A nonprofit board is comprised of highly successful and influential people in the community you serve. Chances are good they’re also your biggest supporters, often times your largest donors, and your largest advocates.
But aside from these three important traits, what else makes a nonprofit board uniquely successful? After all, it takes more than just ardent support to make a nonprofit successful.
According to a recent study conducted by The Bridgespan Group, the board is becoming more important, and the spotlight on them is consistently growing brighter. They extensively reviewed literature on the subject of effective boards, and conducted a series of interviews to get to the bottom of what exactly makes one board more effective than another. What they found might surprise you.
Financial and legal oversight fall into the most basic of duties for a board. The most successful boards have their hand in approving key financial plans, and monitoring the overall financial health of the organization. On the legal side, the board should be ensuring audits are being run independently, risk is managed appropriately, and all legal requirements are being met.
Ultimately, however, the most successful board is the one who strictly adheres to the mission of the organization while maintaining oversight on key points.
The most successful boards are ones that are effectively using the skills of the board members. While this sounds fundamental, clearly defined roles on a board is all too often overlooked. This also requires everyone on the board has a thorough understanding of everyone else who is currently serving.
Ensure the role of each board member is clearly defined, that there are check and balances in place, no one is stepping on each others’ toes, and that everyone serving on the board understands exactly what the strengths and weaknesses are of everyone there.
Your board is only as effective as its culture. This might sound strange at first, but consider this: If your board’s culture is one that caters to one specific department, or does not place emphasis on having a balanced and fair discussion, your board will unequivocally be less effective.
Make sure the atmosphere allows for collaboration, friendly banter, and an overtly high level of participation from all parties.
Building on point #3, here, to make your board more effective it is imperative that the decision-making process is fair and there is involvement across the board. Make sure that the board understand what decision it does have impact on, and what decision s they will only hear about from the executive director. Making certain this kind of information is clearly divulged in the agenda for each meeting is a great way to manage and set expectations.
Structures and information
There is no one ‘secret sauce’ here for what makes an effective board structure. An effective board can be set up in an infinite number of ways. What’s important is that whatever structure your board takes that it enables your nonprofit to effectively complete its mission.