Nonprofit Board Effectiveness
8/21/13 / Andrew Monroe
Nonprofit boards have a demanding role. Often, these boards are working on behalf of nonprofits with a limited budget and limited human capacity, all while serving a social cause. Board members are under a considerable amount of pressure, and a board’s performance has an impact on the people the nonprofit serves. As this article from Nonprofit Quarterly points out, the job isn’t impossible, but it is usually difficult. Nonprofit board members have to come together and address major questions that often don’t have a clear answer. In order to overcome the obstacles these boards face, the article makes six recommendations:
- Search widely for board members
- Offer fixed-term positions
- Avoid empire building
- Set boundaries
- Make volunteering useful for both charity and trustee
- Let board members be ambitious
I’m a big fan of this list, and I particularly like the idea of “setting boundaries.” As a person who likes to talk about big, lofty ideas, I can testify to the value of narrowing and focusing on an attainable goal. However, I’d like to amend this list with a couple points that Corona often addresses during data-driven consulting with nonprofit boards:
Most boards have a good idea of the specific goals their nonprofit is trying to achieve to reach its vision. Where they lack information capital is in how they can optimize their performance as a board to ensure the vision becomes a reality. Often, boards know they can work more effectively, but aren’t exactly clear on where they are lacking. Much of Corona’s work with nonprofit boards involves getting self-reflective feedback from board members, organizing their thoughts, and laying the road map for the board’s path to success. A nonprofit board’s self-perception by its members is always present, but often vague and misunderstood. Corona uses feedback from nonprofit boards to clarify ideas and aspirations, consequently making them tangible and actionable.
Give the board the resources it needs to succeed.
Board members are smart, but they’re not experts in all areas. Board members usually need more information about their roles, where they could be experts, where there are information gaps for their organization, and the best way they can serve their nonprofit. However, those answers are usually organization-specific, and can’t be found in an online article. Often, Corona does the research to find answers to those complex questions. Other times, our work in conducting board evaluations can point boards in the direction of the information they need.
At the end of the day, nonprofit boards have demanding roles, and their decisions make a big difference for the individuals their nonprofit serves. Whenever Corona works with a nonprofit client, we keep the social impact of their work in mind. With the high stakes at play, nonprofit boards can’t afford to be confused about the road they’re traveling down, and we help show them the way.