From Invitation to Impact – What to Consider Before Joining a Nonprofit Board of Directors

Congratulations! You’ve just received an invitation to join the board of directors at a well-respected nonprofit. How exciting is that? Nonprofit organizations provide vital services to those in need, the community at large, the environment, animals and more, and strive to make our world a better place, so the offer is undoubtedly flattering. As it should be!

But before you jump headfirst into this opportunity, let’s hit the pause button for a moment. While serving on a nonprofit board can be incredibly fulfilling, it can also be a significant commitment. It’s about more than just attending meetings and having your name associated with a noble cause. You’ll be expected to contribute your time, expertise, and, in many cases, your financial support. So, it’s essential to do your homework; take the time to research the nonprofit thoroughly. Here are some questions to ponder:

Mission and Alignment:

What is the organization’s mission, and does it resonate with you? A clear and focused mission statement is essential for understanding the nonprofit’s purpose and impact. Consider how your values align with the organization’s mission and whether you feel a strong connection to its cause.

Purpose of Invitation:

Why have you been asked to join the board? Make sure your skills and expertise are what the organization needs and that your contributions will be valued beyond just filling a seat. It’s crucial to understand the specific expectations and responsibilities associated with the role.

Time and Commitment:

Will you be available to commit the time and energy required for this position? Serving on a nonprofit board often requires a significant time commitment, including attending regular meetings, participating in committee work, and representing the organization at events or fundraisers.

Support and Training:

What kind of support and training will be provided to help you fulfill your role effectively? Many nonprofits offer orientation sessions and ongoing training opportunities for new board members to familiarize themselves with the organization’s mission, goals, and operations. A robust orientation program is vital to ensure that you have the tools to be an active and full participant starting with your first board meeting.


What are the board’s responsibilities, and how do they coincide with your strengths and interests? Understanding the scope of the board’s duties, such as strategic planning, fundraising, governance, and oversight, will help you determine if the role is a good fit for you.

Financial Expectations:

Will you be expected to make financial contributions, and if so, can you afford it? Or does the nonprofit have a “give/get” policy?  Some nonprofit boards have fundraising or giving expectations for board members, so it’s essential to understand any financial commitments associated with the role.

Board Dynamics:

Is the board cohesive and focused on achieving the organization’s goals, or are there internal conflicts that could hinder progress? Building strong relationships with fellow board members and working collaboratively toward common objectives is essential for board effectiveness.

If everything checks out and you’re still excited about the opportunity, it’s time to dive deeper. Review key documents like the nonprofit’s bylaws, strategic plan, and financial statements to gain a better understanding of its governance and operations. You could also consider visiting the organization’s offices or program locations to get a feel for its culture and meet the people you’ll be working with.

Remember, serving on a nonprofit board is a voluntary commitment that requires dedication and passion. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, it can be a wonderful and rewarding experience to know you’re making a meaningful difference in the world. So, do your due diligence, and if it feels right, seize the opportunity!

What are some quick tips for maintaining an engaged board of directors?

In this video, Jennifer, provides some specific tips on how to keep your board members engaged with your organization throughout their tenure.

Engaging and Evaluating for Board Effectiveness

Nonprofit leaders and board members often ask about ways to maximize and maintain board member engagement. Furthermore, they ask about how to evaluate the board’s ongoing effectiveness. While there are a number of areas that go into developing an engaged and effective board, some of the initial key steps are outlined here.

How Do We Maximize and Maintain Board Engagement?

Build Teamwork to Make the Dream Work

It starts with having the appropriate people in place; without this thoughtfully constructed team of individuals, it becomes impossible to achieve a group that is able to work together cohesively and strategically.

In addition, how many nonprofits have members who have been on the board together for years and have never really gotten to know one another? Imagine how much more effectively a group like this could have guided their organization toward its mission had they been governing as a team rather than as acquaintances coming together for meetings, or to merely fill a seat at the table.

To maintain an effective board, there must be an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect among the members and the agency’s executive leadership team. Board members who enjoy interactions with one another and the organization have a higher level of trust and respect that will likely lead to quality participation and regular meeting attendance.

