Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Winning Entry #4

As a member of nonprofit boards and as someone who reports to a board of an emerging nonprofit I have developed over the years a unique insight on how boards both succeed and fail. While the checklist below is not the 'end all be all' of how to create a successful board these seemingly simple tips can help a board insure that its members feel included, its talent is deep, and its commitment is unwavering.

1) Create a Community: One of the things I hear most people complain about is the formality of the board. People involved in nonprofits typically are there because they LOVE the cause they are working for. This cause is often their life work and commitment, not just a way to make a paycheck. Why should the board act like they are reporting to their stockholders in a formal boardroom! Hold meetings in board members houses, develop opportunities for friendship to emerge as a cohesive group outside the meeting setting, constantly remind each other the great cause you are working for and how each member is there because they want to be and they strongly support the cause. Our board is not afraid to meet for coffee or happy hours, to go out on a Friday night and enjoy a concert put on by one of our dedicated volunteers, or call each other when we need support both in the office and outside.

2) Be Diverse--No, seriously: Every board of a non-profit would say they value diversity but many nonprofit boards are made up of the same 5-10 community members who you would expect. When looking at board recruitment look at the variety of people in your community and the community it serves. When working for an environmental nonprofit I was shocked to discover the board was made up of real estate agents, a university dean (and no, not of the environmental studies department), big business members, and local politicians. What about students from the university, or from the local high school environmental club? What about the organizations most dedicated volunteer? What about the community member who started the neighborhoods first recycling program? Which brings me to the next tip..

3) Recruitment should not be based on $$ signs: Ok, I get it. We all want support from the politicians and big names in our community because that equals influence and publicity! However, is a board really going to be dedicated and effective if you choose people who care and have their fingers in tons of other unrelated nonprofit and business causes? In short, NO! I have found that a lot of these community members tend to be "board membership collectors" and may sit on 10 or MORE boards! So instead of 100% dedication you may be getting 10% or less. Consider offering these politicians and big business supporters spokesperson positions or other 'positions of notoriety' in your organization instead. They get a title in your worthy cause without you giving up a seat on your board. So who should you recruit? Look at # 2. Don't be afraid to recruit creatively. Think of your stakeholders, the community you both work in and serve (even if they are different), and recruit for the future by placing emerging activists on your board.

4) Over-Communicate: Our board always knows what is going on and they want to know! Why? Because of tips 1-3! Our board members do not mind me copying them on emails and letting them know project status--they love it and as a board member of another board I know I love it too! Once a month (or less) is not enough to let your board know what is going on because if/when there is a problem they feel out of the loop! Let them in the loop, update them, make your intentions clear to them and you are more likely to have their continued involvement and support.

5) Constantly Ask for Help: I once sat on a board where once a month we would meet, go over the agenda items, and then adjourn. That was the extent of my participation! Now, I make sure I ask for help from my board members and as a board member I am always asking the organization I support what I can do for them to help. Nonprofit resources are limited, we all know that, so our board should be seen as our most dedicated resource, not our intimidating governing body!

6) Beg for Resourcefulness and Creativity: Don't let your board get into a pattern, or your nonprofit for that matter! It is so easy to create a 'checklist year after year that just repeats itself over and over! Many nonprofits, especially in fundraising, have found a few fundraising events or methods that work from them and wash, rinse, repeat year after year. Change it up! Add new components, expand, think outside of not only a box but any shape! Your board is a body of members with real insight, ask them to help you think of ways to cut costs, modify existing events or projects, and create something totally new and refreshing each year!

7) Make your Meetings More than Meetings: And I am not just saying order in lunch! Your meetings should be planning sessions, working groups, and fun! Every member should walk away with an individual action item every time! I know that sounds a bit over the top but it does not have to be something huge-it should be something tangible that each member should be able to do before the next meeting and that will continue to help you move towards your mission!

I hope these tips help as you continue to shape and grow your board and best of luck as you make your board an effective communal support system for your organization!

Stephanie Hood
More than Me Foundation
2001 Kalorama Rd.
Washington DC 20009

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