7 Steps to the Fully Engaged Nonprofit Board You Deserve
You can see it in the CEO’s face when speaking about the organization's board. A board can be a CEO’s greatest joy or most significant challenge. A strong, effective board is essential for a nonprofit to achieve its mission and operate effectively.
A CEO known for having the community’s most prestigious and effective board once shared, “You get the board you deserve.” He probably spent at least two-thirds of his time nurturing and building his board. When he needed a major donor, good counsel or a public advocate, he didn’t have far to go.
Making the best of your board and changing it up takes time.
Be sure you have a process your board and staff leadership understand, and give them responsibility to help you follow these seven steps to success.
Know your needs. Your board’s composition and role should be clearly defined in your bylaws. Board needs vary dramatically depending on size, scope and life cycle. As your board evolves, you may need to move board members to honorary, emeritus status or other advisory roles.
With the role defined, begin to identify prospective candidates. Develop a profile of your current board characteristics and skills, and then overlay your needs. The needs of your organization change over time. If you are facing political or technical issues, you may want to fill your board with leaders possessing these skills. If you are facing a major campaign, you want leaders who can make and access significant gifts.
Maintain an ongoing list of prospective board members, update it regularly, and include action steps so they are ready and willing to serve when needed.
In an appropriate manner, seek board nominations from key donors, board members and other leaders.
For recruiting board members, develop clear procedures and build a committee responsible for vetting candidates, educating board members, evaluating the board and determining the slate of officers.
A board invitation is too important to present casually and should include a team approach — your CEO and the appropriate board leader — ideally the one with the best relationship in cultivating this candidate.
Don’t be timid about expectations, including their giving at a leadership level.
Take a step back annually and evaluate what your board members need to know. We recommend:
- Meeting schedule
- Job description
- Committee structure
- Mission/vision and programs
- Board procedures
- Strategic plan
- Board bios
- Other volunteer groups/roles
- Ongoing education
You want to match skills and interests of board members with your organization’s needs. Get them involved immediately with a committee, ensure they attend meetings and call on them between meetings to seek their special counsel.
Keep your board members motivated. It’s really all about relationship building. You must provide them with meaningful roles and a real connection with the CEO, the chair and their fellow board members.
This happens through regular communication to the board — and personal touches, including visits and phone calls.
Give the board members tasks that they can accomplish and win. And provide them with the coaching they need.
Continually show your board appreciation through every means possible, including:
- Birthday cards
- Organization-related gifts/perks
- Thank-you notes
- Volunteer appreciation week
- Holiday cards
- Phone calls
And never forget to recognize your board at board meetings and through all communications — Web, newsletters and media.
If you allow your board to learn and grow, be successful, have fun, connect with other leaders — they will be stars.
Ongoing board evaluation is essential and can be formal or informal. The stronger relationships you have, the easier it is to ask a board member to help.
By staying close to your board members, you know of life or work circumstances where they need extra grace.
Don’t let poor board performance last throughout a term. If a board member has a year-long record of inactivity, address it. Evaluation should take place formally — an annual visit with each board member — as well as informally throughout the year.
Here’s to having the board you and your organization deserve!
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.