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Effective Board Members Can Be Yours!

At one time or another, most nonprofits and ministries express frustration with their board members. The questions range from: how can I get my board members to be involved, how can I get them to stop getting involved in the day to day business of the organization and what on earth do I do with them? Other times, people will say things like, I just don’t even understand why I need board members and my board members are useless.

Ideal board members, like the ideal spouse, friend or employee do not just happen. They are created and that creation takes time.   

It is often helpful to determine the qualities and credentials that are needed on the board. (This helps to avoid filling a board seat for the sake of filling the seat!). Using a board matrix, have board members identify their skills, once compiled, it is easy to see where the gaps are. Then, looking forward (ideally using the organization’s strategic plan) determine the skills and talents that are needed to take you where you want to go. This will help you select board members based on their areas of expertise and how they can benefit the organization. With this information, you are ready to begin the recruitment process.

Creating the ideal board member begins with the recruitment or identification process. Identify potential board members by looking at those in your community who are passionate about the work you are doing. Board members who are passionate about your work and your mission will always go the extra mile to be of service. And…remember, as humans, we donate when our heart is connected.  Never seek out someone for board service simply because they have the capability to give a large donation – unless their heart is connected, it will never happen.

Be open and honest about your expectations of board members. How many hours each month do you really need their service? Telling someone serving will only take an hour a month is misleading and unfair. Do you expect board members to serve on committees, attend fundraising events, etc? All of these expectations need to be spelled out for the board members before they agree to serve.

As you begin the recruitment process, think about the ideal board member. What do they look like? Below is a list of characteristics of the ideal board member. Use these in your recruitment process and in stating your expectations of board members.

The ideal board member will:

  • Listen more than he/she talks. While it is important to have good discussions at board meetings, it is also important for board members to really listen to all viewpoints and to ensure he/she has all the facts needed to make decisions in the best interests of the organization.
  • Develop a positive relationship with the CEO/ED. Running a nonprofit or ministry is not an easy job, and sometimes it’s lonely as the CEO often does not have a sounding board or someone who can provide an objective perspective on challenges he/she encounters. Board members can serve in this role, acting as a sounding board.
  • Be careful not to micromanage. The role of the board is to look at the big picture of the organization, not to get involved in the day to day operations of the organization.
  • Ask questions. Just as in most situations in life, there is no “dumb” question. Board members will ask questions to get the information they need to fully understand what they need to know to ensure they are making the best decisions for the organization.
  • Board members should be passionate about the work of the organization. One of the most important traits board members can bring to the board room is passion. Board members are most effective and serve the organization best when they are passionate about the mission and work of the organization. Most other traits can be taught, but passion trumps everything else.

Ideal board members is an infographic in The Nonprofit Compass.

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