Ensure Commitment to the Nonprofit’s Direction

One of a nonprofit’s most valuable assets is its board of directors. To create this value, a board must be diverse, dedicated, and eager to assist your agency in fulfilling its mission.

Board members should not only be committed to the agency’s mission, but they should also be willing to support the nonprofit’s needs and understand what is expected of them as an actively involved member.

Clearly Communicate Involvement Expectations

Aligning expectations on both sides ins critical. Leadership needs to clearly understand what each member can and is willing to provide in terms of skills, time, and financial support (this means both direct giving and/or helping to raise funds) and successfully match those to the needs of the nonprofit organization.

The appropriate level of board involvement will depend, in part, on the size of the organization and its stage of development. A newly formed nonprofit or grassroots advocacy group will often require an “all hands on deck” approach, whereas a more advanced organization may focus more on maximizing the board members’ network of contacts and fundraising efforts. In either case, the legal and fiduciary oversight responsibilities of the board of directors must be considered priority.

Hold Effective Meetings

Meetings should be a positive use of the board members’ time. Discussions should allow for open debate and questioning, and time should be spent on strategic goal advancement, while not be mired in minutia or the detailed operations of the organization. For example, if a board is reviewing, debating, and approving agency procedures, they are operating on a micro-management level. The board should remain focused only on policy approval and developing and fulfilling strategic goals. There should also be an agreed-upon decision-making process to keep meetings moving forward, ultimately resulting in more effective meetings.

Plan for and Respond to Challenges

Developing and maintaining an effective and unified board requires consistent effort and a desire from each member to keep the interests of the agency first and foremost. This can become exponentially more challenging when starting out with ineffective or frustrated board members. It is important to be on the lookout for warning signs of disengagement or disenchantment as well as any new power struggles. Plan ahead about how you may prevent and handle some of these challenges.

Nonprofits often struggle with how to appropriately dismiss board members from their responsibilities when this becomes the necessary course of action. However, it can be done with time, thoughtful planning, and action. To plan for these situations, there is an entire process that must be in place to identify and recruit diverse, committed, new members. (contact us for additional information).

How Do We Measure Our Effectiveness?

In today’s competitive philanthropic environment, it is essential to regularly measure the functionality and influence of your nonprofit board and determine practices and strategies that will strengthen its impact. Conducting a thoughtful board assessment is a solid place to begin.

The following questions may help to better inform a board assessment:

  • Does each member of your board feel engaged and involved in the oversight of your organization on a regular basis?
  • Is your board directly involved in setting fundraising goals, and are they actively involved in the fundraising process as required by your nonprofit?
  • What are your board’s three greatest strengths, and how have these contributed to the overall success of your nonprofit?
  • What are your board’s three most significant weaknesses, and how have these held your nonprofit from operating at its optimal level?
  • Does your board culture encourage and welcome open discussion of issues, even when members are not in agreement?
  • Is there a mutual level of respect among all board members?

Developing relationships, establishing expectations, heading off potential challenges, and assessing board effectiveness are just some of the activities that will help foster an engaged, cohesive board of directors who can effectively contribute to fulfilling your nonprofit organization’s mission. For information on any of these questions or other ways to take your board to the next level of engagement and effectiveness, please feel free to contact us.

For more information or questions about the contents of this article, please write or call Jennifer Flowers @ / 212.209.0240.   This post contains original content and was written for Accreditation Guru, Inc. Use of this copy is permitted with credit and reference within the same body of copy to Accreditation Guru, Inc.

Educating Your Board of Directors

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela.

Education forms the foundation from which most everything else is created, making it one of the wisest investments a nonprofit can expend its precious resources on. Taking the time to educate your board of directors is one way you can develop that foundation so they are best prepared to serve your organization and its clients.

Keep in mind that many nonprofits do not formally educate their board members. Often, a nonprofit will assume that if someone is professional or a leader in their industry that they also have the knowledge to be an effective member on the board. Ultimately, this assumption can lead to increased risk and liability for your organization.

If you’re not educating your board members, who is?

