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Whether you are an employee, volunteer, donor, board member or play some other organizational role with a nonprofit organization, comprehensive knowledge of board development is a must for you to not only survive but thrive in whatever role you play or intend to play in the future. You will need to understand how a board is designed and operates. You will also need to know how to use a board of directors for maximum advantage.
Building relationships with board members is critical for success. For many of you, as you advance in a nonprofit, you will have to learn to work directly with a board. Your goal should be to build a dynamic, not static board of directors. Before you can begin to lay the groundwork for a solid board foundation, you will have to grasp the basic responsibilities of nonprofit boards and board members.
Fired Up Fundraising notes the works of Richard Ingram and provides you with 10 basic responsibilities of nonprofit boards. These are as follows:
- Determine the organization’s mission and purpose.
- Select the chief executive and work closely with that individual.
- Provide proper financial oversight by overseeing financial controls.
- Ensure adequate resources for the organization to fulfill its mission.
- Ensure legal and ethical integrity and maintain accountability.
- Ensure effective organizational planning and monitor the plan’s goals.
- Recruit and orient new board members and assess board performance.
- Enhance the organization’s public standing.
- Determine, monitor and strengthen the organization’s programs and services.
- Support the chief executive and assess his or her performance.
Throughout my career, I have used board members for a variety of purposes. Each month, I ask board members to go on solicitation calls with me, identify and open doors for prospects and provide advice for me as I work with various sectors. I also ask board members to become ambassadors and speak at external organizational functions. I determine their expertise, what they like to do and how I can maximize their abilities for our organization.
I also ask board members to go with me to meetings with government representatives. I utilize board members based upon their career experience and willingness to share their expertise with others. Board members will share best-of-class information with me as they understand I am trying to enhance their board experience. For example, I recently asked a local television celebrity who serves on our board to interview several board members for a capital campaign case for support.
When you are thinking of building a dynamic board, begin by looking at attributes BoardSource members have pointed out for analysis. They surveyed board chairs and chief executives representing more than 1,300 organizations in the country. Areas for board improvement included outreach and ambassadorship, fundraising, and racial/ethnic diversity.
To improve board recruitment practices, boards should use a board recruitment matrix that will help, especially in the diversity process. Let board members know they will have to fundraise. Assess candidates’ level of comfort with various areas of mentoring. Use non-traditional recruitment strategies, especially as it deals with expanding the board to include more diversity.
Besides viewing diversity as a priority to board membership going forward, Board Effect encourages organizations to look at current board members and potential new board members for expertise in the areas of legal expertise, financial management, marketing, program expertise specific to organization, long-range planning skills, communication skills and leadership skills.
It is important to also determine a board members’ networking capabilities and interest in developing these capabilities for the organizations they serve. It is important that board recruiting be a top priority. The resources committee needs to match candidates to the needs of the board and compile a list of qualified candidates to present to the board. The board should also hold at least one meeting annually where they focus on strategic planning according to the organizational mission. Board members have the responsibility for making sure the board and its members are performing to the highest standards.
You cannot have a dynamic board without dynamic board members. According to GreatBoards.org, a solid board consists of great and qualified board members. There are five essential qualities of an effective board member that can raise the board to a higher level.
These critical qualities include being dedicated and committed to their board responsibilities, able to lead and influence others in pursuing the goals of the organization, being straightforward and impartial in thoughts and actions, being knowledgeable and an insatiable learner about the culture and operations of the organization, plus having values discretion and confidentiality concerning organizational information. Decisions that are made by the board must be supported by each board member.
Schultz and Williams points out that creating a dynamic board is vital yet hard to fulfill in today’s environment. It is an extremely competitive environment for quality board membership. Board members must work together to establish a dynamic board. When in synch, dynamic boards should have the following characteristics: a partnership between the CEO/president and board chair, having transparency and a focus on strategy, having a board filled with diverse talent, creating a group of charged individuals that are engaged and a board group that is in constant recruitment mode to find others with passion and ability to lead.
Wild Apricot points out that a strong board of directors is critical to an organization’s success. That said, a 2015 report from Stanford University found that half of the nonprofit directors surveyed believe their board members are not engaged with their organization and a third cannot evaluate the organization’s performance. If you are building a board, determine how many board members you need to have, determine term length and whether you should use staggered terms.
Also determine if you require a chair, vice chair, secretary and treasurer. Consider the creation of committees that could include governance, finance, executive, fundraising committee and marketing committees. Set clear board roles and responsibilities with clear time parameters. Design an effective board training program that has an effective orientation component. Determine how to run effective board meetings. Do an annual board assessment that involves internal and external evaluators. Seek best of class analysis that shows your organization is evaluating your board.
Dynamic board members are committed to continuous improvement. It will take time, but if the organization is committed to building a dynamic board, it can be done. A dynamic board filled with board leaders will help transform the organizations they serve!Return to Insights & Events