There are three legal and ethical duties of being a nonprofit board member and there are ten roles and responsibilities of serving on a board. And yet, despite this guidance, we often hear complaints, confusion, and challenges at the board level.
We urge board members to familiarize themselves with their legal and ethical duties and ten roles and responsibilities. But at a more basic level, there are some simple ways to be a better board member. Our column today shares how.
- Show up. Time and time again chief executives tell us that they can’t get board members to attend events, programs, and/or meetings. The adage is true, “just showing up is half the battle.” Being present matters, and when you are there (or not) it is noticed more than you may realize.
- Ask questions. It’s important to be informed and to be an active participant in dialogue, discussion, and decision making. The best way to do that is to ask strategic questions and probe deeper when you need more information or a better understanding. Often, serious organizational challenges could have been averted had more questions been asked by board members.
- Read the things. Whether it’s an email, board packet, or policy draft, you must read to be informed and prepared for your meetings and your governance role. And please, don’t be the person who asks the question that was already answered in the materials because you didn’t read.
- Write a check. Yes, this means you, and the check must be a personal gift even if your company gives. There should never be any doubt about 100% board participation in giving and there should never be a development director who chases pledges down from board members before the fiscal year ends. At the start of the fiscal year, make your pledge or gift. It really is that simple.
- Tell stories. Board members need to be ambassadors for the mission and its impact, and stories matter. Take the mission moments in board meetings to use as stories to tell as you engage in the community. Using stories to connect with donors and potential donors is a big element of fundraising strategy.
- Build relationships. We often say that the single most important relationship on a nonprofit board is the one between the board and the chief executive because that constructive partnership can make or break the organization. The second most important relationship is among board members themselves. Don’t minimize the time and effort needed to tend to these relationships in an authentic way.
- Focus on mission. It’s easy to get distracted by a new program or partnership or to only focus on the fiduciary roles of financial management and oversight. But don’t forget that it all comes down to the primary purpose of the mission. As a board member, mission, vision, and values are first and foremost. Are you focusing on the right discussions? What evidence do you have to know that the outcomes the organization seeks to achieve are having the intended impact? When you focus on mission, you serve the organization well.
Nonprofit organizations are critical to the health of our society. We recognize the dedication of the thousands of board members who serve our community and hope these seven items help achieve greater impact through board service.
Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO