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.