Maximizing Your Board’s Effectiveness
Nonprofit leaders and Board members often ask about ways to maximize a Board of Director’s performance to achieve impact and 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.
An effective Board begins 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.
Board members not only must be committed to the agency’s mission, each member must be willing to support the nonprofit’s needs and understand what is expected of him or her as an active, participatory member. Aligning expectations on both sides is 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, where as 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.
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-up decision-making process to keep meetings moving forward, ultimately resulting in more effective meetings.
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. It has been demonstrated time and again that Board members who enjoy their interactions with one another and the organization have a higher level of quality participation and regular meeting attendance; schedule time to allow Board members to get to know one another. 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 simply as acquaintances coming together for meetings merely to fill a seat at the table. Allocating networking time, sharing meals, or hosting a Board retreat are just a few ways to add to the cohesiveness of the Board and, thereby, the success of the organization as a whole.
Developing and maintaining an effective and unified Board requires consistent effort and a desire from each member to keep the interests of the agency front and foremost. This can become exponentially more challenging when starting out with ineffective or frustrated Board members. There is an entire process that must be in place to identify and recruit diverse, committed new members (contact us for additional information). Also, 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. Establishing expectations, conducting well managed meetings and developing relationships among Board members are just some of the activities that will help to create an engaged, cohesive Board of Directors and, in turn, allow for more strategic direction and overall mission fulfillment for the nonprofit organization.