Building Better Boards – Leadership that Matters 

by Bruce Weber

The role of the nonprofit governing board is vital to the long-term success of any nonprofit organization. The board is the critical lynchpin in creating a successful partnership with the CEO/ED that works toward long-term organizational sustainability. According to BoardSource, an innovator in governance thought leadership, exceptional boards add significant value to their organizations, making discernable differences in their advance on mission. Therefore, it is vital that board members realize the important aspect of their board service and act accordingly. Creating a brain trust that combines the experience of the members of the board along with the nonprofit leadership enables creativity and meaningful innovation.

How does one get to this place of board nirvana? It begins with a mindful approach to building your governance team. First, recruit for purpose, not position. It sounds simple, but it is easy to get caught up in the trap of looking for the “heavy hitter,” the big name that can often write big checks. While I am a supporter of recognizing the financial impact that a wealthy contributor can make, there are things to consider other than having them occupy a board seat. As I previously mentioned, it is helpful to create a board partnership with the CEO, but that can only be accomplished if board members are present and accounted for. That can be challenging for many successful “heavy hitters” as they often have schedules that may not allow for regular participation as a member of the board. Recruiting for purpose is the careful identification of how a prospective board member can make a meaningful impact toward the mission and vision of the organization. 

Second is ensuring that board members understand their role versus the role of the staff. Typically, a board that micromanages is one that is looking for their value, something that they can impact as individuals. Often, when left up to their own accord, board members will seek value and probe for engagement. Sometimes that results in focus on areas that minimize impact, while creating burden for the staff. That can be avoided by clear articulation of the board member’s role, impact on the organization (job), and how to engage in a meaningful way. 

Finally, measure and recognize the board for its work in furthering the mission. Identify, along with the staff, the critical success factors facing the organization and how to engage meaningfully to address them. Construct an organization scorecard that is reviewed regularly, providing the opportunity for the board to look at progress and make adjustments accordingly, at both people and resources. 

Taking time upfront to thoughtfully establish the participants, clearly defining the role and personal impact, and measuring progress and success are key ingredients to long-term board impact. 

Bruce Weber is president and CEO of Weber Group, providing more than 20 years of global experience at developing business solutions that drive social-sector organizations toward transformational change. 

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