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The Profound Power of an Engaged Board

I recently read a post from a consulting colleague who said “boards in nonprofits are a relic of the past, but we are stuck with them for the foreseeable future.”

I disagree.

A nonprofit board can and should be one of the organization’s best assets. A good board:

  1. Gives.

  2. Helps set strategy.

  3. Holds the staff AND other board members accountable.

  4. Participates in committee and governance work.

  5. Brings new donors.

Sure, there are other things that an engaged board does. But these seem to rise to the top in most conversations. And while that may seem quite simple, it is easy for boards to get sideways with their obligations. That is why it is important that the chair or president of the board and the chief executive of the organization are clear and direct in explaining the obligations of a board member. In doing so, it makes having a tough conversation with those board members who are not fulfilling their commitment easier and expected. Good board members understand their responsibilities and obligations.

New board members should never be left to their own devices. Even the most seasoned board members need a robust and intentional orientation process when they join. Help them fully understand the financial picture of the organization so that they can speak intelligently in and out of board meetings. Make sure they know the real impact that the organization is having in the community. And please go over the board expectations at least once during their orientation session.

Consider doing a quarterly or biannual board expectation check in at a regular board meeting. Create a dashboard that highlights board giving, meeting attendance, committee participation, and event or programming attendance. If a board member is starting to fall behind or becomes non-responsive, it is ok to do a check in with them on a more personal level.

When a community member or donor joins a board, they should be doing it because they have an affinity for the organization and its mission. Joining simply because they are friends with the chair or another board member is not enough of a reason to ask them to join, particularly if they are not interested.

Could their interest grow? Sure. But let’s get them on a committee first and expose them to our work and mission.

There are times when we might need a certain expertise on the board. Not every board member is interested in or capable of serving as treasurer of the organization. That takes a certain skill set and attention to detail that often requires more time than a general director. Good board governance procedures prepare the organization for these needs by deliberately recruiting people with these skills and inviting them to serve on a finance committee and eventually join the board.

Boards in nonprofits are not relics of the past. They are only relics if we allow their engagement and involvement to atrophy. Keep them engaged, informed, and active and they will help your organization grow and thrive.

John Mainella

Cape Fletcher Associates

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