The bad and good news is: Nonprofit performance is largely a function of Board effectiveness. This might be bad news if an organization has allowed the board to assemble and work without adequate planning and structure. Refocusing can be a challenge, but is not insurmountable. Board effectiveness certainly is good news, because when the work of the board is truly effective, it does make a world of difference in the results from the organization’s efforts. The opportunity for true impact is greatly increased, and relative to dysfunctional boards, producing real results is much easier. (like Dr. Eugene Fram, in his post here, I continue to be fascinated by dysfunction! I’ll steer clear of such negativity here as much as possible!)
Building an effective Board of Directors:
Much specificity goes into the exact solution for each unique situation, but a bird’s-eye review of good Board development looks like this:
- A diligent approach to recruitment and adhering to transparent objectives in recruiting is essential. Identifying needs and adopting a well-defined program for recruitment is the right place to start.
- On-boarding process for introducing new members to the board function are equally critical. This includes orientation and high-quality training programs. Developing the right delivery system of training and induction steps will contribute to the performance of both the individual and the entire group. Often some or all of this can be facilitated by a third-party, which helps bring sector best practice into the spotlight. Professional facilitation allows all internal participants to be involved as equal co-learners in a team building process.
- Proper management. This can include management of board member career paths, committee roles and assignments, professional development and ongoing reframing of objectives and definition of roles and responsibilities. Performance evaluation and performance management is often overlooked, because it can be uncomfortable to address. But when handled carefully, it can be a fair, non-threatening, and informing process. Always it is necessary, though—board performance directly determines the reputation, the achievements and the impact of the nonprofit organization.
There is a wealth of information available to build an effective board structure and achieve excellent performance. One is the Board Source, which has hundreds of documents and training tools available (some requiring membership). Eugene Fram also has a great blog post on effective meetings, another aspect of effective board performance. I totally agree with him, that we often hear the phrase, “great meeting” at the end of a board meeting, but as he says, great meetings “are hard to come by.”
Because my work includes focus on Performance Management and Social Impact, let me add another suggestion. Board diversity matters. It is not enough to have the right skill set balance and the commonly required ability to give and raise funds. For an organization to be transparent in its true motives and to ensure that a broad set of views are heard and considered, there should be community representation on the board. Strategic planning efforts are also improved when the board is truly diverse. By this I mean that the community being served should be reflected in the board composition. This a perspective that has to be truly and deeply accepted by the organization, and when that is the case, the results will be powerfully positive.
Board effectiveness is essential to mission achievement, so this is an area ripe with possibilities for most any organization.