficient and effective not-for-profit governance.

In summary, focusing on the overall objective of your childcare centre, ensuring there is an environment of honest and clear communication and focusing on significant items only will help your board run the organization in an efficient and effective manner.

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