Mining the Most Out of Your Board of Directors
Strategizing the composition of your nonprofit board is a lot like putting together a puzzle. Each piece must fit to complete the whole. Every piece is needed to ensure a clear picture of your mission.
Your board can be a goldmine or a figurehead. Some nonprofits, especially the smaller ones, do not strategically plan the makeup of their boards. In the long run this can have negative consequences. I asked a friend once, “Does your board have a pulse?”
”What do you mean?” she asked, looking at me like I was nuts. “What I mean,” I said, “Is it a living, breathing, well-functioning entity? Does it function in tandem with your needs? Basically, if the board has a pulse, does its beat match that of your mission?”
She hesitated while processing my question. “I think so,” she said. “Boy, I’ve never really done a complete analysis of our board. I guess you’re asking if our board and the assets it brings to the table contribute effectively toward making us successful.”
“Exactly!” I nodded. “Okay, here’s the deal,” I explained. “First let’s break down the reasons people serve on boards . . .
Board members have a number of positive reasons for serving:
- They are passionate about your mission
- They are altruistic
- They want to be part of positive change
- They want to leave a legacy of service
- They feel they have expertise to contribute
They also have negative reasons for serving:
- It looks good on their resume
- They can make good business connections
- They gain social currency
- It makes them feel important
- A friend asked them and they can’t say “no”
”Whoa,” she said as she drew back from me like I was a coiling cobra. “The last five sound cold!”
”Yes they are,” I said, “but they are sometimes true. That’s why the makeup of your board is critical – it should be part of your strategic planning.”
I told her to take a piece of paper and put her organization’s needs in a column on the left side.
Then I told her to list her board member’s names on the right side. After that, I said to draw a line from the organization’s needs to the board members that fulfill them.
I cautioned her, when drawing those lines, to remember that some board members have the expertise – but not the motivation or time to apply it. Connecting all these lines identifies if her board has a pulse or not. Whether it’s strong – or it’s faint.
She grinned. “It could be like ‘Weekend at Bernie’s.”
”Explain, that one to me,” I said, squinting.
”You know, the movie where two guys drag their dead boss around all weekend, propping him up and pretending to everyone he is alive. So, if our board has no pulse, we are dragging them around using them as props.”
I drummed my fingers on the table. “Okay,” nice analogy . . . I think. So, if they don’t serve a specific, useful function . . .”
She cut me off, “We’re serving them, instead of them serving us. They become dead weights.”
I shook my head, “And you thought I sounded cold.”
She laughed, pulled out a piece of paper and started making notes as I talked.
”Match your board members to your specific needs – fill these possible profit gaps . . .
- Marketing – corporate advertising/marketing professionals
- Community Outreach – networkers to churches, schools, service organizations
- Expert – people with a background in your mission
- Funding Knowledge – grant writers, foundation connectors
- Corporate Community Support – corporation executives
- NGO/Joint Venture for profit connections – for profit connectors
- Media Profile Expansion – print, radio and television representatives
- Education – program facilitators and teaching module creators
- Legal Coverage – experts protecting your board, programs, staff functioning, decision making
- IT expertise – professionals who backup your cross media presence”
”Pat yourself on the back”, I said, “if your board fills all your profit gaps, if not . . . roll up your sleeves and get to work on strengthening your mission. Start putting those puzzle pieces together. It will increase your nonprofit profile and your donations.”
”And attract more volunteers,” she said.
I nodded, “You bet!”
She smiled, closed her notebook and pushed back from the table. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”