There are tens of thousands of not-for-profit organizations throughout Washington State and if you are a key staff member for one of them, you need to know, or to learn, how best to support and educate your board members so that they perform at the peak of their abilities.
- Hold your board meetings (or board committee meetings) at a time and place convenient for board members. This sounds logical, but many staff leaders often hold these meetings at a time and place convenient for them. Create an annual meeting calendar and stick to it. You may find that a meeting at the beginning of the day, or the end of the day, is more convenient for board members, to cut down on travel time. Local boards might meet every other month (6 times per year) and national boards 3 to 4 times per year.
- Hold committee meetings on the off months from your board meetings.This makes scheduling much easier. Typical committees might be as follows: executive committee, finance committee, development committee, program committee, human resource committee, marketing and communications committee, facilities committee and there could be many more depending on the organization.
- Have an agenda. Every meeting should have an agenda that has been distributed to attendees prior to the meeting. The key staff person for the board or the committee should review that agenda with the volunteer chair at least one week prior to the meeting. Someone should take minutes or summary notes of the meeting to keep track of decisions, next stepsand assignments. Those should be distributed, at a minimum, one week after the meeting.
- Orient new board members. Annually hold a new board member orientation that introduces the organization to these new individuals joining the board. (Washington Nonprofits has created a tool for training new board members: “Finance Unlocked for Nonprofits”.)
- Every board meeting should have a 15 to 20 minute educational session about their role as a board member or an issue facing the sector in which your not-for-profit belongs (the arts, human services, health care, etc.).
- Hold an annual board retreat. This half day, full day or even two day event should tackle big picture items facing the organization or sector of not-for-profit service. This is a great opportunity to create change for your organization and to utilize the talents of your board to do it right.
- Send written information. Occasionally (4 to 6 times per year) send the board members written communications or articles of interest on the roles board members play in not-forprofits
or about issues facing your not-for-profit sector.
- A written board position description. All your board members should have received a written position description that describes their role in the organization and the expectations that the organization has of its board members.
- Guarding the mission: Boards guard the mission of the organization in two distinct ways: through strategic planning and through financial stewardship. Give guidance to your board
on strategic planning, making sure they accomplish this for your organization. Once the plan is completed, use it to set priorities and to monitor progress on achieving strategic goals.
Financial stewardship is a very important role for the board. Be sure that the board has upto-date financial information and ample time to discuss any issues or financial challenges for
the organization. Keep your board well informed on financial matters so that they are never surprised by financial data.
- Hiring and evaluating the executive director or president & CEO. This too is a very important role for a board and the executive director should take the lead with the board chair to see that it is fulfilled. Annually the board should evaluate the performance of the chief staff person against the standards of performance or goals established for this individual. Typically the executive committee takes the lead in this evaluation and engages the whole board in the process.
Sometimes I have listened to executive directors describe how their boards just do not get things accomplished. My thought is that this individual is not managing and/or training their board so that the board can accomplish important items for the organization. I believe boards fail through poor staff management. Conversely boards succeed through quality staff management. I hope these few insights help you improve your board’s performance.
About the author:
Tom Mesaros is Senior Counsel with The Alford Group, a professional consulting partner focused exclusively on helping not-for-profit organizations improve their effectiveness. Founded in 1979, The Alford Group annually serves more than 90 not-for-profit organizations in 20 states, assisting them with strategic planning, fundraising strategies, data base management and executive search projects. From 1995 through 2014, Tom served as The Alford Group’s President & CEO. You can reach Tom via email at TMesaros@alford.com.