Nonprofit boards provide several important services. Boards must ensure the staff and volunteers act legally and ethically. They oversee the finances and guide the organization with a “duty of care” that extends to planning and decision making. The board must, at the end of the day, confirm that the nonprofit acts in a responsible way and manages its business affairs accordingly.
That’s a tall order for even the most dedicated nonprofit board members. Good nonprofits choose their board members wisely, but great nonprofits take additional steps to support their board members and improve their effectiveness.
Where Boards Fall Short
Boards often fall short in several common areas. For example, in a study from the Stanford School of Business, only 23% say their communication with fellow board members is excellent. Other areas that could be improved include technical knowledge, especially on cybersecurity matters and diversity.
Improving Effectiveness, Supporting the Organization
Providing support, resources, and professional development for board members isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s a crucial way to support the overall organization. Given that the board provides guidance for the direction of the organization as well as oversight over many areas, the better the board members’ skills and experience, the better they can support the organization.
Three ways in which organizations can improve the effectiveness of their boards include:
- Survey the board: Ask each board member individually for their opinion on aspects of board governance and communications. For example, do they feel the current board processes are effective? How would they rate their communications level with fellow board members? These and other questions can be asked of each member and the responses collected anonymously. The collected responses can be shared in a report with action steps to follow up on areas of need.
- Conduct a gap analysis: Survey the board and assess their skills. Then, working with the board, make a list of skills they have and skills they believe they need. This gap analysis can be used to fill future board positions. For example, if knowledge and expertise in technology and cyber security is lacking, this critical need can be filled when a board seat becomes vacant. Knowing these skills are needed can be helpful to direct the search for a new director. This information can also be used to provide professional development to the current board to close skills and knowledge gaps.
- Gather frequent feedback: Feedback should be gathered not just through surveys, but through frequent feedback gathered after every meeting. For example, ask the board after the conclusion of each meeting to rate their ability to follow the agenda, communicate clearly, and resolve issues. Use a scale of 1 to 5 or similar to gather data to help directors identify areas of focus for future meetings. If they feel they didn’t follow the agenda, ask them to determine why. Perhaps a new issue cropped up that was unforeseen but urgent. If so, they may need to leave more space in the agenda to handle urgent needs as they arise.
Develop a Succession Plan
In addition to these suggestions, it is helpful to develop a succession plan for the board. As members resign or their term of service expires, it is helpful to have a plan ready to guide the search for new directors. This is where the skills and gap analysis is helpful. If you know what skills the board currently lacks, you can search for members who have the desired attributes.
Your board of directors provides a valuable service, guiding and supporting your organization as it works to achieve its mission. By giving them the support they need, you’ll be able to boost their effectiveness, and in turn, build your organization.
Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.