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Jastine Lumbres
by Jastine Lumbres

What Nonprofits Should Expect From Their Board Members

Board member expectations in numbers.

In 2015, a study was conducted by the Stanford Graduate School of Business in collaboration BoardSource and GuideStar. Taking 924 nonprofit directors and asking them about their board members and their performance, they came up with a few discouraging numbers.

what to expect from your board members
  • 27% of board members don’t think their colleagues have a strong understanding of the mission and strategy.
  • 65% don’t think their board is very experienced, and about half don’t think their colleagues are very engaged in their work.
  • 46% have little or no confidence that the performance data they review accurately measures the success of their organizations.
  • 32% don’t think their board can evaluate their organization’s performance.
  • 42% don’t have an audit committee, and many rely on monthly bank statements to monitor financial performance.
  • 57% don’t benchmark their performance against peer groups.
  • 39% don’t establish performance targets for their executive directors.

Even beyond that, the survey found that two-thirds of the 924 nonprofit directors surveyed admitted that they didn’t have a succession plan in place, meaning that about 78% of them would be unable to find a suitable person to take their place should one them feel compelled to leave for one reason or another without warning.

These numbers may be alarming, and we don’t mean to startle you. Your nonprofit board members might be in good shape. However, if you feel that your board may need some improvement, or need a guide on just a few general points on your nonprofit board, stay tuned as we’ll discuss a few of them here.  

Your nonprofit board.

As the governing body of your nonprofit organization, your board and its members take on a specific kind of weight on their shoulders. This is one they take intentionally, as a majority of board members are usually there on a voluntary basis and don’t receive any compensation for serving on the board. To begin, what makes a good board in the first place? 

According to Peri Pakroo of NOLO, a solid nonprofit board is made up of members who are

  • Committed and passionate about your nonprofit’s mission    
  • Not afraid to get down and dirty to take an active role in even the most menial, basic, or physical of tasks
  • Community-oriented and have a great relationship with their community with various connections  
  • Willing and able to fundraise for your nonprofit
  • From all walks of life, races, religion, occupation, gender, race, age

Your board and its members, according to the National Council Nonprofits, are meant to “provide foresight, oversight, and insight.” Foresight to have vision and concern for the future by assisting in making plans for your nonprofit. Insight to provide understanding of your nonprofit and its mission while bringing new and different perceptions to the table. Oversight to be diligent in making sure no errors are made in operational, legal, and moral areas.

  • Duty of due care: Ensure the nonprofit’s success and that it will be able to keep its doors open by creating plans for sustainability and by protecting the nonprofit’s assets from reputation to staff to where the nonprofit is based.
  • Duty of loyalty: Must take all actions and pursue decisions in the best interest of the nonprofit without any of their own bias and without a desire for their own personal gain.
  • Duty of obedience: Keep the nonprofit on track by ensuring that is still operating within the right legal and ethical parameters and that its mission is still being upheld.

What should you expect from your board?

We believe that the The Bridgespan Group, “What Are the Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards?” by BoardSource said it best. We have included a summary and a few notes of our own here.  

  1. Determine the nonprofit’s mission and purpose: Messaging, specifically the Mission Statement (and Vision Statement, if applicable), are meant to be reviewed by the board in order to decide if it is still relevant to the nonprofit’s goals and its current state (in terms of revenue and resources) or if a revamp is needed.
  2. Select the chief executive and related staff: The board must figure out and delegate who is the best person suited for the job of chief executive. When that person is appointed, the board must also make clear what the chief executive’s roles, responsibilities, and expectations are.  
  3. Support and evaluate said chief executive: Board members must provide support for the chief executive at the professional and ethical levels in order to keep the nonprofit track.
  4. Ensure effective planning: All members should take an active part in planning, monitoring, and assisting the nonprofit in achieving its goals.
  5. Monitor and strengthen programs and services: The board must look at all programs and campaigns in place and ensure that they are effective and make decisions to either eliminate or fine-tune a struggling campaign. They must also ensure that these campaigns, programs, and services are still in keep with the nonprofit’s missions and beliefs.
  6. Ensure adequate resources: Probably one of the biggest responsibilities of the board, they must work to secure sufficient funds and resources for the nonprofit to keep its doors open and continue its mission.
  7. Protect assets and provide proper financial oversight: Help construct financial plans and make the final decisions on budgets. The board, quite simply, are the guards of the nonprofit’s money. They have to protect it and allocate it wisely.  
  8. Build a competent board: Current board members are responsible for deciding what the requirements are to join the board. They are meant to bring in and train new members and assess themselves and their effectiveness.  
  9. Ensure integrity in all aspects: The board is meant to uphold all legal standards and ensure that the nonprofit operates within those parameters while following a moral code.
  10. Enhance public standing: This is the reason you need board members who are involved in their community. The board must communicate with the public and showcase the nonprofit’s accomplishments, goals, and mission.

What should you expect from individual board members?

Board members as a whole have their expectations laid out for them, just like the list above indicates. A board is a machine made up of many parts, which are the individual board members themselves; they have their own list below, outlining what your nonprofit can expect of them and their participation on your board.

Individual members must:

  • Demonstrate understanding of the nonprofit’s mission. This also includes being conscious of the issues (operational, legal, and ethical) that are related to the organization’s mission.
  • Have some working knowledge of the nonprofit sector, including the willingness to keep up with recent trends and current events within the nonprofit world.
  • Bring their own work experience, skills, and training to the board.
  • Have an understanding of all financial areas of the nonprofit.
  • Maintain the nonprofit’s legal standing, make sure its operating soundly within legal parameters.
  • Maintain confidentiality.

And then a few additional points that aren’t always discussed with the ones above: individual board members should bring the right energy to the table. Running a nonprofit is not an easy gig and it can be full of discouraging moments. Maintaining positivity will ensure a clear head for making decisions and creating the right environment to work, which leads to the next point.

Be respectful of your fellow board members! I know that this bit may come off as very elementary school, but more often than not, it is an integral part in maintaining good relationships with people. Along with a positive attitude, board members can continue to work effectively and confidently towards their nonprofit’s mission and goals.

Side note: Ever heard of Google's nonprofit program?

Did you know Google provides nonprofits with $10,000 per month in free advertising credit? This program is known as Google Grants and it's available to almost every 501c3 nonprofit organization. We've put together a free live one on one demo. All you have to do is click the button below.

Jastine Lumbres

Jastine Lumbres
Jastine is Elevate Click's first content writer. She received her BA in English from UC Riverside and Master's in English degree from Claremont Graduate University. She currently lives in Rosemead, CA with her family.

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