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Board or Bored? 3 Key Steps for Running an Effective Nonprofit Board

02.08.2017

Serving on a nonprofit board is a valuable commitment volunteers make of their time and talent. Yet, the dynamics and end results may not match the needs of the organization and the expectations of its board members. Multiplied by a few, this can translate to boring and unproductive board meetings where members and the organization can feel unfulfilled and view their efforts and the meeting as a waste of time.

How do some nonprofit organizations thrive and charge forward with energy, while others appear stagnant and lifeless? What are some of the key characteristics of an interesting, dynamic and productive nonprofit board? The bottom line is that dynamic organizations don’t have “boring” boards with ineffective board meetings. They have quite the opposite — interesting and dynamic boards with productive board meetings that guide an organization to its next goal on the long journey of mission.

In most instances, the strength of a nonprofit’s board of directors and governance structure is the key to its overall success. Effective board members and boards typically share similar characteristics — a strong board mission and board members who are passionate about the mission and contribute relevant skill sets. Here’s an overview of three key steps to build an effective board.

Establish a Strong Mission

Having a clear, straightforward mission that you can “sell” to a “buyer” (i.e., your board member) is very important. If this is a new organization, the founders should define a succinct mission that impacts a measurable segment of the community. If the organization has been established for a while, the existing board and management might need to evaluate the current mission statement and compare it with the operational direction that is currently in place. If mission and operations are not quite in sync, action needs to be taken to align the two in order to provide clear organizational direction.

Recruit Passionate Board Members

The better an organization defines its mission, the easier it is to convey that mission to potential board member recruits who can determine if they are passionate about the nonprofit’s purpose. A passionate board member will be eager to provide energy and resources to the nonprofit’s mission at board meetings and events; they will want to get it right. For these members, whatever the issue is, it’s personal. Whether establishing policies, creating a new program, solving an IT issue or responding to a personnel problem, a board member who is passionate brings energy and the ability to accomplish goals, objectives and benchmarks.

Look for Relevant Skills, Not Just a “Type”

Some organizations make the mistake of creating a governance structure that limits the “type” of individuals who can be board members. For example, the bylaws of a private school or college may define that over half the board be educators, or a community development corporation may require virtually all members to live in the community. Organizations need to determine the skills that can effectively be utilized to accomplish their mission. After prioritizing those skills, an organization should recruit individuals who meet the criteria and are passionate about the organization’s mission. For example, a social service organization that receives most of its funding from government sources would most likely have a greater need for an individual with significant insurance experience, whereas a public foundation that primarily makes grants to other nonprofits would probably have a greater need for a successful investment adviser to serve on its board of directors and finance committee.

When an organization is equipped with board members who have buy-in to the nonprofit mission and purpose, are passionate about a part of the community they truly believe they can impact, and have the skills to do just that, then fasten your seat belts — monthly board meetings will likely be anything but boring.

Learn additional best practices for running an effective board by attending the April 26 NPO Speaker Series event, "Board or Bored? Part 2: Governance Issues and Helpful Tools." Click here to register.

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If you would like to discuss accounting and business strategies for your nonprofit organization, please contact Janet Ramey at 636.754.0231 or jramey@bswllc.com.

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