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 have all 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 in this position and essentially paralyzed.
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.
We often don’t realize and 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 often 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.
- 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. This will allow board members to enter all dates into their calendars and will increase the likelihood that 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, it will be helpful to 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.