Many governance and nonprofit philanthropic experts work with nonprofit governing board to improve their performance and fulfill their missions. When I served the Greater Longview (TX) United Way as campaign volunteer, campaign chair, board member, and finally as Chair of the Board of Directors, I set out to recruit the best and brightest people who first and foremost had a heart for the United Way. The following framework may be of assistance for today’s nonprofit executive in refining board development strategy and in creating structure that best serves the organization – not the CEO nor any individual board member. The importance of securing board agreement on the structure cannot be overstated – without consensus on the structure or definition of what a high performing board member is for the respective nonprofit, trouble likely lurks around the corner.
Given the level of familiarity with the three legal duties of a board: care, loyalty, and obedience, consider the following five areas as a basis to begin your thought process:
- Governance – Components of effective governance include strategic planning – how can the nonprofit best fulfill its mission over the course of time, reflecting the mission/vision/values of the nonprofit; financial integrity – assuring the nonprofit has sufficient resources to carry out its strategic and tactical plans (YES – this means board members must be involved in fund development), effective stewardship of existing resources (i.e. spending policy), and personal involvement to achieve funding objectives (i.e. specific projects) for the nonprofit; loyalty – showing ownership of and pride in the mission/vision/values of the nonprofit, supporting the decisions made by the board, regardless of whether you personally agree with the decision; and confidentiality – never betraying the trust of donors and the relationships between board members, donors, and staff; keeping discussions at board meetings within the room (and not in the parking lot between a handful of members).
- Advocacy – Board members have a truly unique opportunity and privilege to express their views on philanthropy and how support of the nonprofit’s mission positively impacts the community. Board members serve as the stewards of the mission – the nonprofit is permanent, the individual board members and staff change over time, but the mission remains. A board member’s duty is to educate, inform, and motivate others of the importance of philanthropy – it’s more than asking friends for support. Philanthropy embodies an environment where persons who are interested in an organization’s mission can support the mission in a number of ways – financial support, educate policymakers on various issues faced by recipients of the nonprofit’s services, encouragement of others to become involved, or volunteer service. Philanthropy represents supporting a mission that is bigger than any individual. Understanding how the nonprofit fulfills a vital role in the community helps the board member become an ‘ambassador’ – one who can tell the story with sincerity and passion. When you answer ‘why are you involved with XYZ nonprofit?’ from the heart, you are more effective than any possible advertisement.
- Recruitment – Just as discharge planning begins upon patient admission to a hospital, so should the identification of like-minded persons who share a passion for the nonprofit’s mission. Affluence is nice, but a sincere passionate interest in how the nonprofit affects the lives and health of a community is crucial to its long-term viability. The ideal board member is knowledgeable about local resources and introduces the nonprofit to those resources.
- Giving – In my opinion, the position of board member should not predicated on any specific gift level to the nonprofit. In other words, one should not be able to buy onto the board. This practice has been done in the past; it is happening right now; and it likely will continue well into the future . A board member must commit time, talent, and treasure. Giving one’s treasure is a personal matter, dependent on the individual’s beliefs and financial situation, not on any requirement of the nonprofit. In my experience with board training, I have employed the ‘first hand’ model when asked about a specific give or get policy. The first hand simply means that when a board member tallies his/her charitable gifts in a year, your nonprofit needs to be on the first hand, typically after gifts to one’s place of worship and undergraduate alma mater. Board members should express their belief in the nonprofit through whatever level of leadership giving is right for him/her.
- Fiduciary Responsibility – Serving on a non-profit board carries specific legal responsibilities (duty of care, duty of loyalty, and duty of obedience) and fiduciary obligations to safeguard the assets of the nonprofit. While I have seen some organizations place this goal within the governance section, I believe it requires special emphasis to acknowledge the added scrutiny of non-profit organizations by a variety of external sources (i.e. IRS, Guidestar, State Attorneys General, etc.).
In the next installment, a discussion of sample goals for each component. Your comments and feedback are welcomed.