Ideally, your Board should be made up of people who care deeply about the work your nonprofit does and are willing to give their time, talent, and treasure to see it be successful.Unfortunately, most people who serve on nonprofit Boards don’t understand what they’ve said “yes” to.
They don’t know how Boards are supposed to work or what their role is. And in the absence of that knowledge, they do whatever looks fun or familiar, they step over boundaries, and sometimes they go rogue and cause all kinds of trouble.
Nobody wants drama on their Board. Not only does it keep your organization from being productive, but it sucks the fun out of everything for those involved.
So here are some tools your nonprofit Board needs to keep things running smoothly. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
1. Clear job description. Board members need to know what they’ve committed to and what they need to do to be successful. A good Board member job description includes everything from attending meetings to continuing their own education. It’s best to give them a copy to keep, and to review it annually.
2. Board member Agreement. People like to know what’s expected of them, so give it to them in writing to eliminate confusion. A good Agreement outlines the things that you expect your Board members to do like serving on a committee, participating in fundraising events, and making a financial contribution to the organization. Giving a potential Board member a ‘heads up’ about their responsibilities can help them make a better decision about joining your Board and get them off on the right foot to being a great Board member!
3. Orientation and Handbook. Once you’ve gone through the process of recruiting fantastic new Board members, get them started on the right foot with a good orientation of your nonprofit organization. Give them all the pertinent information they need to do their job, and consider putting as much as you can in writing in a Handbook that they can refer to later, since they’ll be trying to absorb a lot all at once.
4. Up-to-Date Bylaws. Your Bylaws are the operating instructions for your nonprofit. They give your Board the rules it needs for running the organization. One item of importance is an attendance policy for your Board. This gives your Board a way to get rid of dead wood members who don’t show up.
5. Recruitment process. Reactively recruiting new Board members can leave you with more problems than solutions. I’m sure you’ve seen it or at least heard about it – A group waits until it’s time to have new members in place and then hastily recruits friends and neighbors just to fill seats. Being proactive and having a plan to recruit the right people with the skills and talent you need can help ensure your Board is successful. When you have a process to follow, it’s easy to know who needs to do what and when to get great new Board members in place.
6. Self evaluation. It’s up to the Board to assess themselves each year. No one is going to come along and give your Board a grade for their performance. Annual Board evaluations contribute to the overall teamwork of the group and satisfaction of individual members. It points out areas where improvement is needed and sets a course of action for the coming year.
7. Ongoing education. Since Board members are usually only engaged in the nonprofit’s work once or twice a month (at best!), it’s easy for them to forget a lot of things. Regular education about the work of the organization and about their role and responsibility will pay off big. Consider taking 10-15 minutes at each Board meeting to provide them with the information they need to do their job well.