Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Board Basics

I would like to say ‘Board Development’ has become a hot topic with non-profits, but the truth is, it has always been, and always will be, a hot topic- as it should.  An active and involved board of directors is the most critically important   commodity to the success of a non-profit organization.  It is the Board’s responsibility to ensure that the organization keeps the promises outlined in the agency’s mission and for assuring that the agency is accountable for acting within the laws governing the operations of non-profit corporations.  Basically, a Board of Directors can make or break an organization.

Here is a brief overview of the key elements involved in Board Development simply described in what I like to call, the four R’s:  Recruitment, Retention, Recognition and Rotation.  

Finding the right people to serve on your board is more of an art than a science.  First, you need to recruit those that have a passion for your mission.  It is an honor to be asked to serve on a board of directors and you want to make sure that the people you invite have a strong commitment to what your agency is trying to accomplish.  Second, a good board member must have the means to give to the organization in a significant way.  By this, I do not only mean financially.  Giving of one’s time, treasure, or talent are all ways of making a significant impact on an organization.   There are many other characteristics to a ‘perfect’ board member, but ultimately a passion for the mission and the means to give (in some fashion) would be the most essential aspects in your search.

In terms of retention, board members must be trained and given the appropriate resources to successfully carry out their responsibilities.  Job descriptions, meeting agendas, calendars, minutes, governance rules and policies are just some of the basic tools that must be provided to each board member.  Additionally, updates on the organization’s successes and areas of concern should be shared regularly.  A steady stream of communication between the agency and its governing board is imperative to its success.  Consider your board your mouthpiece in the community.  If you share, they share.  It’s everyone’s job in a non-profit organization to ensure that the board of directors is readily prepared to communicate the mission, the success and the challenges that the organization faces.

As with any type of volunteer position, recognition should never be overlooked.  Remember the Robert Fulghum book, “All I Really Need To Know I learned In Kindergarten”?  We all know we are supposed to say thank you when someone helps us.  That’s all recognition is, saying “Thank you” often, always, publicly and privately.  Serving on a board is a big commitment and should be appreciated.  Additionally, public forms of recognition – i.e. events, newspaper ads, etc offer a great marketing opportunity.

The final ‘R’ is often the most difficult, especially for younger organizations.  Rotating board members can be tricky, but not if it is a concept discussed up front and often.   You’ve probably heard of the famous saying from Henry Ford, “If you always do what you have always done then you will always get what you‘ve always got.”  Rotating board members, both on and off, allows the organization an opportunity to grow with new perspectives and experience levels – while maintaining some of its unique traditions. 

I have had the honor of working with various types of boards and I have found if you really pay close attention to the four ‘R’s you have a great road map for success. 

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