4 Cornerstones For Building A High Impact Nonprofit Board

Some time ago I attended a nonprofit client’s monthly Board of Directors meeting for the first time.  Three hours into the meeting (yes, three) I wasn’t sure where we were on the printed agenda, so I posed that question in the most polite manner possible.  The Chair’s response was “we don’t always stick to the agenda because it would be too limiting.”

Limiting?

This was a Board of an organization with significant financial problems and struggling to attract qualified Board members.  My eyes almost popped out of my head.

Being a nonprofit Board member is a privilege and it requires attention to some fundamental and unique actions to create a high impact Board.

  • Each Board member must have clear role expectations from the outset.  The fact that a Board member is a volunteer makes it even more important that these expectations be known and individual performance evaluated over time.
  • There must be an honest, reciprocal relationship between the CEO and Board Chair.  One CEO told me that he never talked to his Board Chair because the chair was rarely available.  That is a formula for an ineffective Board. Productive CEO/Chair relationships include the willingness to challenge and learn from one another.
  • The Board should have a leadership role in strategic planning and support for accomplishment-oriented action to support the plan.  In some cases, Boards acquiesce to the Senior Management in both areas and the organization moves forward.  However, the full potential of the organization will not be reached.
  • High impact Boards develop strong relationships among themselves, often in working committee roles.  Similarly, effective Boards are often characterized as having strong committees, just as effective organizations having disciplined interdependent work teams.

Related to the fourth cornerstone is the experience for most Board members of purposeful Boards – meaningful and fun.  High impact Board members work with a focus on accomplishment and often spend less time in meetings than ineffective Boards.  When you are accountable for making a difference, you are likely to make one.  When you share the difference with a focused group of your peers, it tends to be fun.