PMA Consulting, LLC

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Seven Keys to a Dynamic and Successful Nonprofit Board – Pt. 1

To know PMA is to know that we tend to think in sets of seven.  So it should come as no surprise that our advice on creating a dynamic and7-keys-board successful nonprofit board of directors has seven components, three of which we will detail in part one of this two-part blog post.

As we highlighted last week, while enabling the legal existence of your nonprofit is the only mandatory role for a board member, PMA believes that fund development, financial management and planning are the most important roles a board can perform.  But knowing that in theory and implementing it in practice are two very different things.

The following represent PMA’s practical tips for optimizing a nonprofit board of directors:

  • Individual Assessment – An effective board of directors begins with inspiring its members to be proactive, self-motivated and responsible for their own learning.  The opposite – a reactive, apathetic group that waits to be asked – is an altogether too frequent occurrence, and it is often a result of a confluence of factors, including passive board leadership and a chief administrator who enables the behavior.

PMA’s board member self-evaluation form is a checklist for each board member to review and conduct a self-analysis.  How engaged am I in this organization?  Do I understand the current complexities? Have I observed the programming first-hand? Am I moving to our needs?  Board members are encouraged to fill out the sheet, and then discuss one-on-one with the Board Chair and Chief Administrator afterward.

  • Clearly Defined Expectations – Nonspecific, unstated expectations of its members are the #1 challenge facing nonprofit boards.  In the pursuit of board members, organizations often gloss over the expectations, not wanting to overwhelm a prospective board member.  Organizations that do this are doing a real disservice – if a prospective board member is unwilling to undertake aspects of giving and participating, why would your organization want that person to take a valuable seat on your board?  PMA suggests that no amount of “good name” or “well connected” qualifiers justify obscuring those responsibilities.

In truth, the reason for this challenge is almost always less strategic – simply the lack of a written document.  PMA has a full range of sample letters of agreement, from the very detailed to the less specific, all with the goal of establishing a position description for your board members that makes clear what is expected on the front end of involvement.

  • Orientation Plan – Does this sound familiar? Your board invites a prospective board member to a meeting. When it comes time to vote the member on, you excuse that individual for a few minutes, the vote occurs, and the person is invited back in. Success! Handshakes all around. When the meeting ends… see you at the next board meeting!  PMA has heard from countless board members who say that it took 12-18 months before they really understood the organization over which they govern.

Just as you wouldn’t hire staff members and expect them to “figure it out for themselves,” so too do your new board members need 90-day orientations.  Start their tenures off right with on-boarding that focuses on history, finances, programming and funding.  Make it mandatory that new board members observe your core programming for themselves.  And above all, write it all down so it can be referenced.

Next time, we’ll provide four additional building blocks of creating a dynamic and successful board of directors.