Getting Your Board on Board
Laura Colin Klein and Julie Malloy, consultants from The Conservation Company recently presented a workshop on board issues.
A nonprofit board is an organized group of people with the authority collectively to control and foster an institution that is usually administered by a qualified executive staff. * Some of the features of effective nonprofit boards include the following: Board members know and adhere to their responsibilities. By-laws address structural and policy issues and remain valid over time. Meetings are well planned, managed and scheduled. The board is the right size, and its composition and member skills match organizational needs. Board membership turns over. Board leadership responsibilities are clear. Board committees reflect the organizations interests and needs; committee responsibilities are clear. Members understand the legal responsibilities that their positions entail.
How do you get reticent board members engaged? You need to try to determine why theyre not interested. Consider talking to your allies on the board, as they may be able to provide some insight. Conduct interviews with board members who are not involved, asking them the following types of questions: Do their expectations match those of the organizations? Are the projects interesting? Are their tasks clear? Where does the organization rate in their priorities? You may find that the problem is as superficial as the time or day of the meeting or it may be a deeply rooted issue that should be addressed with a neutral party conducting a board retreat. Are you regularly communicating with board members? If not, consider emailing or faxing succinct monthly updates.
Broadly stated, a boards role is to set policy and the staffs role is to implement that policy. However, these roles may vary depending on the culture of an organization.
If your structure is set up so that the board must communicate through you (the executive director) and you then communicate everything to the staff, youre probably creating time constraints and headaches for yourself. Try using other possible ways to have the board and the committees interact directly with the appropriate staff. It may be helpful to have some of the staff attend board and committee meetings, and some board members may find this helpful themselves. Certain portions of some meetings may not be appropriate for some staff, and they should be excused from the room.
The Conservation Company provides management consulting and planning services to nonprofits. For information, call 212/949-0990 or visit www.consco.com.
|Governance Matters *
The commonly accepted responsibilities of effective board members are to:
Ensure that the organizations mission is clear, appropriate and relevant as times change. Determine that the organizations programs and activities support the organizations mission and achieve both their short-term and long-term purpose. Exercise fiduciary responsibility to obtain and appropriately use the resources required to carry out the organizations mission and sustain it.
To fulfill these responsibilities, board members work together to:
Cultivate a deep understanding of what the organization is doing through involvement in its activities. Act as ambassadors for the organization, explaining its purpose and needs to the community. Select, establish conditions of employment for, work with and evaluate the executive director. Make sure that the organization fulfills its ethical, legal and regulatory obligations. Attend board meetings fully prepared to discuss, ask questions and make decisions related to the organizations purpose, goals and activities. Support and monitor the organizations fundraising and use of funds. Evaluate the composition and performance of the board and recruit future board leadership.
* From the Alliance for Nonprofit Governance, a recently formed organization whose purpose is to promote good nonprofit governance. They may be reached c/o NYJL, 130 East 80th Street, New York, NY 10028, email email@example.com.
Other Resources for Board Issues
Center for Nonprofit Boards publishes books and
pamphlets on governance issues. Visit their website at www.ncnb.org or call 800/883-6262 for a
Copyright 2001 Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York