Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Building a Better Board

Recently, I was asked for some help in choosing members for a nonprofit Board of Directors. I can't claim to be an expert, but having served on a half dozen boards myself, and having worked with several others, I feel that my experiences and observations may be helpful if you are involved with building a board.

The most important single attribute for prospective board members is a deep understanding and appreciation of the nonprofit's work. Without this, your prospect is unlikely to add value on a consistent, long-term basis.

Then, board member selection should be based on the type of organization. Will the board members (BoD) be expected to do the work of the organization? Many small nonprofits are run like this. If so, you need people who are willing, able, and skilled at the tasks required.

In this case, a written description of the board committees and the work they do will help you and your prospective board members understand what is expected. Try to define both the work that will be needed and the time it will take. For example: Outreach to City officials, 2 hours per month; Annual event planning and production, 50 hours annually, in six week period.

If the Board is a more traditional one, overseeing the work of a paid staff, usually with only the ED reporting directly to the Board, your requirements change from working expertise to advisory, and importantly, fundraising ability.

No matter what type of organization you have, a written job description for Board members is helpful. When you help your prospective Directors understand what is expected you are more likely to get candidates ready to do the work required.

Your BoD should probably NOT look like this!

Regardless of the type of Board, there are some roles I think almost every nonprofit should work to fill. They include (in no particular order):
  • An attorney, preferably one who will provide some amount of pro bono service to the organization.
  • An accountant. Like the attorney, someone who will help with oversight and auditing is very helpful.
  • Someone with marketing/communications skill and expertise.
  • Someone with organizational development skills.
  • People with deep pockets and/or friends with deep pockets.
  • Someone who loves to entertain and plan parties.
  • A high-level HR person.
  • People with expertise in the NP's work.
  • Diverse types of people who represent your community and your stakeholders.
Of course, all this is easier said than done. Good people are inundated with BoD requests. Be selective, and ask your current BoD members for suggestions.

Finally, almost every Nonprofit needs help with fundraising, and the Board is a natural place for fundraising to take place. I don't mean asking your Directors for money. In fact, I don't like doing that – I feel that they are donating a lot of value in their time. But asking them for connections and introductions is totally acceptable. Some of them may be willing to host events or work on a fund-raising committee. All of these expectations should be clear to prospective Board members before they sign on.

I hope this is helpful. Good luck forming your Board of Directors.