Some questions to reflect on when considering topics to educate your new board member (or existing members for that matter):

  • Does each of your board members clearly understand the organization’s mission, vision, services, and programs well enough to make meaningful contributions in a leadership capacity?
  • What do orientation materials for new members include, and how are they used for onboarding new people?
  • Does your organization have an inclusive, formal orientation procedure in place for all incoming board members?
  • How do you train your board members for ongoing success?

Here are some ideas to consider implementing as you think about educating your board:

  • Board members should be diverse enough to bring different skills to the table. That said, you may need to consider educating them on mission-specific areas of your nonprofit. For example, teach them about the foster care and adoption process, or about how your homeless shelter changes the lives of its clients for the better.
  • From day one, help board members understand their roles and responsibilities. Knowing what is expected of them will encourage the confidence they need to be the leaders that your agency – and your clients – are counting on.
  • Customize educational opportunities to fit the needs of your board. Applicable areas of concentration can include fundraising, financial literacy, governance, and strategic planning. More often than not, there are board members who do not understand how to read financial data reports and the elements contained within. Arming them with this knowledge will also give them insight on the importance of their fundraising efforts as well as strategic planning.

The more effectively you educate your board members (especially regarding the agency’s mission), the more they are able to share with others throughout the communities you serve. They can use their newfound knowledge to both inform and strengthen relationships on your organization’s behalf, both now and well into the future.

Next week: Now that you have your board and they’re well prepared, it’s time to ensure they are everything your organization needs. How to engage and evaluate for board effectiveness.

For more information or questions about the contents of this article, please write or call Jennifer Flowers @ / 212.209.0240.   This post contains original content and was written for Accreditation Guru, Inc. Use of this copy is permitted with credit and reference within the same body of copy to Accreditation Guru, Inc.

Exploring Ways to Find Your Next Board Member

An effective board of directors begins with having the appropriate people in place. Without this thoughtfully constructed team of individuals, it becomes difficult to achieve a group that is able to work together cohesively and strategically.

Nonprofit leaders often find that looking for a nonprofit board member can be a time-consuming and frustrating experience. Using online resources, such as LinkedIn, may be a great place to start that search. This blog will discuss how to plan for, and explore, various resources for finding your next board member.

Before You Search, Analyze Your Current State

To save time and resources, do some analysis of the current state of your Board before launching into a search.  Here are some considerations:

  • Does your board currently have an adequate number of well-functioning board committees and/or other workgroups to support your organization’s operations?
  • What is the expertise, skill set and individual make up of your existing Board for current needs? Could the Board you have now potentially serve your future needs?
  • Do you have a mix of demographics, individual skills and interests, dedication to your agency’s mission, appropriate level of diversity and reflection of the population served by your agency?
  • Does your nonprofit regularly recruit new members? If so, by what process? Is a standardized interview conducted and a set of standard questions asked? How can you use those questions to also inform your search?

Recruitment Tips

Ideally you already have a pool of potential board members who are already passionate about your mission. People who may be interested in a board positions include, but are not limited to:

  • Current volunteers
  • Someone in your donor network
  • Connections of current board members
  • Someone who represents of the demographics of the community served

Individuals may need to be educated on what it means to serve on your board. Take the opportunity to train and mentor people about the reward of being a board member of your organization. Remember, it’s possible that a terrific potential board member has not stepped forward because no one ever asked them.

Board Connection Organizations

If you have exhausted the search for board members among your current pool of connections, it may be appropriate to use a board connection organization and online tools. A focused online search can be a great source for seeking out qualified, appropriate, new nonprofit board of director members for virtually any type of agency.

For one, LinkedIn’s service, LinkedIn Board Member Connect, aims to help streamline this recruitment process. Board Member Connect helps nonprofit leaders leverage their own networks and their board members’ networks to find the right skilled professionals to join their boards.

One of the benefits of Board Member Connect is the advanced search feature that allows you to target specific qualities while searching for your ideal candidate. For example, you can search for someone with legal experience, who works in the housing industry and is located in Greater New York City. There is also a “nonprofit interests” search feature that allows you to filter by professionals who have indicated their interest in board service.

To participate, you must be a registered U.S. nonprofit organization. With regard to cost, nonprofits are able to post board opportunities on LinkedIn for less than $50 per posting. BoardSource members can post an opportunity for free at their Board Recruitment Center. Impact Opportunity and BoardnetUSA are two additional, nationwide sites where you can post open board positions. You may also contact your local United Way or local community foundation for additional recruitment resources.

