The most successful nonprofit organizations have well-managed boards. These boards are clear about their own purpose, they have strong, positive relationships with Executive Director and staff personnel, and they feel good about the work they're doing and about the other members of the board.
As the Board President, you can de-motivate your board members by focusing on details and problems or you can inspire them with a positive culture of achievement. How you're organized to relate to the Executive Director and the staff, what you focus on during meetings, and what you expect from board members during and between board meetings will have a huge impact on the success of your board.
A little introspection goes a long ways. Below is a brief checklist for successful nonprofit boards. How many of these qualities do your nonprofit board exhibit? How many of these characteristics could you work toward over the next year?
Use this Board President's Checklist for Success as a starting point for discussions with other board members and your Executive Director.
1. We provide oversight and support that are appropriate to the size, life-stage, and staff experience of our nonprofit organization.
2. We are smart about the work we need to do and work well together - even in times of stress. We are not afraid to speak about what's on our minds - and we welcome new ideas.
3. We have clarified where the organization is going and our role in that process.
4. We communicate easily with our Executive Director and track the most significant, measurable trends, key projects and program results.
5. We are time-conscious so have assigned board members to committees for a more efficient use of everyone's time.
6. We delegate as much as possible to the staff and board committees.
7. We have streamlined our board meetings by insisting that board discussions follow staff or committee recommendations and focus only on those decisions that the board needs to make.
8. We have fun and care about one another personally.
Regardless of your position on the board, you can use the Board President's Checklist for Success as a catalyst for discussions about improving the operation of the board.
If you are the Board President, send this article to your Board Development Committee Chair and ask for a meeting to talk about these ideas and how your board's effectiveness might be improved. Be open to the suggestions he or she has to offer. Start changing those habits, processes and roles that are the easiest to change. If there is no Board Development Committee, consider hand-picking an Ad Hoc committee of experienced board members that want to help improve the management of the board and are willing to lead the other board members through these changes. Agree to permanently alter the board's ability to do its job well - and decide to make this a priority before your term as president expires. Tell everyone what you are doing and why.
If you are an Executive Director, send this article to your Board President and ask to meet with him/her to discuss the checklist. Include a list of changes you can make to the "Executive Director's Report" so that the board will be well-informed and better able to provide oversight to your organization. List additional, specific support that you would like from your board members. Suggest ways to create better communication and relationships between the board, board committees and the staff. Be open and willing to react to the Board President's ideas for improvements you and your staff can make.
If you are a board member and would like to see some of these changes, use this article as a starting point for discussion with your Board President. Send it to him or her and ask to meet to discuss the merits of working toward these goals. Be aware of the potential for the Board President to see the discussion as a criticism of his/her leadership. Share your thoughts about how your board already has laid the groundwork for some of these best practices and discuss how to make others happen. Offer to lead an ad hoc committee for 6 months to see how many of these board standards you can improve.