So, what are some of the best practices of a highly functioning nonprofit board? I get asked this question a lot. So, I thought I would put together a list based on my experience with boards.
- There is a board recruitment process in place
The selection of board members is based on an in-depth look at what the board in whole needs to round out a well-balanced, highly diverse, dedicated group of individuals. Those who are invited to join the board bring a needed expertise or skill set. Their invitation to join the board is not based on friendship, partnership, relations, or just because they are a “good old boy or good old gal.” Using the “bubba theory” usually fails to evaluate the future needs of the organization.
2. Board member job descriptions and agreements
Yes, board members are volunteers, but they still have a job to do. That job and the organization’s expectations can be outlined in a board member job description. Board member job descriptions can include expectations regarding subjects as wide-ranging as meeting attendance and preparation, committee participation, financial giving, community outreach, event volunteering, and support of non-profit team members in fund development activity.
Expectations should be uniform across the board. A job description is a tool that should be used during the recruitment process. This allows the information to be given upfront and helps the person determine if they can do the job prior to coming on the board.
3. Clear financial giving expectations
All board members should give a personal contribution to the organization. This statement may be controversial to some. Many board members feel that because they donate their time to the organization, they should not have to donate money as well. It is important that board members give financially to the organization for many reasons.
One hundred percent giving from the board shows the board is committed to the organization. This can be particularly important if board members are involved in soliciting from individuals because it will encourage others to give to the organization.
It may seem hypocritical for board members to ask a donor for a contribution if they have not given to the organization themselves; in fact, some foundations want to see 100 percent giving from the board before they give. In addition, board members tend to be more enthusiastic and interested in the organization’s effectiveness when they have made a significant financial contribution to the organization.
There should be a standard give/get for every board member. Some organizations include their give in the bylaws.
They’ve gone through the recruitment process and you’ve voted them in. Orientation is the next step in the board building process. As part of leadership development, new board members need to acquaint themselves thoroughly with the organization.
An orientation session should be held. This will help the new member participate fully on the board as quickly as possible. The session should be organized by the board development committee and the executive director/chief executive officer. Key board and staff members should take part in the orientation. It is also appropriate to invite current board members to attend all or part of the orientation as a refresher and to meet the new members.
It is beneficial to hold the orientation at the Club’s headquarters, if convenient for board members, in order to give them a tour of the facility and a sense of the working environment.
By the conclusion of the orientation, new board members should have a sense of:
- the organization’s mission and programs;
- the organization’s finances;
- the organization’s fundraising initiatives;
- the structure of the board and staff, and;
- their roles and responsibilities as board members
5. Equipping board members to be valued ambassadors
Board members want to be strong advocates and storytellers, but often don’t have the tools they need to do this well. To ensure your board has firsthand stories about your organization that they can share with others kick each board meeting off with a mission moment. This should only take up about 5 minutes of the agenda. You can have a client tell their nonprofit story to the board. If clients are not available at your meeting time, consider using video testimonials. This is easily accomplished using cell phone video. The goal of this is twofold: 1. It helps the board stay connected to your nonprofit’s purpose and 2. It gives your board a database of stories they can share in the community especially with prospective donors. They will have real-life stories that show your mission’s impact.
6. Board Education
I have had numerous conversations with nonprofit CEOs and EDs who complain about the lack of support from their board of directors. When probed further I find a lack of a board education plan. There is no orientation, no education on their roles and responsibilities and no ongoing development plan. Yet CEOs and EDs expect the board to be strategic. provide oversight of the organization, focus on fundraising…and their fiduciary role…and provide hands-on help to staff.
A nonprofit board is only as strong as the education and direction that they receive. Having a board approved education plan can take your organization to the next level.
Try this: Poll board members to determine the education gap and to build consensus about what training is needed. An open, productive conversation must take place: about what the board’s role should be, how the board is doing, and what the most important priorities for improvement are. Take 15 minutes at your next board meeting and ask board members to help develop the board’s upcoming education plan. Have the board brainstorm answers to the following questions:
• What do you wish you had known when you started on the board, to help you make more informed decisions?
• What information do you feel you are lacking, even now?
In addition, the CEO/ED should share what areas of the organization they feel the board doesn’t understand well enough to make informed decisions.
Don’t skip this step. The CEO/ED should not rely totally on their discretion to determine what the board needs to know to do the job. When the board is actively involved in determining the contents of its own education plan, you will find there is far more interest from those board members about what they need to learn. And you will further find there is far more interest in having all board members attend!
Once there is a consensus about needed training the board can plan to add 15 minutes or ½ hour to each board meeting, to start your board’s ongoing education program with topics board members themselves have said they want to learn.
7. Board self-assessment
In the same way that non-profit leaders deserve an annual review, their boards do, too. Enabling board members to provide feedback on how the board is working (frequency and length of meetings, agenda, and facilitation of meetings), who is on the board (skill deficits, suggested profiles of new members) and whether board member expectations are clear (preparation required, financial expectation) can provide healthy feedback to a board and its chair, and set the course for future decisions and actions.
It’s important to remember that different people are comfortable providing feedback in different ways. It is, therefore, useful to provide board members with multiple kinds of opportunities. Online surveys, targeted discussion during a board meeting, and notecards submitted at the end of the meeting are all great vehicles for gathering feedback.
8. Strong agendas and meeting facilitation
A well-managed meeting can be inspiring — conversation flows, everyone at the table learns new things, good questions are posed, agendas move forward. A poorly facilitated meeting is frustrating and a waste of everyone’s time.
Building a clear agenda in advance, with clear goals and priorities for the meeting and realistic time frames for the discussion of all items can provide organization and much-needed discipline for a board meeting. Strong facilitation helps move the agenda along, gives quieter members room to contribute, and keeps the more talkative members in check. Use of a consent agenda can allow for content to be reviewed outside the room and one-way report-outs to be kept to a minimum, so that time in the room is reserved for the sharing of ideas. Check out my blog 5 Things You Need to Run an Effective Nonprofit Board Meeting.
I know this seems like a long list of things you have to do. I would encourage you to look at this as one of your tools in a toolbelt. Any one of these tools can make a big difference for your board. If you don’t know where to start just pick something that seems easy to accomplish and just start. Once that becomes standard practice add the next thing. Just keep moving forward.
I hope this helps. Your feedback is appreciated. Sharing is caring. Leave any questions below and I will get back to you or if you have additional board practices you would like to share just drop them in the comments.
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