Once you have a solid list of places for outreach as well as people to connect with – the process may prove to be both less time-consuming and frustrating.

Good luck on your search!

Next week: You’ve found the best board for your organization, now what? How educating both new and existing members can positively affect your organization.

For more information or questions about the contents of this article, please write or call Jennifer Flowers @ / 212.209.0240.   This post contains original content and was written for Accreditation Guru, Inc. Use of this copy is permitted with credit and reference within the same body of copy to Accreditation Guru, Inc.

Building Diversity to Improve the Effectiveness of Your Nonprofit Board of Directors

Your board of directors is an important asset. These individuals are a key factor in guiding the direction and growth of an organization by making key decisions that define its mission, vision, and culture. Naturally, the individuals who make up the board should be chosen with care, and experts agree that diversity – in gender, ethnicity, backgrounds, age, and abilities – is one key to ensuring effectiveness by bringing multiple viewpoints and experiences to the process.

So, what does it take to build and maintain a strong and effective board? According to Leading with Intent, the most successful boards are thoughtfully created around skill sets, leadership styles, and diversity of thought and background.

To create your most effective board, consider the following:

Identify candidates who have the specific skills your nonprofit needs to fulfill its mission.

Strong community ties, a personal connection with those you serve, or financial or legal expertise, are examples of specific skills that can positively impact the strategic direction of a nonprofit. While the goal is to create diversity among board members, you should still have a strategy in mid for what makes a passionate, committed board member. For example, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide meals to those in need may seek someone who has played an active role in a local food pantry or soup kitchen rather than a local chef. Or, for a nonprofit that serves physically disabled individuals, including a board member with a physical disability will provide personal perspective that only he or she can give. Choose candidates that are passionate about what they do AND about what your organization does, to enhance their contributions.

Your board should reflect the diversity of the community it serves.

If not, the signal that sends to the external world about who your organization is and what it values won’t align with your mission. Creating a diverse board with individuals of different genders, races, backgrounds, and experiences will allow your nonprofit to draw from a greater network within your community. Stagnation can occur when many board members overlap in experience and similar social networks, and that could put your organization at risk. The more outlooks you have at the table, the greater the insights your board will be able to draw on as they make decisions and the more confidence the individuals you serve will have that their interests are being considered.

Age diversity matters as well.

Technology has become embedded in every aspect of your lives, especially in business. Consider younger members who bring a deep understanding of modern technology and digital communication to the table. Those who have grown up in the computer and social media era can bring a unique set of solutions to problems. Also, these board members may be better able to relate to the issues facing a younger demographic. Younger members also bring with them their own, unique sphere of influence that will expand the reach and promotion of the nonprofit through the community at large.

Diversity may not be easy to achieve or maintain. Matters of race, religion, politics, sexual orientation, and gender identity, for example, may lead to challenging discussions or vastly different views. However, differing viewpoints will provide an essential opportunity for everyone at the table to come together, to build a greater level of respect for the diversity of those you serve, and to gain a deeper understanding of the issues before them, ultimately strengthening your organization.

For more information or questions about the contents of this article, please write or call Jennifer Flowers @ / 212.209.0240.   This post contains original content and was written for Accreditation Guru, Inc. Use of this copy is permitted with credit and reference within the same body of copy to Accreditation Guru, Inc.

Is it important to educate your board of directors? YES!

Education forms the foundation from which most everything else is created, making it one of the wisest investments a nonprofit can expend its precious resources on. Nowhere is this truer than taking the time to educate your board of directors so that they are best prepared to serve your organization and help with mission fulfillment.

If you have questions about how Accreditation Guru can help you and your board of directors, please contact us at 212.209.0240 or

How to Have a Winning Board Retreat

A well-functioning, cohesive and engaged board of directors is a crucial factor for your organization’s ability to fulfill its mission. As a nonprofit organization continues to grow in both size and significance, it is increasingly vital for board members to understand their evolving role and the importance of their contributions to successful mission fulfillment.

