PMA Consulting, LLC

7 Steps for Effective Board Development in 2011

The board is a critical asset for every nonprofit organization. During this new era of constant change and uncertainty, there is an increased need for leadership that is informed and engaged. It is crucial for nonprofit organizations to have effective board members in a time of increased competition for resources, more complex regulations, and greater organizational complexity.

Board DevelopmentAs we move into a new year, here are seven things a board should consider undertaking in 2011:

1.  Recruit members with specific skills
Many times, nonprofit organizations recruit board members because they are considered “power players” within their communities. Having these well-known people is important as it provides some added exposure to your organization. However, it is just as important to cultivate individuals with experience in law, fundraising, tax and financial planning, and many other professions as needed. Boards should help to fill-in gaps that are needed in organizations that are short on staff.

2.  Develop or revise a board demographic chart
While it is important for board members to have unique skills and abilities, it is just as important to have diversity of age, gender, race, and geography. Imagine a board where everyone is within the same age group, live in the same neighborhood, and all have similar professions. It would be difficult for that organization to count on its board to help reach out to a diverse population.

3.  Structure and conduct an effective annual retreat
Board meetings, whether held monthly or less frequently, are an important time to plan for short-term goals and events. However, boards should take an opportunity once a year to get together for an extended period of time to make plans for the long-term future of the organization. During this time, it might be important to invite an independent, third party to lead discussions for your board. A facilitator can provide a fresh perspective on areas that the organization is looking to improve upon in the coming year.

4.  Develop a fundraising plan that includes your board
Most nonprofit organizations have expectations that their board members contribute financially each year. However, many organizations do not work as effectively as they should to encourage their board to participate in external fundraising. Board members can be the key to gaining inside information about potential individual donors and corporations; information that can provide insight into approaching these people. While the board members do not necessarily have to make the ask directly, they can be an important resource to uncovering donations that the organization might not receive otherwise. A previous post about board engagement looks at this further.

5.  Orient each board member so they can articulate the mission and vision
It is important for each board member to be able to articulate what the organization does today and what they want to do in the future. It is the responsibility of the organization’s staff to help board members devise an elevator speech so that when they are out in the community, the members of the board can speak with conviction and authority about the organization.

6.  Review the meeting structure to allow more time for discussion
Board meetings typically feature important items that need to be addressed regularly, such as budget updates, programmatic highlights, and upcoming events. However, each meeting should allow for open discussion so that members can voice their opinions. The leaders were recruited for their knowledge and expertise, so it is important for the organization to engage them.

7.  Make sure that each board member understands their role
Board members should have a set of defined responsibilities informed by their expertise and interests. A clear set of expectations will help board members stay engaged and assist in facilitating their interaction.