One of the most prevalent challenges for the nonprofits we work with is board development. The conversation usually starts like this:
ED: “I really need help with my board.”
HDG: “What kind of help?”
ED: “They don’t actually do anything. They come to the meeting, I give them reports, they listen, then they give me ideas that I can never implement and they go home. And they don’t support us financially at all or not nearly enough.”
HDG: “So what do you want them to do?”
ED: “Raise money:”
In defense of your board, you cannot expect them to perform at a level that has not been clearly articulated. The first steps toward rectifying this situation is a review of the organization’s board governing documents, processes, major giving program and cultivation events, and the board’s understanding of their role in the organization.
And, this is what we often find:
- No role and responsibility documents outlining what each board member is expected to do, when, how, and with whom.
- A role and responsibility document is in place, but it does not state how much the board member should give, nor what they should be doing, or how they should help fundraising.
- A role and responsibility document that is visionary, but not concrete i.e.” The board member will advocate for the organization in the community.” Huh?
- A board agenda that has the Executive Director talking 90% of the time.
- No, or very few, sub-committees to do the heavy lifting of the board.
- A board that is led by the Executive Director, who makes the agenda, sets the tone, and runs the meeting.
- A board chair who has no idea why he or she is there, and what to do once they have arrived.
- An organization that has not developed a strategy for how their board will govern, and what outcomes and outputs they will expect and measure from the board.
- A board that is not allowed to lead.
So often we hear from organizations that are challenged by their board’s inability or unwillingness to lead and govern, or get involved in moving their organization forward. Most of the time, though, we find that it is the organization that is at odds with what to do with its board. There is a fine line between a board that governs and one that meddles. But even their meddling is often just their way of trying to be relevant in a situation that leaves them feeling lost.
Getting a board development strategy in place, and getting your board working effectively requires only four components:
1. An articulated vision for why your board exists and what you want them to achieve (outputs) and impact (outcomes).
2. A relationship (shared partnership) between you and your board chair. Build this together.
3. A set of governing documents that not only covers legal requirements but also communicates your expectations.
4. Programs that give your board freedom to engage Now back away and let them lead.
That’s it. Building your board as a program, with strategy, actions, timeline, expected outcomes, immediately strengthens your board’s position and their leadership role in your organization. Taking the time and investing the resources in board development can, quite often, be the most important thing you do for your nonprofit’s mission.
Empower your board to lead. Free yourself. Improve your results.