10 Ways to Keep Board Members Out of Nonprofit Operations
After four decades of experience as a nonprofit board member, board chair and consultant, I am convinced that a strong and properly functioning board is the most crucial factor in a nonprofit’s success and that the board chair is the most vital role.
There are different board models, and the role of the board should evolve as an organization matures in its lifecycle.
Many nonprofits have advisory boards of some type. These are popular and can be very effective. But titles do matter; if a group does not have a fiduciary and legal responsibility for the organization, don’t use the word “board” because even just the word can look like an invitation to govern operations rather than advise.
When a nonprofit is young, it may have few to no full-time employees. In that case, the board may have to be involved in operations. However, that’s not ideal as the organization grows.
Here are 10 ways to ensure that your board is properly educated and empowered in its role and that it stays out of daily operations.
1. Revise Board Materials to Reflect the Board’s Responsibilities
Review your bylaws, job descriptions and any board-related materials to ensure that the role and function of the board is clearly defined.
2. Be Prepared for Board Vacancies
Develop a list of prospective board members that includes at least three times the number of vacancies you may encounter each year. Cultivate the prospective board members and have a plan to engage and learn about them. A committee should be focused on leadership/board development, including the identification, cultivation, selection, orientation and ongoing education/coaching and feedback to board members.
3. Ensure Board Candidates Will Fit Your Organization
Vet prospective board members through volunteer service in your organization or board service at another organization. Some very smart, successful and generous leaders are, well, not exactly collegial and don’t play well with others. You want board members who understand their role and accept that the board speaks in one voice and that consensus is a key part of governance. Unfortunately, if you do not fully vet candidates who otherwise seem outstanding, they may join your board without the right temperament or with an agenda.
4. Explain the Role Before Asking Board Prospect to Serve
Mirror best practices and invite leaders to board service in person — preferably with a delegation of more than one current board member and the CEO. With the right cultivation and engagement, they will not be surprised by the visit. Be clear about board members’ responsibilities and share the board job description and a schedule of the year’s board meetings and major events.
5. Explain the Role Again in a Board Orientation
Have an engaging and thorough board orientation that stresses the proper role of board members — that they are there to approve policy but are not involved in day-to-day operations. The board has one employee — the CEO.
6. Encourage Interaction Outside of Board Meetings
Ensure that the CEO and board chair reach out to each board member outside of board meetings and that the CEO meets with each board member in person at least once a year.
7. Hold Annual Reviews
Have board members participate in an annual board self-assessment on the performance of the board as a whole and their own performance.
8. Focus on Strategy — Not Operations — at Board Meetings
Hold board meetings that reinforce strategic involvement and the members’ roles. Have each board meeting focus on a part of the strategic plan — and keep that discussion at a higher, strategic level. Having conversations on operational issues at board meetings sends the wrong message. Hold ongoing board education at each board meeting.
9. Address Members Who Stray From Their Roles
Be willing — through the chair and executive committee — to address any board members who are overreaching in their role with operations.
10. Give Praise
Celebrate great board members — provide appropriate recognition in and outside of board meetings to members who exemplify best practices and collegial behavior.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
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.