There is a quiet struggle going on in the world of nonprofits that tends to strike a chord with every organization – Board Development. Your board list might look impressive on paper, but is your board effective? Is your board a strong engine helping power the mission and work of your organization? Or is your board benign and simply a necessary evil to keep your 501(c)3 status? Or worse, is board management a constant drain on time, energy, and resources?

Many nonprofits struggle with how to effectively cultivate a board and then how to use a board to really push the organization forward. Too often board development gets put on the back burner and then you look up and it is late in the 4th quarter and there is a sudden scramble to fill vacating seats for the new year. Board development must be intentional and top of mind year-round, because cultivating the right board can dramatically increase your organization’s ability to achieve its mission!

So where do you start?

    1. Clearly define your board’s role.

      A strong board focused on governance and policy is a vastly different mix than one focused around fundraising and volunteerism. You must be noticeably clear what the roles and responsibilities of your collective board are before you can recruit the right team.

    2. Formulate specific job descriptions.

      The most effective board members are those that are 100% clear on what their roles and responsibilities are individually. Crafting specific job descriptions for officers and board members at large will ensure that your board is clear on what is expected of them and what they are committing to do for you. Remember, it is important to funders that every member of your board contributes financially to the mission at some level.

    3. Define the board-staff relationship.

      Everyone must be clear about how the board and staff will work together. The DNA of every organization is different and as organizations evolve these roles can change. Often new nonprofits start with the board being the driving force, but there comes a point when the scope of work becomes bigger than a volunteer board can handle, and the staff needs to take over the operational reigns. This is important clarity for every organization to have.

    4. Establish your board recruitment process.

      Clearly outline whose job it is to recruit new board members and how that it is be done. Is there an application or interview process? Is this committee driven or is there open nomination? Having this process defined ensures recruitment efforts are more intentional.

    5. Align your board recruitment with your strategic goals.

      It is imperative that you have the right minds at the table to guide your organization. As your strategic goals shift and change, your board mix should mirror those goals. It is also important that you have representation on your board of those you serve to ensure your board is in touch with the real needs of your customer.

    6. Have board orientations and contracts.

      This step shows that everyone comes to the table vested in each other. You are educating them about the organization and giving them the resources, they need to be effective board members. Asking them to sign board service agreements outlining their commitments to fulfill their duties helps them take their roles and responsibilities more seriously.

    7. Conduct annual board assessments.

      Prompt your board to revisit their roles, goals, and commitments annually. Have them self-evaluate how effective they have been, both personally and collectively. This helps prompt discussion about future board development needs and helps hold everyone accountable. Be sure you always offer all board members an easy out. Situations and circumstances change and if they are not a good fit anymore, make it easy for them give up their seats so you can bring in others that have more to contribute.

    8. Meet with board members often outside the boardroom.

      Staying personally connected to your board members is mission critical. Understanding their personal interests, motivations and passions will allow you to better engage them. This helps prevent them from becoming dead wood and gives them valuable time to share their unique ideas one-on-one and become more personally invested in your mission.

Funders take board strength and leadership development very seriously, hence you should too. Being able to report that you have an intentional board development plan and processes in place to make it successful will speak volumes about your organizational leadership and give funders confidence to invest in you.

Let Our Fundraising Search assist your nonprofit in board recruitment, board fundraising training, or strategic planning. Now is a great time to get started!