Five Strategies For Transforming Your Board Into a Dynamic Leadership Team

By Susan Fields, CFRE

AFP-NYC Educational Program
April 18, 2019 , Scandinavia House, New York City

In order to govern effectively nonprofit Boards must work collaboratively with development staff and major donors. The most challenging task of CEO’s and fundraising leadership is motivating and supporting their Board in its most important responsibilities: finance, planning for growth, acting as advocates, dealing with crisis and change, evaluating its performance, and ensuring the nonprofit has the resources to fulfill its mission. Review the following strategies and ideas for transforming your board into a dynamic leadership team.

1. Culture Counts– One of the most important components in setting the groundwork for building a highly-functioning Board is establishing a culture of congeniality and respect. This begins with trust and confidence in the CEO’s skills, expertise, and commitment to the organization’s wellbeing. Once this is established, an environment of “good intentions” and enthusiasm will filter down to its members. Creating a positive Board culture includes setting high expectations, promoting honest communications, and allowing debate free of politics and underlying agendas.

2. Create clear and detailed job descriptions.People tend to do best when they know exactly what is expected of them. This is true with paid employees as well as volunteers at all levels of an organization as it defines exactly what they will be held responsible for prior to making a commitment. Job descriptions should include information regarding meeting attendance, committee assignments, financial contributions, and fundraising. It’s best to create a special agreement for members who will be providing a special skill or function.

3. Everything begins and ends with the budget. The most important role of a nonprofit board is to serve as fiduciaries. Without prudent financial management, even the most successful nonprofit can fall into financial difficulty which can tarnish its reputation and threaten its existence. For this reason it is important to recruit an experienced financial expert to chair the finance committee. Duties of the committee include working with the organization’s comptroller and auditors in financial planning and budgeting, preparation of financial reports, oversight of internal controls, and setting long-term financial plans and goals.

4. Establish clear “give and get” expectations. In order to raise funds from foundations and other major donors an organization must demonstrate 100% participation of the Board in the annual fund and capital campaigns. It is considered best practice for nonprofits to have a minimum combined annual requirement for “giving and getting.” This should be made clear during recruitment, with members receiving a reminder phone call toward the end of the fiscal year. It is the role of staff to provide tools and training to members who are inexperienced in this area. Many boards specifically recruit lawyers and investment bankers who are adept at bringing in funds.

5. Board Roles vs Staff Roles. Part of the role of development staff is to provide the Board with whatever it needs to fulfill its responsibilities. Avoid the horrors of Board micromanagement by creating a document which clearly delineates the roles and responsibility of staff versus those of the Board. The CEO should be the only employee recruited and evaluated by the Board. All other staff members report to their direct superiors as stated in their job description. Because the CEO owns the relationship with the board, members of the development team need to inform the CEO when contacting board members directly unless this is pre-defined as part of their responsibilities.

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