October 22, 2018
Nonprofit Boards Are Becoming Stronger Advocates

September 18, 2017 — Nonprofit boards are starting to embrace their roles as advocates for their missions, but are not taking action to increase racial and ethnic diversity, a recently completed national survey that examined trends on nonprofit board practices and performance has concluded.

"Boards are starting to embrace their roles as advocates for their missions, but stronger leadership is still needed," according to BoardSource, which surveyed 1,759 nonprofit chief executives and board chairs for its Leading with Intent 2017 report.

"More than half of all boards are actively working in concert with staff leadership to educate policymakers on behalf of their organization, but most organizations do not have formal policies around advocacy," it added. "Both chief executives and board chairs cite board member ambassadorship as a top three area for board improvement."

Other major findings include the following:
  • Boards are no more diverse than they were two years ago and current recruitment priorities indicate this is unlikely to change.

    Despite reporting high levels of dissatisfaction with current board demographics, particularly racial and ethnic diversity, boards are not prioritizing demographics in their recruitment practices, according to the report: Nearly a fifth of all chief executives report they are not prioritizing demographics in their board recruitment strategy, despite being dissatisfied with their board’s racial and ethnic diversity.

  • Strong understanding of programs is linked to stronger engagement, strategy, and external leadership — including fundraising.

    The board’s knowledge of the organization’s programs relates to board performance in related to strategic thinking and planning, commitment and engagement, and fundraising and community outreach. BoardSource said ongoing board education can help cultivate a deep understanding of the organization’s programs and operating environment.

  • Boards that assess their performance regularly perform better on core responsibilities. Boards that assess themselves get higher grades across all areas of board performance.

    BoardSource noted that boards that assessed their performance more recently (within the past two years) report higher performance scores than those that assessed less recently.

  • Chief executives and board chairs agree that the board has an impact on organizational performance.

    The board’s understanding of its roles and responsibilities, and the board’s ability to work as a collaborative team toward shared goals, is critical to board success, BoardSource said, noting that "a perceived connection between board performance and organizational performance...may point to high-leverage opportunities for board development and growth."

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