There is nothing more important to the health of a nonprofit than a quality Board of Trustees. It is the Board that sets your mission, chooses and provides leadership and provides resources in order to implement the mission.
Often times, as consultants, we are asked about Board composition, size, wealth and responsibilities. I try to always direct the questions back to the opening statement about mission, leadership, and resources in trying to evaluate anything when it comes to the nonprofit Board.
Let’s take these one at a time:
In order to set the mission, it is important that a nonprofit Board have people who understand the areas of service that you are involved in. Art museum with an education program? Add an Art Teacher to your Board. Social service organization that feeds people who cannot afford to buy their own meals? How about an expert in poverty and what causes it? Most all Boards will succeed better with an attorney and an accountant to make sure appropriate rules and regulations are followed.
At any given time, 50% of your Board needs to be able to make an impact gift to the organization. If you are moving towards a campaign, grow this to 75%. While wealth is not the only reason someone should be considered for your Board, it sure makes a tremendous difference if you have the ability to pull people in.
I recently conducted an assessment for an organization that has over 14,000 members. Yet, it only has 9 Board members. One of the recommendations was to grow the size of the Board to 18. Nine is just not enough slots to give people meaningful involvement or to represent a group with that many members. On the other end of the spectrum, is something that we call “Texas Boards.” Several of the large cultural groups I have worked with have over 135 people on their Boards. Basically, they are running annual fund campaigns, by requiring Board members to give at a certain level. The executive committee of around 28-34 makes all the important decisions. Not sure this works either.
Board members need to understand the leadership role that they have in providing strategic direction and guidance for the nonprofit. Are you servicing and involving your Board members in a way that they are able to get excited about the work you are doing together? Do they have “skin in the game?”
One of the best resources on Boards is from BoardSource. Their little booklet
on “Ten responsibilities for Non-Profit Boards” has become a standard for many groups. It is critical that you set the tone for your Board members when they are first recruited to come onto your Board. Give them a copy of this book and talk about it at orientation. It will make a big difference.
Treat your Board not only as your partners but as your top prospects. That is what they are and through meaningful work, they will come to understand the importance of your work.
This will provide you with the resources you need to succeed.