10 Questions to Help Nonprofits Address Strengths and Challenges for Better Board Development
Your board of directors stewards the precious resources that make up your organization. Therefore, it's in every organization's interest to nurture the most effective board.
The workbook "Ten Dimensions That Shape Your Board" by Kim Sundet Vanderwall, founder of Vanderwall Consulting, and independent consultant Ellen Benavides is designed to help nonprofits and their boards recognize strengths and challenges related to how they work together, providing strategies for building on strengths and minimizing challenges.
Information in the workbook is based on conversations Vanderwall and Benavides had with 117 leaders from 40 nonprofits throughout Minnesota in 2006.
The authors point to the following five key responsibilities of every nonprofit board:
- Ensure organizational resources are used to meet the organization's mission, as promised and in compliance with the law.
- Position the organization to be strong in the future by ensuring financial stability, ensuring funding resources, and planning strategically based on a clear understanding of community realities and trends.
- Support and supervise the executive director.
- Recruit, train and engage board members.
- Be ambassadors for the organization.
Vanderwall and Benavides recommend a cultural assessment composed of 10 questions to help organizations think about factors that influence how their approach to their work plays out in the boardroom. They are:
- What kind of role does your board play? Is it hands-on, governing or hands-off? This affects what kind of people are attracted to serve on your board.
- Who drives board activity? The executive director, the board of directors or both? This affects the board's ability to do oversight and use organizational resources wisely.
- How do you define your community base? Is it a cultural group, a geographic community, a group of people experiencing the same condition, etc.?
- How many people are in your community? This affects what pool of people you have to draw on as leaders and how connected they'll be to each other and to your issues.
- Who should lead your organization? Should they come from within your community? Or should they reflect a broad cross section of people?
- What are your beliefs about power and authority? Are you egalitarian or hierarchical? This reflects how you demonstrate respect for those involved with your organization.
- Is your culture more individualistic or more community-oriented? This will influence board focus and attention.
- Is the culture of your organization more task-oriented or relationship-oriented? Is it more important to figure out the right answer to a problem or to maintain good relationships? This can influence communication style and use of people's time.
- As a group, do you prefer structure or flexibility? This will affect how you organize yourself to be productive and keep board members engaged.
- Do you get more guidance for making decisions from past traditions or from future trends? This will influence the age and style of the leaders you engage, and how you respond and interact with your community.
The workbook includes a board culture assessment worksheet that organizations can use to gauge where they are on the continuum for each of the 10 questions or "dimensions," as Vanderwall and Benavides call them; a closer analysis of each of the 10 dimensions, where organizations are given room to work out their particular strengths, potential challenges and areas to work on related to each dimension; a list of other key questions organizations should look at; a facilitator's guide with advice for the person within the organization who will lead the assessment; and a list of Web-based resources on board development.