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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Ensure effective
planning: All members should take an active part in planning, monitoring, and
assisting the nonprofit in achieving its goals.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.