PMA Consulting, LLC

Board Covenants & Annual Plans for Board Members

In a board member, we long for passion, influence and affluence; but for that board member to have impact, we also need commitment, participation and presence.

Imagine this scenario – As Executive Director you believe you scored the dream board member. She is confident, a strong leader, visionary, strategic thinker, well-respected, well-connected and well-to-do financially. After only a few months however you’ve come to the unfortunate reality that she has no intention, and frankly no margin, to make board meetings, committee meetings or participate in any way for your organization. This scenario plays out far too often for nonprofits.

The board member may not be a bad person. She may have just not had the heart to say “no”. One way to protect your organization from scenarios like the one above, and to ensure each prospective board member is well-informed of his future responsibilities is to use a board member covenant (or contract) on the front-end of a commitment.

This may be new math for some, but a surreptitious value of the covenant may simply be to provide someone an opportunity to say “no”. Though we rarely enjoy hearing the word, when faced with the alternative of a lame-duck board member, “no” may eventually start to have a positive ring to it.

Beyond a comfortable out, a board member covenant is also a way to outline broadly what is expected of each person serving in this capacity. You may be familiar with the phrase, “Get, Give or Get Off!” when describing the role of a board member. Though not legally binding, the agreement brings focus to what is expected in such areas as:

  • Financial commitment (giving)
  • Fundraising (securing gifts and/or opening doors and making connections)
  • Meeting attendance
  • Committee involvement

With a signed covenant, individual board members should be clear on what the organization’s broad expectations are for their tenure.

Another excellent tool for maximizing a board member’s impact is an Annual Plan. The annual plan is a collection of explicit objectives individualized for a specific board member and crafted together by the board chair, executive director and board member.

Both the covenant and annual plan processes can be invaluable opportunities for the executive director and board chair to get to know the board member and to learn together how to best maximize the new director’s serving and leadership capacity. By working together and directly with a board member, the organization may learn a lot about the leader, including:

  • Strengths
  • Possible challenges
  • Emotional quotient
  • Time availability
  • Whether they function best individually or with a team
  • If they are confident fundraisers
  • How well are they are connected

The above information is all invaluable on the front-end of a long-term relationship. Together, the board chair, executive director and board member can strategically craft a one-year plan to maximize their service to the organization.

For the executive director and board member alike, the board/nonprofit relationship is most always an adventure. Infusing a board covenant and annual plan should help make the adventure a positive one.