Absolutely, a board of directors is necessary. But, it shouldn’t just be comprised of a collection of well-intended directors.  Legally, you’re probably required to have one anyway, but in addition, the value derived from the “right” board is immeasurable. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say the key difference between agencies that are successful and those that struggle is an effective, well-built and well-led board.

Now, when talking about an effective board, I am talking about one that is strategically built, fully trained and oriented, and well-run. By far the biggest problem I see with struggling agencies is a board whose directors are uncertain:

  • Of their role
  • How to be a director
  • How a nonprofit board operates
  • What specifically is expected of them in their board service
  • The type of board it is (governing vs operational vs a combination of both
  • The primary duties of a nonprofit board
  • The informal protocols that help the board operate

Big problem-yes-but eminently solvable with a few tools, steps and important conversations.

It seems to me most board positions are not filled by first looking to the future needs of the agency and then recruiting accordingly. Instead, a friend of the CEO or board chair is often tapped to join the board without regard to how his or her skill set, relationships, or other resources will help the agency achieve its mission. This is a missed opportunity to bring on someone who can really make an impact.

For a board to bring transformational change or make significant impact in its chosen niche it is essential the board is strategically recruited, fully oriented and trained, and run by a relatively strong board chair.

But I want to add another step often overlooked-straight talk about mutual expectations. Before a board candidate is asked to run for a seat, the board chair and CEO should meet with the candidate and review all significant expectations they have of the directors and allow the candidate to ask questions so there are no surprises once the candidate s sworn in. I’d suggest covering topics like:

  • Financial support
  • Fund-raising duties
  • Meeting attendance and participation
  • Committee work
  • Volunteer activities–gala, fund raisers, donor meetings, etc
  • Conflict of interest
  • Board Policy Manual
  • And more

I also suggest you provide each new director with a mentor-director to help the new one get thru those first few months.

These are just a few of my ideas on how to maximize the value your board can provide. What else would you add? Let me know. Please feel free to “share” or “like” this post.