It has been my good fortune to work with hundreds of boards across America in all sectors of the nonprofit world. Some boards are great, some not so great. Some boards function smoothly, some not so smoothly. And several organizations deliver very well on their missions despite their boards. So, what makes a great board? There are several characteristics, but one important aspect I wish to address today is board management. Boards that are well-managed and organized lead to engaged, high-functioning volunteers.
Earlier in my career, when I was the executive director of a hospital foundation, I served on 3 or 4 other boards outside the hospital. The experience taught me several lessons which helped me work with my own foundation board better.
As a board member I learned to show up for meetings – and noticed when meetings were not very effective. I began to observe my own foundation board’s full meetings and other committee meetings and whether they were exciting, engaging and filled with meaningful strategic discussion and purpose.
I learned to give financially commensurate with my ability and watched how the organization asked for my gift. Did they inspire me to do more, or attempt to guilt me for not doing enough? I learned not to guilt, but to inspire.
When looking at materials, did the organization overwhelm me with data and information, or underwhelm me with not enough information? I learned how to measure the right amount of information flow for each board member especially as it related to their respective role on a committee or as an officer.
I also watched how staff provided servant leadership, always prepared with information, or ready to seek it when it was requested. Being a board member elsewhere, made me a better staff member serving my board.
I learned the importance of hospitality and having a meeting place that was warm, welcoming and prepared for people with the right amount of chairs arranged for maximum participation of attendees. It was also good to have refreshments appropriate for the time of day and length of the meeting.
As our foundation staff grew over the years, I encouraged the staff to become board members in other organizations so that they might learn the same, and even better, lessons to enable them to serve their committee(s) with quality staff support.
Not-for-profit boards have an “ebb and flow.” Like people, they need to take time to refresh and renew, while still embracing the quality “tried and true” aspects of tradition and structure that may have brought success from the past. The nonprofit board insures that the quality of an organization is sustained for years and years.
Please respond or comment on other key characteristics you have observed that boards have (or should have) and how those characteristics can be fostered, discovered, created and/or renewed in nonprofit organizations.
I look forward to reading your ideas and insights.
All the best,