Be Clear and Consistent With Your Board
Consistency and clarity are essential to a nonprofit board being high-performing.
- Regularly scheduled meetings. It’s vital to have and maintain regularly scheduled meetings (i.e. the fourth Thursday of the month at 8 a.m.) or meetings scheduled at least one year in advance. If a chairman is unable to make a meeting, there should be another officer whose duty it is to preside in the chair’s absence. This schedule should be maintained even if the chair cannot make a meeting. If a potential chair cannot make regularly scheduled meetings, then in most instances, the candidate is not the right choice. This consistency includes the time and length of meetings. Recently we saw a board delaying the start of its twice a year board meeting by several hours, because it was the new chair’s preference to not have early morning meetings. This board has had the precedent of beginning hours earlier—and a later start should never have been considered.
- Standard agenda. Who makes various reports and leads various discussions may change, but a board should have a regular agenda. We’ve seen boards seemingly without a rudder, recreating an agenda for each meeting and wasting many hours that otherwise could be invested in meaningful board work.
- Regular communication. Board members should receive at least monthly updates from the CEO and supplemental communication from the chair. The CEO should also ensure that he/she reaches out to each board member periodically by phone and in-person at least annually.
- The role and expectations of each board member—clearly articulated when the member is recruited, then again when the member is oriented and through regular communication and evaluation. This would include clarity on the board members performance and an invitation for underperforming and unengaged board members to leave the board and possibly return during a season in their life when it is more appropriate.
- The role and expectations of the board as a whole—the board only acts with one voice.
- The role and expectations of each officer to provide continuity (it is best when there is an immediate past chair and a chair-elect serving along with the chair) and avoid a board that fluctuates with the personality or preferences of the chair. This would include fiduciary and other legal oversight, including ongoing evaluation of the CEO and ensuring that there are sufficient resources to meet the budget and obligations.
- The function of the board and its committees through bylaws, policies, etc. Whether the board is a legal corporate board or an advisory board, its purpose and roles need to be clear. This allows for continuity and consistency between board leadership and even changes in staff leadership.
Take a few minutes, step back and think of ways you can improve the consistency and clarity for your board. You’ll see immediate and positive results!
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.