Having an effective board is not just a matter of finding the right people and having the right rules; ajob description or requirement list for board members is a good starting point, but you'll have to support them along the way.
Whether you're creating expectations for a new board or revising requirements for an existing one, here are three responsibilities to consider in crafting a job description for an effective board (and what you can do to support those responsibilities).
Perhaps the most obvious contribution nonprofit board members are expected to make is a financial one. Best practices are that all board members should contribute financially to their organization, even if the board is diverse in terms of economic background. While the give/get can vary widely based on the organization's size, needs, and goals, a good rule of thumb is that board members should be asked to give a significant annual gift, whatever that means to them. It's important that financial expectations are shared up front in the process of recruiting each board member to avoid any complicated conversations or turnover down the line.
What you can do: Treat their gifts as the generous acts that they are. Ask for their annual support in person with the participation of the chair of your fundraising committee, and acknowledge their gifts quickly and enthusiastically as you would for any your donors.
Board Committee Participation
Participation on a committee is an ideal way for board members to dig into an area that is important to the organization. Some board committees may include: finance, public relations, programs, or fundraising. If your committees are properly staffed and led by effective chairs, board member participation will be greater and more satisfying.
What you can do: Support the work of the committees. Most board members are busy people and need support from staff to be effective. This might mean reminding them of their assignments, drafting agendas or speaking points, and following up after critical board meetings to get feedback.
Evaluation of the Executive Director
The Executive Director is responsible for the operations of the organization, not the board members. The board, however, is responsible for the evaluation of the Executive Director. An annual evaluation of your leader by your board is a great way for board members to ensure that the organization is going in the right direction.
What you can do:
A few bonus tips:
- Keep board members involved in your work. Just like any other donors, board members will be inspired by the work of your organization. Give them the opportunity to learn about what is happening with your programs and services -- for example, if you are a human service agency, ask one of the program staff to speak at the beginning of the board meeting about his or her area or to share personal stories of your clients’ challenges and successes. It's important to put the politics aside and recenter your Board members around the real reason they're here -- the mission of the organization.
- Thank a board member at every meeting. Whether it’s bringing people to your event, connecting the organization to a foundation, or securing some pro bono services, be sure to thank at least one person at every board meeting. In addition, ask your committee chairs to give kudos to their fellow members as well when it is appropriate.