Essentials for Building an Effective Nonprofit Board
By C. Forbes Sargent III, Esq.
C. Forbes Sargent
Here are five factors to keep in mind to build an effective nonprofit board:
Having at least one or two board members who have served on a nonprofit board is key. They help provide guidance as to how meetings should be run, how other boards deal with issues, and often provide a good balance to a board. Although it is not necessary for board members to have prior experience as business leaders, they should have good business sense and be able to translate the organizations long-range vision into a practical plan.
Board members need to be enthusiastic about their role and passionate about the nonprofits mission, as that helps to energize fellow board members and others when they serve as ambassadors for the nonprofit. When all board members actively participate in meetings, charitable events, and fundraisers, others are encouraged to do the same, and this can have a significant impact on how the organization is viewed by the public and donors.
A nonprofit is most effective when it draws from a diverse group in selecting board members. First, the diversity should include making sure the board reflects a broad base of the constituents it serves. A board with diverse racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds helps give the board different perspectives on issues. Second, the board members should have diverse professional backgrounds, and should include members of the legal and business community, as well as those with financial, accounting, and marketing backgrounds.
Most boards do not have any training and often end up muddling through meetings. It is important to either have experienced leaders or get training for board members. All board members should also have copies of the nonprofit governing documents, mission statement, strategic plan, and the Attorney Generals Guide for Board Members of Charitable Organizations.
Many nonprofits too often forget that to keep volunteers engaged and retain them, they need to recognize them. A study conducted by the American Cancer Societys New England Division revealed that recognition and the occasional small token of appreciation can go a long way to assist in retaining board members. The recognition can be formal or informal. For example, the New England Division holds annual Volunteer Values Awards that formally recognize and honor those area volunteers whose service in the fight against cancer most exemplifies the organizations values. On the informal side, one board provided a hanging basket of flowers to its officers at each annual meeting in June as a thank-you. That gesture meant a lot to the board members for minimal expense.