5 Tips for Building a Strong Nonprofit Board

by Suzanne Battit

Posted January 14, 2022

A strong board plays a critical role in your organization’s ability to deliver on its mission, achieve fundraising growth, and plan for a successful future. But how do you ensure your board is effective and strong – both from the perspective of its members and your nonprofit’s leadership? Consider these 5 tips…

1. First things first: create a structured and on-going recruitment strategy.

  • Before you embark on recruiting new members, work with your nominating committee to identify the functional skills, industry expertise, and backgrounds your board is currently lacking and would benefit from. Consider, also, the personal qualities you desire in your Board members. Prioritize creating a diverse board that is fully representative of your community and constituents – and of course, deeply passionate about your organization’s mission.
  • It’s also important that your leadership clearly identifies the responsibilities of incoming board members, so expectations can be communicated and aligned during the recruitment process.
    • Expectations can take a variety of forms and may include, for instance, attending three of the quarterly meetings held each year, serving on select committees, making your organization one of their top three philanthropic priorities, etc.
  • Lastly, keep your board fresh by consistently adding new talent. To do this, there needs to be formal term limits. A few notes:
    • Term limits can take many forms—e.g., some nonprofits limit board members to three two-year terms while other nonprofits limit members to two three-year terms.
    • If you’re concerned about losing a very strong board member due to term limits, keep in mind that they can always rejoin the board after taking a year off.
    • Term limits are critical no matter the size of your board!

To read more about effective board recruitment, check out this article from our Co-Founder Bill Weber, “Recruitment: The Overlooked Lifeblood of Board Health.”

#2: Ensure all new board members complete a comprehensive, formal training program.

  • To be effective in their roles, board members need to have a deep understanding of their responsibilities and how the organization functions. In addition to providing core materials and a financial overview, consider scheduling a day of meetings with new board members and each department head so they can learn about the department’s role, contributions, and how they can expect to partner.

#3: Recognize that the board members of today want to be engaged in the organization’s work and vision more than ever before.

  • Board members of decades past were more likely to see their role as limited to providing governance and writing a check – but that’s not the case today. Today’s board members are seeking a more substantive level of engagement and influence.
  • With this in mind, be sure that all regularly scheduled board and committee meetings allow time for meaningful conversation and dialogue. Meetings shouldn’t consist solely of leadership/staff presenting information/reports to board members. Rather, there should be open discussion and opportunities for everyone present to share their thoughts and ideas.
  • It’s also important to take the time to engage each board member individually. Speak with them to discover which committees are best for them and how they would like to be involved with the organization – whether it be by identifying prospects, hosting groups (virtually or in-person), or speaking at events, etc.
  • Finally, consider hosting a get-together for your board members on an annual basis that’s purely social in nature (no work allowed!). They will appreciate the opportunity to get to know each other better, and it will have the added benefit of building rapport and community – all of which will only deepen their engagement.

#4: Remember, board members are also your donors.

  • Board members need to be treated like the major donors they are; manage, cultivate, and steward them just as you would any other donor.
  • One important difference: it’s best if this work is done by someone other than the organizational leader to ensure clean lines.

#5: Lastly, if issues arise with a board member’s performance, address them early on.

  • Ensure there’s a process in place for addressing individual issues – whether it be regarding missing meetings, not being engaged philanthropically, etc. You may want your Board Chair or President/Executive Director to speak with the member one-on-one. This will give the member the opportunity to either recommit themself or gracefully step down from their role.

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