Unlocking The Potential Of Your Nonprofit Board of Directors

Unlocking The Potential Of Your Nonprofit Board of Directors

At the heart of every successful nonprofit organization lies a shared passion for creating a more just and equitable society. Nonprofits must create healthy and vibrant governance systems, which requires the active engagement, recruitment, and development of your Board of Directors. In partnership with your Board, a culture of trust and transparency can help you attract and retain top talent, increase your financial sustainability, and improve your standing as a trusted organization. This will build an enduring foundation for long-term success.  

 Building A Productive Board of Directors 

Investing in the Board of Directors is essential for high-performing nonprofits. To ensure organizations are adaptive and responsive, Boards must bring an affinity and commitment to the nonprofit's mission while deploying the right skill sets and experience. You want a Board that is agile, forward-thinking, and capable of making informed decisions. Without this competitive advantage, you risk falling short of the competition and not reaching the potential of your charitable mission. Here are steps you can take to improve the performance of your nonprofit Board of Directors:

  1. Develop a Board Recruitment Plan

A well-thought-out recruitment plan is the first step to finding the perfect Board members. Start by identifying the skills, experience, and perspectives your Board currently lacks, and establish the criteria you want in potential Board members. Create a timeline and assign responsibilities to Board members or staff for executing the recruitment process. If an active nominating committee does not exist, this is the time to stand one up!  

      2. Diversify Your Board

A diverse Board brings a wealth of experience, skills, and perspectives, which will strengthen your organization. Aim to recruit members from different backgrounds, races, genders, ages, and professions. Commit to building a Board that embraces its fiduciary responsibilities and seeks to understand your nonprofit's needs, risks, and potential. A timid Board member will remain timid during times of crisis. Bring forward perspectives essential to a 360-degree assessment of your performance and future opportunities. Be clear about your expectations for fundraising and annual giving. Be mindful that BIPOC and women leaders are often underrepresented on Boards because they lack access to elite networks or employers willing to support Board service. If you require time, travel, or advancement support, consider reimbursement of expenses for Directors as a strategy to open your recruitment pool.  

     3. Advertise Open Board Positions

Consider advertising open Board positions through various channels, such as social media, job boards, and local newspapers. Websites like Chief.org, BoardStrong.org, or LinkedIn can also be valuable resources for finding potential Board members. Consider broadening your search to include the voices of your customer, community, or funders.

     4. Hold Board Recruitment Events

Hosting recruitment events can provide an excellent opportunity for potential Board members to learn more about your organization, its mission, and current Board members. Organize open houses, informational sessions, or mixers to connect with potential candidates. It never hurts to make friends and to identify motivated and caring leaders that want to advance your mission. 

     5. Offer Regular Board Training and Orientation Once Appointed 

Providing new Board members with a comprehensive orientation and ongoing training will ensure Directors are well-prepared for their responsibilities. Invest in Board development, including governance training, to foster a strong and effective Board.  Prepare your Board for challenges they may face, including crisis communications, increase awareness of unconscious bias before recruiting new ED/CEO, disclosures of conflicts of interest, and remind the Board (regardless of experience and social standing) of their role in meeting their duties of care and loyalty. 

Additional Thoughts: 

Go Beyond the Rolodex of the Executive Director/CEO/Founder 

Creating a multi-faceted pipeline of Directors is essential to growing your advancement plan, staying abreast of new and emerging trends, and sustaining public trust. It is not uncommon for the Board of Directors to reflect the social connections and trusted relationships of the CEO, Executive Director, or Founder.  Over time this strategy will prove challenging. If routine skills and capabilities assessments are not implemented, nor is a disciplined recruitment and succession planning process carried through, the Board will likely simply rubberstamp or defer entirely to management. If Board meetings feel like a report card overview or show-and-tell exercise, you may not have authentic engagement or sufficient diversity of opinions on the Board.  Likewise, Directors should work with management to build a culture of ideas and dialogue.  Fear of new voices or loss of control by management is a red flag and antecedent to forthcoming challenges often seen in low-performing organizations. If your Board resists engagement or investment of significant time, you lack the foundation to build a strong cadre of Directors. 

Ethical Leadership

Ethics are paramount as leaders confront a complex and charged social ecosystem where standards of behavior are seemingly redefined routinely. Navigating the ambiguous shades of gray that permeate Board services requires a solid moral compass and the ability to make competent decisions. Discuss chosen ethical frameworks and nurture a culture of integrity that will permeate every level of the organization. During times of crisis, nonprofit leaders often become dismayed at the sluggish or risk-averse behavior of their Board of Directors. Don’t wait until there is a crisis to lead by values. 

Engaging in small or large resets of nonprofit organizations can sometimes be overwhelming. Often the fear of trusting an outsider forces organizations to make unwanted tradeoffs. Partnering with trusted advisors and experts committed to service and social impact can significantly enhance your organization's ability to navigate these complex challenges. We invite you to engage with STRATA9 and discover the difference our expertise and commitment can make for your organization. Connect with us by signing up for updates, exploring our informative blogs, scheduling a one-on-one consultation, or joining our leadership webinars. Together, we can unlock the potential of your nonprofit, drive meaningful change and foster a brighter future for all Americans. Join us on Facebook and Twitter to engage in the conversation.

Free Resources:

LinkedIn for Nonprofits

BoardSource | Nonprofit Board Diversity, Inclusion, & Equity

BoardSource | Board Posting & Matching Programs by Region

BoardSource | Board Composition and Recruitment

Council of Nonprofits: Codes of ethics/values statements for nonprofits

Council of Nonprofits: Ethical Leadership for Nonprofits

Stanford Social and Innovation Review | Ethics and Nonprofits