Written by Lisa Assenmacher, Communications & Training Specialist
Whether you are working for an organization with a board, or have sat on a board of directors, we all likely share similar experiences within the nonprofit world. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a session at the Building Michigan Communities Conference in April led by Tom Williams of the Nonprofit Network that provided insight for maximizing your board’s full potential.
From this, I put together five key components to consider when either planning a board or are a participating board member.
1. Composition and Needs
This is a fundamental, yet important thing to consider with board of directors. Rather than seeking a warm body or somebody you know, it’s more proactive and advantageous to the organization to seek out people who bring specific skills, experiences and demographics to the conversation. A board functions to direct the strategy of an organization and if there lacks this diverse spectrum of composition and needs, the overall success can be limited. Instead, begin by carefully considering the existing board composition and prioritize your list based on your governance priorities and current needs.
2. Structure and Committees
While every organization is different, common best practices include a the creation of different committees focused on key areas that help ensure the functionality and strategic direction of an organization’s progress. Beyond an Executive and Finance Committee, every board should have a group of dedicated people that meet to work on fundraising, program and services, audits and other special projects as they surface. The board’s job is to follow the strategic plan and govern the organization, and while the staff may coordinate and oversee the committees, they handle the day-to-day operations and implementation. The board’s involvement in committees help provide clarity and remove uncertainty.
3. Recruitment Process
Armed with your priorities for board composition and needs, you will then need to identify potential candidates that would be a good match for your organization. The process should be involved and include identification and research, followed by an initial contact, an interview and follow up to ensure that it is a good fit and potential relationship. After this, the committee should recommend that candidate to the board.
Interviews should convey professionalism and include relevant information, including meeting dates, bylaws, policies, a commitment form, evaluation methods and other informational documents. Further, the expectations of board service should be clear and it is critical to emphasize the responsibility, legal and ethical requirements and contribution expectations from new board members.
The more a board member understands the organization, the better job they can do participating in their role. An orientation is a helpful way to acclimate people and equip them with the tools to help them do their jobs successfully. Orientations should provide opportunities for board members to become familiar with the organization chart, position functions and responsibilities, glossary of common acronyms and facts and figures (budget, audience, revenue, expenses, awards, milestones, coverage map, etc.). In addition, they should get to each other, meet key individuals and understand how board meeting will work. These steps will help ensure that things are done appropriately and derail any potential confusion throughout the term.
Assessments provide built-in opportunities to make sure that board members are accountable for their commitments and avoid conflict and difficulties later. These should be planned ahead of time and given enough time for implementation. Organizations have to decide if they plan to do assessments internally or hire an outside facilitator. Whatever the process, it should be documented and consistent, and include follow up.
Each of these steps highlights important considerations for an organization to maximize their board’s potential. While these are merely an overview, there are more best practices and details that can be explored for each unique situation. CEDAM offers custom services, strategic technical assistance and other resources, and the Nonprofit Network is also available for consulting services. In addition, there is endless reading available online through different search queries if you are looking for more general information and a place to start.
Are there areas in which your board could be more successful?