Powerhouse Boards: Tips to Achieving Long-Term Success

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By Stephanie Minor

Facing an uncertain future, nonprofits are working hard to accept the curveballs that keep coming their way. Successful leaders are embracing change and committing their organizations to moving forward.

But for many nonprofits figuring out their new normal, the one thing not moving forward is their board of directors.

It’s a common challenge among nonprofits. Business and community leaders join your board and share your passion and vision, but they lack the commitment or drive to propel your organization forward. Further, they lack the tools to be successful.

An engaged, dynamic board is critical to helping your nonprofit accept change, increase awareness, raise money to support the mission, and become an impactful part of the community. Responsive, productive boards are self-aware, make thoughtful decisions and are committed to continuous improvement. They are critical to your long-term success.

What’s the secret to attaining a powerhouse board?

Let’s look at five strategies you can implement now to create a thriving board.

1. Job Descriptions

Board members need to know what’s expected of them so they can deliver on their responsibilities. A written job description should list all duties, such as meeting attendance, committee participation, event volunteering, financial giving expectations. Having a job description in place will ensure that all board members are on the same page when it comes to their responsibilities. It makes a difference.

2. Training

Board members need to know more than what time the meeting starts. They need an organized, complete organizational immersion that includes all the basic information about your nonprofit, its operations and budget, as well as historical context for activities and decisions, key milestones, and critical perspectives on issues. Only if board members are completely engaged and knowledgeable about your nonprofit will they be able to fully participate.

Ongoing professional education is also important for board members. Your nonprofit needs to invest time and resources into making sure board members are aware and educated about trends, best practices, issues and other factors that will affect their ability to contribute at the highest level. Ongoing education can be simple, too. Take a few minutes and make it part of your regular board meetings where everyone can learn together. They will perform better as a board because of their newly gained knowledge.

3. Fundraising Expectations

All nonprofits should have policies related to board fundraising, that is, financially what each board member will be asked to give and raise from others. More and more funders are requiring 100% board giving as a requirement for receiving grants and other contributions.

Your nonprofit needs to make sure that board members are trained in what the fundraising needs are for your organization. They should have scripts for phone calls, emails and letters, and have a written elevator speech they can recite to others. They should also have collateral materials, like a brochure or infographic, that can be a leave-behind piece following solicitation meetings, and a reference should they need help recalling facts and figures. Fundraising efforts need to be tailored to each board member’s ability and comfort levels. Materials and clear expectations will help each of them succeed.

4. Self-Assessment

High performing boards are self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Regular self-assessments not only help them evaluate areas, like the experience and demographic makeup of the board, but assessments also provide healthy, structured feedback on how the board is performing and what is working or not working. These outcomes will strengthen meetings, activities, participation and recommendations, and will keep the board moving forward.

Be sure to include multiple methods of communication in these self-assessments as well. Discussions during board meetings are fine, but written submissions should be included so people feel free to express all opinions. Simple surveys will also provide uniform feedback and help address areas of concern.

5. Focus on Equity

In addition to the pandemic, another outcome of the last two years has been the urgent need for all organizations to be more diverse and equity focused. Your board must be more intent on being inclusive to the entire community, be aware of how your nonprofit is reflective of the community, and be thoughtful about how your mission is equitable and serving all. You can start with where you are and take actionable steps. Your board’s commitment to diversity and equity will make a powerful difference in your nonprofit’s success in 2022 and beyond.

Maybe the reason your board is idle or stuck in reverse is because they haven’t been given the tools to thrive. With an effective and efficient high-performing board, your nonprofit will not only be in motion, your organization will embrace the future and forge ahead to greater success. 

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