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Ways to ensure your board is engaged and committed to your mission

Bob Wittig and Susan Schaefer, co-authors of Nonprofit Board Service for the Genius advise nonprofits to connect board members to a charity’s mission, to recruit trustees who can provide needed skills, and to make expectations clear from the outset. These and the other steps they outline below will help a nonprofit fully engage its board.

by Bob Wittig and Susan Schaefer

1. Connect to Mission

  • Use storytelling to regularly share success stories.

  • Encourage (or require) periodic involvement with programs or clients.

  • Incorporate “mission moments” into board meeting agendas.

2. Recruit Strategically

  • Seek out candidates who have a strong connection to the organization’s mission.

  • Identify skill sets needed to support board governance and staff.

  • Develop a process that gives both candidates and the organization an opportunity to assess a mutual fit.

  • Use a board commitment form as a recruitment cornerstone; this document should clearly state expectations for, among other things, financial contributions, time, fundraising, and leadership.

3. Develop Leadership

  • Recruit new members with an eye toward future leadership potential and willingness to serve in officer and committee-chair roles.

  • Cultivate a leadership pipeline for all officer positions.

4. Nurture a Culture of Philanthropy

  • Develop board members as ambassadors of the mission.

  • Require individual giving from each board member.

  • Create a customized fundraising plan for each board member.

5. Expect Financial Stewardship

  • Ensure that board members have baseline financial literacy.

  • Recruit at least one, ideally two, crackerjack financial experts.

6. Support the Executive Director

  • Cultivate a partnership that encourages trust, transparency, and open dialogue.

  • Acknowledge achievements and accomplishments.

  • Offer constructive feedback at least annually.

  • Give the executive director opportunities for professional development.

7. Plan Well

  • Conduct strategic planning and use the plan to guide the work of board and staff.

  • Identify key goals and objectives that board and staff will work together to achieve during a defined period of time.

  • Develop meeting agendas that focus on decision points and respect everyone’s time.

8. Measure Impact

  • Confirm that all programs align with the mission.

  • Develop indicators to measure mission impact.

  • Ensure that impact and mission are aligned.

9. Evaluate Board

  • Convene a governance committee to assess board performance and provide ongoing improvement feedback.

  • Assess each board member’s performance annually using a defined process and criteria; expect underperforming members to “step up or step off.”

  • Allow the executive director to provide feedback regarding board engagement and effectiveness.

10. Monitor Risk

  • Establish financial, personnel, and other relevant policies to guide board oversight.

  • Secure and periodically review appropriate insurance coverage.

  • Monitor policies and insurance coverage to ensure they are current.

11. Learn Together

  • Set time aside to increase knowledge of governance and oversight.

  • Deepen knowledge in issue areas related to the organization’s mission.

12. Celebrate and Socialize

  • Celebrate organizational successes and acknowledge accomplishments of staff and individual board members.

  • Organize social events—with no organizational business—to build community and deepen trust among board members.

© Susan Schaefer and Bob Wittig. Reprinted with permission.

Susan Schaefer is principal of Resource Partners LLC, and Bob Wittig is executive director of the Jovid Foundation.

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