How Nonprofit Leadership Can Improve Its Board of Directors
In today’s competitive nonprofit market, it’s imperative for nonprofit leadership teams to determine short-term and long-term goals, systematically strategize their fundraising initiatives and manage their staff members as effectively and efficiently as possible. Additionally, a successful organization is always led by a high-quality nonprofit leadership team who understands how to build donor retention and showcase its impact. But to help a nonprofit leadership team develop and grow, it needs a diligent board of directors.
A board exists to help the organization navigate toward a sustainable model. According to the National Council of Nonprofits, board members have three primary responsibilities:
- Duty of Care: Take care of the nonprofit by ensuring prudent use of all assets, including facility, people and good will.
- Duty of Loyalty: Ensure that the nonprofit's activities and transactions are, first and foremost, advancing its mission; recognize and disclose conflicts of interest; make decisions that are in the best interest of the nonprofit corporation—not in the best interest of the individual board member (or any other individual or for-profit entity).
- Duty of Obedience: Ensure that the nonprofit obeys applicable laws and regulations; follows its own bylaws; and that the nonprofit adheres to its stated corporate purposes/mission.
And while this seems simple enough on paper, developing and maintaining an all-star board is no easy feat. The lines between supporting role and leading role can oftentimes become blurred, and it’s important for nonprofits to choose the right kind of people to sit on their board. Nonprofit leadership teams need to be selective about who they choose to put on their board, and that involves patience and dedication. A board lays a strong foundation for any leading organization, because a board can provide nonprofit leadership with great insight to aid the organization to reaching their goals.
Board Development Challenges in the Nonprofit Sector
Putting together an outstanding nonprofit board is easier said than done, and it takes a lot of precision. Not everyone makes a great board member, so it’s acceptable to be picky when it comes to putting together a nonprofit board. And while a certain individual may be a major giver to the organization, that doesn’t mean the nonprofit is obligated to put them on the board. There are characteristics that nonprofits should look for in every board member. Forbes describes a “great board member” with the following: a person with great judgment, who needs to have relevant context, who has wisdom, who has motivation and interest, who should have a compatible style with the nonprofit’s executives, who is an effective coach and mentor, and who has courage.
Recruiting quality board members is one of the most challenging aspects to board development and management. According to the recently released “2018 Nonprofit Impact Leadership Study,” the top three challenges nonprofits face (Figure 1) when developing and maintaining a nonprofit board are:
- Making sure board members are actively participating in fundraising activities, and keeping them motivated to do so.
- Recruiting quality board members who are passionate about the nonprofit’s cause.
- Establishing clear roles and expectations for each board member.
A few other challenges that nonprofit leadership faces are keeping board members engaged, ensuring that each member has a fundamental understanding of fundraising and measuring each board member’s fundraising activity and performance.
Addressing Board Challenges for Better Strategic Planning for Nonprofits
Board challenges are something that many nonprofits struggle with, and there’s no easy solution. We often hear horror stories of board takeovers—when the nonprofit leadership is “overthrown” by its board of directors. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Boards are a fundamental part of a thriving nonprofit and with its challenges and difficulties, once nonprofit leadership irons out the details and guidelines for their board, it becomes a well-oiled machine that supports the nonprofit and improves it in ways that will help the nonprofit achieve its mission. It’s all about taking the critical steps to get there—and putting in place a strategic plan that falls into the organization’s end goal.
- Think very carefully about whom you choose to sit on your nonprofit board. It’s completely acceptable to cherry pick your board members because these are the people who will be helping you make decisions about the nonprofit and who will be representatives for the nonprofit.
- Find knowledgeable representatives. These board members have to be knowledgeable, reliable, trustworthy and true to the nonprofit’s mission and cause. Those who are well versed in fundraising, in business or in your nonprofit’s background will provide utmost benefit to your organization, whether it’s bringing in the donations or providing feedback or ideas on what initiatives will bring the organization to the next level.
- Make sure board members are passionate about the nonprofit’s cause. If you choose board members based on their income level or gift giving level, you’re losing out on potential donations. Board members who are passionate about the nonprofit will go out of their way and go above and beyond the call of duty to bring in as many donors and donations as possible. This has the potential to open doors to other major givers as well! On the other hand, if they’re not passionate, there’s a good chance they will be complacent in their role and will not go out of their way to recruit additional donors.
To learn more about how to build a stronger leadership team and overcome the common challenges nonprofit organizations face, download the full “2018 Nonprofit Leadership Impact Study.”
Nhu Te is senior content manager at Fundraise Up, the AI-powered online donation platform for enterprise nonprofits. In her work, she focuses on helping nonprofits create more impact through personalized donor relations, digital fundraising and thoughtful use of technology.