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Building Better Nonprofit Boards – Part I

If your Board isn’t a vital resource for your nonprofit organization, you’re missing out on a tremendous resource.  Your Board should be one of your most vital assets.  We’re offering you some tips to consider to ensure you’re getting the most from your nonprofit Board.

Strategic Planning for Your Nonprofit

First and foremost, it is critical that your nonprofit organization has a strategic plan that has engaged stakeholders in the process, sets the direction for the next three to five years, and doesn’t sit on a shelf. Implementing, executing, and evaluating your strategic plan is key to success. I always am reminded of Alice in Wonderland when she meets the Cheshire cat, sitting in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”  Be sure you know where you want to go!

Nonprofit Board Selection Based on Your Goals

The next tip is to review your board’s composition and making certain that it reflects what you need to accomplish your strategic plan and its priorities. Using a characteristics grid is a good start to know the tenure of individual members and for those leaving: what might be missing, what is required for your board to address in the future, and do you have those people on our board or in the pipeline? Your grid should include gender, race, ethnicity, age, history of giving, networks, areas of professional expertise, community roles, and experience with your organization. Once completed, there is a concise profile of what the board seeks, based upon a strategic plan. Your organizational bylaws will dictate how many people you may have on your board.  Periodically review your bylaws to ensure they are up-to-date and reflect what you need to accomplish your strategic vision.

Finding the Right Nonprofit Board Candidates

Now, consider the attributes, talents, and experiences you seek for your nonprofit board members. Based upon your strategic plan and the board characteristics, you also need to consider attributes. For example, does the person represent the quality of character ascribed for your volunteer leadership team? How have you seen them portrayed? You should also consider talent that reflects the aptitude or skills you need. What might you seek? For example, do you need an attorney with a particular area of focus that reflects your organization’s work? What are the talents, given your strategic plan and the current membership that you now need?

Finally, we want experience --- what kind of experience? Are we including diversity on our board? Do we want the next generation to be engaged in our organizations? Do we want someone with business experience in a particular area, such as accounting, disabilities, marketing?  What about the potential members’ service on other non-profit boards?

When considering board members, you certainly want those who bring value to the conversation. Value comes from the four forms of capital that people bring which will include intellectual so that we can pool our collective mindset and expand our thinking and decision-making. Consider seeking someone who would be a “culture add” to the table versus a cultural fit. Another form of value is reputational, something that is intangible, yet can convert to a real value for your board and organization. Then, political value is how members can influence or leverage power in a greater community that is valuable for our organizations. Finally, social value meaning the network that a prospective board member brings to the table.


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