Five Must-Do's to Ensure an Effective Board

Whether recruiting new board members or keeping current board members engaged, adhering to 5 Must Do’s will ensure an effective board:

1. Creating a board member job description which includes a “give or get”

It is vital for board members to have a job description that describes their role and duties. When recruiting a new board member, give him or her the organization’s board member job description and review it in person. Specifically point out that one of the duties is to give a gift annually to the organization. Even better, include a specific “give or get” policy meaning that if the job description calls for a $5,000 give or get, the board member either gives $5,000 personally annually or they are responsible for getting $5,000 from other prospective donors annually. The end of the calendar year is best to conduct the annual board campaign giving board members the opportunity to give a gift that is tax deductible. Ensuring 100% participation is a given.

2. Enforce term limits

Term limits are so important though many organizations fail to implement or enforce them. By laws should include a term limit of typically three years and a board member can serve either one term or two terms for a total of six years. After six years a board member needs to roll off and give the nonprofit the opportunity to recruit a board member with fresh ideas and new energy. Terms need to be staggered so that all board members are not rolling off in one year. What you do with former board members? Create a Trustee Board or Advisory Council that meets a few times a year, is asked for guidance, members continue to be donors and open doors.

3. Succession planning

Planning ahead to decide who will be the board chair for at least two years to come is essential. Some organizations have a one year chair term, others three. If an organization identifies an incoming board chair as well as an incoming vice chair, both board members will be trained when succession needs to occur. Organizations will also find that a triangle effect will naturally occur as these volunteer leaders will form an alliance providing even better volunteer leadership. Succession planning is also a benefit to the CEO or Executive Director as she or he will learn each leadership style prior to the board member becoming chair, expediting learning curves. A vice chair needs specific duties which typically include chairing the finance committee or the board development or governance committee. By chairing finance, as chair he or she will be knowledgeable about the budget and be able to provide some financial history. As chair of the development committee, a vice chair will have the opportunity to build the board he or she will lead in the near future.

4. Diversity

Diversifying your board is key and does not equate to just ethnic diversity but age, gender, profession, wealth, faith and location as well. Some nonprofits recruit members by location ensuring regional, statewide or nationwide makeup is covered. Some boards have placed required diversification standards in their bylaws. For example, “50% must be women and 50% must be men” or “25% of members need to represent who we serve” such as a homeowner for a nonprofit that builds low income housing. If this is the case, those board members can be excluded from a give or get policy. To ensure a board is making decisions for their community, nonprofits need a diverse board.

5. Enforce a fundraising expectation

The expectation that a board member needs to open doors and make solicitations should be spelled out clearly in the board member job description. In a recruitment meeting, this specific duty should be discussed to ensure the prospective board member is comfortable with and understands the importance of opening doors and asking for funding. Some board members will say that they are comfortable in the recruitment process but then in reality are fearful of making an ask. This is where board training comes in. Nonprofits need to provide an orientation and board training for new board members. In addition, volunteers need to constantly hear the mission and impact of an organization and provided with training to feel comfortable with fundraising or “friend raising”. Consultants come in handy at this time as board members do not tend to listen to development staff but will listen to an outside expert. There are many kinds of board trainings and Armstrong McGuire has developed programs that can help your board members thrive, including “The ROI of Becoming a Great Board,” “Creating a Culture of Philanthropy,” "Preparing Leaders for Your Next Campaign,” and “Managing Leadership Change”.

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