How to Create Excellence Through Your High-Impact Board
Any nonprofit professional who aspires excellence understands you need a high-impact board to be successful. A board must do many things for an organization. Board members are required to play many roles within the organization. Like an outstanding sports team, the better the players, the greater number of victories the team will achieve. Throughout my career when working with boards, I was driven to create outstanding results.
After meeting with each board member, attending board meetings and discussing strategic issues with board leadership, I could quickly determine the caliber of the board. Like a coach recruiting a winning team, creating excellence through your high-impact board begins with identifying and securing the best board members that fit with your organizational board needs.
FastForward notes that when choosing board members, choose people who believe in you and your organization. Find doers with the right skills and people that can build networks. Recruit board members who understand finance and operations. Make sure these potential volunteer leaders understand and have experience with other boards in the areas of fiduciary (legal matters), strategic in operational know-how, which change ways the board is assisting the organization at a higher level.
A superior board consists of steerers and rowers. Make sure all board members understand their responsibilities and feel inspired through one-on-one meetings with organizational paid leadership. A thriving board constantly evolves, so continually seek new members that bring energy and passion to the mission. Understand what roles are needed for greatest impact and continually seek to secure these role players.
You must be committed to building a board that can meet a variety of continual challenges and demands. To do this, you need to study best practices of nonprofit boards.
Emerson Collective notes specific best practices of nonprofit boards:
- Have board member job descriptions and agreements so new members know exactly what is expected of them.
- Provide clear financial giving expectations whether it is giving or get/giving.
- Use orientation tools such as board buddies, board manuals and orientation feedback.
- Make sure each board member is a valued ambassador and has a one-minute elevator pitch.
- Provide continuous communication tools for board members to use in a variety of situations.
- Establish board self-assessment tools and practices for continuous self-improvement.
- When dealing with legal and accounting matters, obtain external advice and counsel.
- Develop strong meeting agendas and emphasis on meeting facilitation and flow from all members.
Russell Reynolds emphasizes that every organization should have an effective board to assure organizational success. These boards must continually deal with a changing environment, demands from internal and external stakeholders and organizational administration. An effective board that aspires to excellence will respond to strategy, help implement organizational plans, oversee and assist management whenever possible while safeguarding the mission, values and reputation of the organization.
The best boards must have clarity of role, effective leadership, a balanced team of quality members and a culture of trust and respect. It is imperative that your high-impact board understands its scope and role, board performance measures and continuous desire to adapt to organizational change and best practices.
Strong boards must maintain a focus toward strategy. They must have members with abilities that include technical skills, professional skills and expertise. Boards must be equipped, willing and able to perform a variety of roles well. Members must understand their roles and governance responsibilities.
Outstanding board members must understand their role on every board they serve. They need to know where their organization should be headed, where is the organization at present and how well is the organization performing in a variety of areas. In an adaptation from “Extraordinary Board Leadership: The Seven Keys to High-Impact Governance,” the average size of a board for maximum performance is 19.
Determine what committees you need by your strategy of achieving board goals and objectives. Recruit and retain a diverse board. Utilize the skills, talents and attributes for each board member. Develop relationships between each board member and keep them continually informed. Empowered boards, as adapted from “Extraordinary Board Leadership,” should hit a trifecta where their work is indispensable to governing, valuable to the organization and satisfying to trustees.
BoardBuild provides best practices for nonprofit pros to consider in developing and maintaining a high-impact board. Successful boards operate at a higher level because they function differently from other boards. A high-performing board operates as a team. They are focused on the mission of the nonprofit while encouraging board members to perform at their highest level.
These boards clearly outline member expectations, establish donation policies, encourage members to provide feedback on how the board is operating and provide continuous training for new and old members. Constant attention must be given to building a team dynamic within the board of directors.
Bridgespan provided insight and promoted the premise that board performance is critical to organizational impact. Boards must contribute to an organization’s success through effective oversight, fundraising and community support. Effective boards ensure that board members’ skills are aligned with organizational needs.
The culture of the board must allow for meaningful relationships between board members. The board and organizational leadership must have a shared view of the board’s role in organizational governance and direction. The board needs to be structured effectively and receive the kind of information that allows for positive communication. There must be a desire for continuous board improvement.
Having an effective decision-making board can strengthen a nonprofit in a variety of ways, according to Araize. Your board needs to be empowered to boost productivity. To ensure your board members are firing on all cylinders, establish a strong open communication strategy by learning how each board member communicates. Some members will prefer text messages while others would like a phone call.
Ask board members for constant feedback on a variety of serious and non-serious issues. Address issues as they occur, regardless of whether the information is good or bad. Make sure meetings are well done and well attended. Set goals for your board, and delegate tasks. Invest in board management tools, and utilize virtual communication practices when appropriate. Strive to invigorate your board members.
As a nonprofit pro, if you are serious about taking your board to a higher level, start by looking at best-of-class boards. Find out what elements separate the operations of best boards from your board. Recruit potential members well based upon organizational needs and what skills are needed in certain board openings. Provide throughout orientation and know your board members. Use their skills and talents in such a way that their involvement is a win-win scenario for all parties concerned.
Hold true to term limits and encourage board members to engage with staff, administration, volunteers and organizational donors. Anticipate organizational needs and the type of board member that will be needed in the future. Creating excellence will be much easier if your board is already high impact as these members will have a higher standard of excellence and expectation. Having a high energy and success driven board will enhance your credibility and assure positive organizational performance. Your excellent board will create a reputation that will drive a higher level candidate to your organization. Make sure you are ready for the hard work that will be needed to create and maintain a high-impact board.
F. Duke Haddad, EdD, CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition, he is also president of Duke Haddad and Associates, LLC, and freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the past 13 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration, master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.