Help Ensure Great Board Performance by Defining Duties, Roles
Nonprofit boards should strive to be the best they can, writes author Andy Robinson, a highly regarded consultant to nonprofits across the United States and Canada. And to be effective, they need to comply with the law, advance the organization's mission by engaging in long range planning, ensure that the right chief executive is in place, and assist with fundraising, among other key tasks.
Acting on their responsibilities without micro-managing the executive director, at one extreme, or rubber stamping her decisions, at the other extreme, requires board members to strike a balance. Robinson provides guidance via a checklist that delineates board and staff responsibilities, e.g., it's the board's role to hire and evaluate the executive director, but it's the ED's job to hire and evaluate other staff.
Board members, and perhaps especially prospective board members, need to know what is expected of them. Robinson suggests providing a job description (or agreement or contract). Doing so sets common expectations and provides a benchmark for evaluating individual member and overall board performance.
Recognizing that some nonprofits may feel providing too much detail on board performance and expectations may scare off potential board members, Robinson suggests that doing so often has the opposite effect: "Prospective trustees review the document and say to themselves, 'Wow, this group is organized. It's impressive how they've thought through this stuff. I bet this is a great board.'"
He provides a sample board job description and related board recruitment worksheets, in the book's appendix, practical guidance that nonprofits will find helpful.
All nonprofits, even the smallest, need to confront and resolve issues that will help ensure a high level of board performance. They include figuring out what skills should be represented on the board, how to recruit members, how to orient new members to the organization, what committees should be in place, how to structure meetings, how to reach decisions, and what to do about underperforming board members. For these, and other key board management issues, Robinson offers sage advice in clear, cut-to-the-chase prose.
On the critical issue of board involvement with fundraising, Robinson acknowledges the barriers that often get in the way"It's not my job," "I dont know how to do it."and suggests solutions that any board can adapt. He offers a menu of fundraising activities that is especially useful in that it allows members to choose to do their part by opting for what appeals to them.
To be effective, board member must commit to achieving a high level of performance. Investing an hour to read this brief, 118-page book is a good place to start.
As Robinson notes, "The success of your board will be determined, in part, by your collective ambition. It's easier to create a great board if you strive to be great. If you settle for mediocrity, that's what you'll get."
What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Do, And Avoid is available from Emerson & Church, Publishers.
Reviewed by Peter Lowy