Serving on the board of a nonprofit can be a fulfilling experience, especially if the organization supports a cause dear to you. It’s a rewarding experience to serve on an efficient board when you know you’re making a difference for the organization and the mission the nonprofit supports. But any seasoned nonprofit board member knows that some are better-run than others.
If you find yourself working with an organization that has an opportunity to improve, here’s a rundown of ideas you can take to help increase the productivity of the board.
Steps to building an effective nonprofit board
•Determine what the organization needs from the board. Some nonprofits desperately need their boards to drive fundraising, while others need strategic oversight and still others need operational help. Being open and honest about the most valuable role your board will play can go a long way to building it for effectiveness.
•Know the skills and capabilities you need and recruit intentionally. Having the right mix of professional skills represented on your board allows you to tackle a broad range of issues. The distinct valuable backgrounds are human resources, legal, finance, marketing, operations and education. It’s also helpful to have several community leaders such as a pastor, economic development staffer, realtor or developer. These professionals can provide a different level of understanding of the local market that can be truly helpful to the cause.
•Set clear expectations. Boards are teams, and the best teams have clearly articulated expectations that cover all aspects of their relationships with teammates and management. Expectations should support the primary role the board plays, but can also relate to operational expectations, such as attendance at meetings and events, participation on operating committees, financial support, even code of conduct at meetings and events.
•Use committees. Committees are a great way to tackle specific issues with more intensity. Most nonprofits have separate committees for finance, development, marketing or promotion, and human resources. Just like the board, committees need clear expectations set for their responsibilities. You can also expand your volunteer pool by recruiting non-board members to committees, so you have more horsepower in the specific areas. By looking outside of the current board, you can reduce the burden on current members while simultaneously grooming future members.
•Discipline your communication efforts. Establishing regular communication matters, as does the form communication takes. Don’t make it difficult for board members to keep up with what’s happening, so providing executive summaries can be an effective solution. Remember not to overdo it either, since most board members have full-time jobs and won’t want to work too hard at staying informed.
Plan ahead. For starters, putting out annual meetings calendar at the beginning of the year will improve attendance and engagement. Letting people know far in advance about special events or special meeting requirements does the same.
Also, consider giving people simple homework in preparation for topics such as strategic planning or annual budget discussions to make them more efficient, help meetings run smoother, and lead to stronger feelings of board satisfaction.
•Have a shortlist of future board members. Progress can sometimes get stopped if a key member leaves the board with little notice. To minimize this impact, have a list of prospective desired board members ready at all times. You never know when someone will move for family, a spouse, a promotion or the acceptance of a new role,
"Know the skills and capabilities you need and recruit intentionally. Having the right mix of professional skills represented on your board allows you to tackle a broad range of issues. The distinct valuable backgrounds are human resources, legal, finance, marketing, operations and education. It’s also helpful to have several community leaders such as a pastor, economic development staffer, realtor or developer."
I’d encourage anyone with the time and desire to get involved with a favorite cause to serve on a volunteer board. If you do, be ready to take steps to improve the effectiveness of the board, so you and the rest of the members can have the most fulfilling experience possible.
Will Deppiesse is vice president, senior business banking officer with Investors Community Bank.