One way to help support your board members’ learning and engagement is to hold an annual board retreat.

The first thing to understand is that board retreats are different from regular board meetings beyond the significant impact of holding a retreat off-site in a unique location from where board meetings are normally held.

Make a Retreat Unique

A retreat is not simply a longer board meeting. The agenda for your retreat should be entirely different from your normal meeting agenda. Also, board retreats should be at least a half day – a full day is even better.

There are three key reasons for having an annual board retreat: team building, strategic planning and board development/education (including fundraising). Holding a retreat allows your board time to regroup, reconnect and recharge.

1. Team Building

Although you may know your board members, they may not know one another all that well. Most people come into a board meeting, sit in the same seat where they always sit, go through the meeting and then leave. How are they expected to get to know one another if there is no time for socializing and team building?

Time needs to be spent on encouraging board members to know one another better and begin to develop personal ties. I have known people who served on the same board for more than five years and never realized that their kids played on the same sports team and they knew many of the same people until I facilitated their board retreat and we engaged in an interactive exercise. The experience provided new connections and let them relate on another level.

Successful board retreats should also include a “mission moment,” where you remind people why they serve on the board. It might be a short video or presentation by a staff member or a testimonial by someone served by the organization. You want to re-engage people with personal stories of mission impact and how their work as board members support mission fulfillment.

2. Strategic Planning

An annual board retreat is the ideal time to advise the board of progress made and/or the difficulties faced when trying to achieve strategic goals. Be realistic, however – they are there to help you make difficult decisions.

It might also be a time to review and revise your strategic plan, if necessary.

If you don’t have a strategic plan or if your mission and vision need to be updated, you can set the stage and gain input along with the necessary buy-in to the process. An outside facilitator can be especially useful here if you are inexperienced in developing strategic plans or revising mission statements.

3. Board Development and Education (Including Fundraising)

If your board is an EXCEPTIONAL board, consider yourself lucky! Many nonprofits I speak with, however, have room for improvement (sometimes a lot of room!) before their board of directors is fully engaged.

A retreat is the perfect time to provide education and discuss board development topics with your board members.

Start by reviewing the roles and responsibilities of your board members. Everyone should be clear about the expectations of board members by the organization and they, in turn, need to be honest about their ability and willingness to meet these expectations. You may ask your board members to sign a form acknowledging their roles and responsibilities as a way of recommitting to the organization for the coming year.

Do you have a board that tends to overstep its boundaries? Perhaps you can participate in an exercise that focuses on responsibilities of board members as they relate to nonprofit leadership and staff.

Many nonprofits expect their board members to be actively involved in fundraising. However, few administrators take the time to actually train their board in how to be effective fundraisers. And if you aren’t training them, who is?

Use your retreat to re-engage your board members in fundraising. Provide exercises and scenarios to help them get over their fear of fundraising and help them learn from one another. Also, explore with them ways that the board can be involved in fundraising beyond making “the big ask” (more on this next month).

Benefits of Holding a Retreat Off-Site

A board retreat should take place away from the site of daily business, if possible. This provides a different perspective and going to a new location helps to generate creative and strategic thinking among the group.

Whenever I facilitate a retreat, I push hard to have it held off-site. When there has been resistance, it is inevitably because of cost. However, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a fancy retreat location. Perhaps one of your board members has an office with a spacious meeting room you could use. Or you could approach the bankers and attorneys who service your organization (whom you are already paying via their fees) and ask them to use that lovely board room that is going unused. They might even offer to donate lunch for the retreat. Remember, it never hurts to ask.

Pros and Cons of Hiring a Board Retreat Facilitator

The only downside of hiring an outside facilitator is the cost. That’s it. However, if you approach this as an investment in your board and, ultimately in mission fulfillment, then it is well worth the expense.

The benefits of hiring a consultant as a facilitator include providing expertise and professionalism to your retreat. An experienced facilitator can be an invaluable resource in retreat planning and execution.

They ensure that retreats are efficient and effective, hold workshops and exercises that help you reach your goals and elevate the event’s importance.

Facilitators who are unencumbered by existing politics can provide a unique perspective, guide discussions and decision making. They also help to develop a relevant agenda, facilitate group activities and keep the retreat on schedule.


