December 30, 2016

Tune Up Your Board

An engaged and well-managed board of directors can be an extremely valuable asset for the organization. Individuals who agree to serve on the board of a nonprofit typically do so because they want to help and make a difference. While some will be limited to just the time it takes to participate in board meetings, others are eager to further lend their skills and experience to the organization. To get the most out of your board, know what prompted each board member to decide to get involved in the first place. Some may have a strong interest in a specific facet of the organization. Try to engage those board members through additional volunteer opportunities that directly connect with their interest and passion.

If your organization does not have a job description for board members, it will be helpful to development one with input from fundraising staff and board leadership. A volunteer job description helps set expectations and, going forward, will help ensure that you bring on the right individuals.

Content to consider for board member job descriptions:

  • Number of annual board meetings and attendance requirements.
  • Financial support expectation of the organization (it need not be an explicit gift amount, but a statement should be included indicating that “annual financial support to the best of the board member’s ability” is expected).
  • Additional expected involvement: are board members expected to serve on committees? Support or staff fundraising events? Attend performances? Spell it all out.

It helps to regularly assess the make-up of the board, and determine if there are any deficiencies. Deficiencies can be in the areas of diversity, skill sets, connections, and possibly wealth. If regularly reaching out to the community is a priority for the organization, are there individuals on the board of directors who have a background in marketing, communication, media relations, or social media? If the organization wants to make an effort to grow its planned giving program, is there someone on the board who has a legal background or is a financial planner and able to offer professional expertise? If the organization is dedicated to helping a particular group of individuals and families in the community, are there board members who represent that demographic or can speak knowledgeably on their behalf?

For all those reasons it can be helpful to have a standing membership recruitment committee, or convene it as an ad-hoc committee in regular intervals. Allow the committee to assess if the composition of the board still serves the organization, or if specific roles on the board need to be filled. It may help to develop a rubric of desired skills and traits to fill any vacancies more strategically. A recruitment committee can also provide valuable feedback on existing board communication and training materials.

Content to consider for a possible board member recruitment package:

  • Mission statement of the organization.
  • Overview of main programming activities.
  • Strategic plan, or strategic plan highlights and near-term objectives.
  • Bios of the Executive Director, chief fundraiser, and other board members.
  • Organizational chart.
  • If the board has fiduciary oversight or fundraising responsibilities, also include information about the financial position of the organization.

Another subcommittee or ad-hoc committee worth considering is a communications committee. The role of the communications committee is to periodically assess the messaging and communication pieces of the organization, and provide feedback. This will be especially relevant in the lead-up to a capital campaign or an event of importance to the organization, like an anniversary celebration.

While most boards have a finance committee, I would argue that a component of the finance committee should be fundraising. If the board is large enough and has a sufficient number of volunteers, a separate fundraising committee may be possible and preferable. The role of the fundraising committee is to assist staff with fundraising and donor recognition activities, help recruit fundraising volunteers, and assist with arranging or participating in donor visits as needed. They may also periodically evaluate fundraising progress overall, and make recommendations regarding the number of fundraising staff employed by the organization.

Board members who feel they have a lot to offer can feel underutilized and undervalued if there are no other opportunities for them to serve the organization outside of regularly scheduled board meetings. For the staff, the key is to find a balance where those talents by the board can be effectively leveraged without creating “busy work”. Ultimately, the staff needs to manage the board. In return, the board should provide strategic direction for the organization without micro-managing daily activities.

About Marc Huber

Marc Huber is a fundraising professional with over seventeen years of experience, including strategic messaging, board development, annual giving, capital campaigns, and volunteer consultation and training. He's also the author of The Fundraising Co-Pilot.

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