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 Sara O’Neil @ sara@accreditationguru.com / 414.573.9287.   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.

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