There are many ways to design a board retreat, but be sure that it is well planned and has realistic and meaningful objectives. Getting full commitment from the board and executive leadership is key.

Don’t forget to allow time for informal interactions among board members. They don’t often have time to connect and foster relationships; a retreat is a prime opportunity to do so.

Wishing you all the best for your board retreat and to having an exceptional, engaged board of directors!

For more information on board retreats, contact us at or 212.209.0240.

Succession Planning – It’s Not All About You

At some point, every organization will face the challenges of a change in leadership. Though many of these transitions are anticipated – like when a CEO or board chair retires – other times, agencies are faced with the task of filling an unexpected opening.

Nonprofit organizations are known for doing their best to provide stellar services to those in need while working with limited funding and, often, fewer human resources personnel than the typical for-profit company. It’s the nature of the business.

The key to making any leadership change a seamless process for staff and clients alike is to thoughtfully develop a succession plan along with intact, actionable policies that will guide your decisions and help your organization Prepare for Greatness!™

Avoid Service Disruptions by Developing a Plan

Planning ahead is essential – before potential shake-ups take up valuable resources. Always include the executive leadership staff and the board of directors in succession planning and its implementation. Get them onboard for developing an emergency transition plan that outlines the delegation of responsibilities and authority in the event of an unplanned vacancy or leadership disruption.

For planned leadership transitions, map out an appropriate timeline for a smooth transition. This also helps ensure that a proper support system is in place for new leaders, including mentoring opportunities and well-defined goals for the individual and the organization as a whole.

Getting buy-in from the principal people in the organization helps keep everyone focused on developing the most beneficial policies. Make it an organizational goal to support new leadership, allowing him or her to develop a personal comfort level and lead with confidence.

Though obvious, it bears repeating: Communication is paramount. Throughout the entire transition process, it is essential to maintain fluid lines of communication within all levels of the organization.

Develop a Process to Ensure Smooth Transitions

If your organization puts policies into place, they should be thoughtfully analyzed, planned and reviewed – just as agencies do for budgeting, daily operations, strategic planning and other essential functions.

Ensure continuity by developing a list of potential leadership successors based on the ability to enhance and capitalize on individual strengths and effectively match the best candidate to the most appropriate position.

Because nonprofits must generally do more with less, it is beneficial to create ample opportunities for staff and board members to cross-train and/or broaden their leadership skills so that there are several individuals at the ready to step into larger roles with more responsibility when the time comes.

Give special attention to developing your organization’s group of talent. Concentrate your valuable resources on educating and strengthening the skills of your agency’s leadership candidates to build a reserve of exceptional contenders when the time arises.

When compiling your candidate list, be sure to consider challenges such as maintaining an adequate amount of staff diversity, recruitment of a wide range of individuals who provide the skills your agency will need in the future, and long-term employee retention.

Another potential affliction for nonprofits is Founder’s Syndrome, where an organization’s founder or other long-employed leader feels that no one will be able to do all of the work required and/or care more about the mission and staff than he or she does. If a founder refuses to partake in succession planning the entire enterprise can be jeopardized when he or she leaves – or dies. It is up to the board to assert its oversight and prepare for the inevitable transfer of power if the entity is to survive.

Consider Best-Case and Worst-Case Scenarios

Incorporate various situations into your planning. It is easier to prepare for a months-long, anticipated CEO retirement than it is when a key employee takes a job at another organization without warning or requests a leave of absence for several months to care for a stricken parent or recover from an injury.

Consider whether installing an interim leader into a management position would be of greater benefit to your organization than quickly placing someone in a position just to get it filled. This is especially important for the highest-level positions in the agency where it may be beneficial to seek outside candidates for consideration.

And, of course, thoughtful and timely communication before, during and after the transition of leadership positions supports the success of both the individual and your organization as a whole so that the focus will remain on what you are all there to do – fulfill your mission of serving others.

With proper planning beforehand, the stress of selecting a high-level replacement and transitioning that person into the job will be much easier to accomplish. By implementing these tips and instituting a process, you can help your organization Prepare for Greatness!™ when faced with potentially disruptive personnel changes.