Structuring, Growing, and Nurturing Your Nonprofit Board

Business Insights

Structuring, Growing, and Nurturing Your Nonprofit Board

Nov 8, 2023 | Business Insights

Non-profit organizations are generally governed by a board of directors. The board retains the chief executive officer, sets the organization’s strategy, establishes the budget, and tries to develop resources to meet the missions and strategy of the organization. The board of directors plays a pivotal role in guiding and amplifying the organization’s efforts. The board makes the difference between an organization that merely exists and one that thrives and creates impactful change. In this, our third blog in the series, our focus shifts from the foundational elements of a nonprofit to the intricacies of board management.

The board’s responsibilities include everything from strategic planning to financial oversight. With such significant impact, your organization needs to define how to recruit, maintain, and develop and effective board.

The Anatomy of an Effective Board

  • Determining the Right Board Size: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. Smaller nonprofits might operate efficiently with a board of five members. Larger organizations may require far more. The key is balancing diverse perspectives, ensuring proper representation, covering the bases in terms of required skills and relationships, all while maintaining agility in decision-making. You should also keep in mind the need for full engagement and participation.
  • Establishing Clear Terms and Tenures:
      • Staggering Terms: By staggering board terms, organizations ensure continuity. As seasoned members depart, new board members join and become integrated. This allows a balance between institutional knowledge, energy, and dynamic growth.
      • Term Limits: While some argue that term limits prevent stagnation, others feel it might lead to a loss of experienced members. It is crucial to find what aligns best with your organization’s needs and dynamics.

    Officers: The Pillars of the Board

    • Common Officer Roles: Typically, a board will have a Chair (or President), Vice-Chair, Treasurer, and Secretary. Each plays a specific role, from leading meetings to overseeing financial matters and ensuring accurate record-keeping and compliance reporting. In some organizations, a single person can wear multiple hats.
    • Distinct from Board Members: While all officers are board members, not all board members are officers. Officers have specific responsibilities defined by the bylaws. These roles can involve a more significant time commitment and level of engagement.

    Board versus Staff: Drawing the Line

    • Roles, Responsibilities, and Collaboration: It’s imperative to distinguish between board and staff roles. While the board focuses on governance and strategy, the staff (led by the Executive Director or CEO) manages day-to-day operations. Collaboration, particularly between the board chair and executive leader, is essential for organizational success. Acknowledging where the line is between these different roles is important for organizational success.
    • Ensuring Checks and Balances: Boards hire and manage the Executive Director or CEO, ensuring alignment with the organization’s mission and financial sustainability. Regular evaluations and open communication channels can foster a productive relationship between the board and the staff. The CEO in turn is responsible for hiring and managing the staff.

    The Art of Board Expansion

    How do you ensure that your board remains dynamic, diverse, effective, and aligned with your mission?

    • Identifying Ideal Characteristics and Skills: You can and should identify the roles and skills your board needs to succeed. Lawyers, financial professionals, branding experts, and human resource skills are in demand for board roles. Other skills may be important for your organization. Beyond professional expertise, consider attributes like commitment to the mission, ability to dedicate time, and skills that fill existing gaps on the board.
    • Ensuring Board Engagement: Engaged board members are more likely to contribute positively. Regular board retreats, ongoing education, and opportunities for deeper involvement can foster greater commitment. You need to accurately define the job of board member and then get buy in and performance from all board members.
    • The Cyclical Nature of Board Recruitment: Nonprofits must be continually on the lookout for potential new members. As one good friend says, be prepared to “bless and release” board members and always be developing a pipeline of engaged volunteers for future service.
    • Strategies for Sustainable Board Development: Consider creating a board development or nomination committee focused on identifying, vetting, and integrating new members. Also, always be on the lookout for potential board members, even if there are no current vacancies. It ensures a reservoir of potential candidates when the need arises.

    Crafting an effective board requires a mix of strategic planning, thoughtful engagement, and continuous development. A well-composed board not only ensures robust governance but also propels the organization towards its mission, creating ripples of positive impact.

    If you have questions about nonprofit issues, please feel free to reach out Timothy Hughes at Bean, Kinney & Korman, P.C. at (703) 526-5582, thughes@beankinney.com. Our firm practices in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia in addition to various other jurisdictions.

    This article is for informational purposes only and does not contain or convey legal advice. Consult a lawyer. Any views or opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily the views of any client.

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