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Board DevelopmentNonprofit Boards

The Keys to Board Member Success

By January 26, 2023No Comments

A key to positioning for success…. on the job, in a volunteer role, or on a board of directors, is to provide clear expectations of the individual. We all have been in situations, at one time or another, where we weren’t really sure exactly what was expected of us. I am going to say that more than likely, you felt uncomfortable and essentially paralyzed by the situation; or perhaps you went the other way and became a micro-manager of everything you thought you should do.

The same is true for board members. But, it may even be compounded because the board member comes for a meeting once a month or interacts with the organization less frequently than an employee. So, unless you guide them, they never really have a chance to learn how to be a successful board member.

Often, we don’t realize or remember that for many, serving on a nonprofit board of directors is a new experience, and one that is very different from their “real” job.  To equip board members for success then, means setting clear expectations and helping them to understand their roles and responsibilities.

While an organization will typically have a detailed job description, it is also important to have an annual board commitment agreement or letter. In this agreement, outline the expectations of board members in three main areas: governance, volunteerism, and as a participant or ambassador.

Additionally, be certain the agreement contains the following details:

  • Specific roles and responsibilities within each area mentioned above. For instance, if there is an expectation that all board members will contribute financially to the organization (and there should be), this needs to be detailed in the letter. Note, we do not recommend specifying a certain amount but instead suggest board members are asked to give at a level that is meaningfully significant for them. This means that you are not excluding individuals from serving on the board—even those from under-represented groups can serve with this policy.
  • An overview of the organization’s conflict of interest policy as well as the procedure to disclose any perceived or actual conflict of interest.
  • A copy of the board meeting schedule for the year. Giving board members information to enter all dates into their calendars will increase the likelihood they will attend. It may also be helpful to include specific topics that will be covered at each board meeting. For instance, if your fiscal year begins July 1, plan to begin the budget process in March or April and then review the budget for the upcoming year during the May or June meeting.  Perhaps a meeting with the accountants who conduct the audit is always scheduled for the month of October or November.
  • Additional events or activities that board members are expected to assist with or participate in. This could include events where you will need volunteers as well as fundraising activities or events.

Spend some time planning ways to equip your board members for success. Doing so will reduce stress and frustration for both the board members and the Executive Director. And, it will also give your board members a feeling of accomplishment when they know they are doing what is expected of them.

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