PB and K Family Foundation Logo

News - Oh, My!

June 15, 2020

Building An Effective Nonprofit Board

Now, more than ever, nonprofits need  strong leadership. Even during a national crisis, nonprofits must continue to do the work – help others, better the planet, serve, inspire, provide. The work doesn’t stop. Regardless of staff size, or even if the nonprofit is fully volunteer-based, organizations are having to get creative to remain viable in 2020 and beyond.  

Board members can play a critical role in ensuring long-term stability, but it is important to set clear expectations so they can fulfill their roles. Nonprofit boards provide guidance and leadership, but the personalities and/or relationships can sometimes become a bit tricky. Your board members should be aware of their roles and responsibilities towards each other as well as to the organization. Providing clear, written standards and policies for board members helps everyone involved and can be a reference point should complications arise.  And it may work best to share expectations in advance of someone accepting a leadership position so there is no opportunity for misunderstanding.  Since your volunteers are from different walks of life with different skills and expectations, start off by clearly setting board expectations. Each member should be aware of what their role is on the board and how they are expected to fill that role.

It is also important to lay out clear expectations surrounding inclusion and equity. Does your organization need to update old anti-discrimination policies? Does your board understand that they need to honor these policies – they are not only for staff but for everyone associated with the organization. Why not share such a policy on your website for full transparency of your organization’s commitment to acceptance and inclusivity? With the recent US Supreme Court ruling barring workplace discrimination against LGBTQ employees, this is an excellent time to revisit and refresh an old policy not only to promote acceptance but also to protect the organization from any liability. If your board has not approved any anti-discrimination statement/policy, now is the time to make this a priority. This example of a basic inclusive anti-discrimination statement, shared by The Denver Foundation, can be a starting point for discussion - click here.  

Having responsibilities, time commitments, procedures and decorum laid out and agreed upon can mitigate potential conflict and help the board team start off in a cohesive manner. Developing a simple board orientation manual can be a great way of introducing new members to the system or even as a refresher course for long-standing board members. These manuals can be as complex or as simple as you see fit – printed or provided as a digital document. Either way, here are some things to consider including in your board orientation:

·        Mission and vision statements

·        Organizational history

·        Equity and Inclusion expectations

·        Bylaws and policies including an anti-discrimination policy

·        Strategic plan

·        Financial summaries

·        Board information

·        Committee information

·        Meeting processes

After setting expectations, there are some key areas to target when trying to improve board effectiveness:

·        Clear Communication: Aim to have clear communication between all parts of the organization. For instance, are board members encouraged to directly contact staff members or should they always communicate with Executive Director/CEO first?

·        Planning: Plan using agendas and scheduling tools to make sure everyone is on the same page. Most board members have other jobs and responsibilities outside of the nonprofit they are trying to support. Be respectful of their time by letting them know what is coming up and providing clear information with reasonable lead time so they have to feel prepared.

·        Effective Meetings: Every second counts – make the most of the board's time together. Remember, they are a key stakeholder for the organization but almost always a volunteer. Set guidelines for meetings so that no single board member can monopolize the sessions and/or derail a meeting by focusing on the area in which they are most passionate. Everyone’s time is important.  

·        Use of Committees: Committees can start the conversation and digest big issues quickly – a great asset. Set up a process for how committees work,report back, how frequently they meet, etc. Committees need guidance too.

·        Implementation of Evaluations: Make sure the board is introspective and keeping track of the progress they are making. This can be done through an annual retreat or one-on-one reviews with the board chair and executive director, or numerous other examples of retrospection/evaluation. Board members can sometimes lose track of the mission of the organization and may need a thoughtful review of their role in achieving that mission.    

We hope you use this article as a starting point to make some meaningful changes to energize and engage your board.

Credit for the inspiration for this article goes to this Wild Apricot Article. Please visit our resource pages for additional education and management ideas which can help with building an effective board.