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Mastering the art of nonprofit board governance

Ask many people who work or are on a nonprofit board and many times you will hear a consistent topic. Board members often do not have in-depth knowledge of how to properly serve on a nonprofit board, and unfortunately, many organizations do not have the resources to hire trainers to help well-meaning people become effective leaders. .

The reality is that serving well on a nonprofit board is an art and indeed a privilege that comes with responsibilities, including legal and regulatory obligations. Board members should always see themselves as representatives of the community and a bridge to the nonprofit they serve. Because board members are considered to have a special status and position when helping to lead nonprofits, they need to be aware of what not to do to ensure that they perform properly.

  • Serving is not a hobby: Being part of a nonprofit board can have benefits for board members because people meet like-minded peers. For example, you may meet people who will help you in your career or business as you develop new relationships with them during meetings and events. However, it is always important to remember that the main reason you are serving on a board is that while there are soft benefits that could potentially come with the position, your primary focus should be to provide the charity with your time, talent and money. . Serving on a nonprofit board of directors is a serious responsibility and requires commitment and attention to ensure that you are leading your “A game” to the cause.
  • It’s not just about the mission: Every organization should be mission-focused, of course, but it’s not just about the cause. It is essential that board members are fluent and familiar with the organization’s mission, vision, statistics, facts, stories, and strategic plan. Mission is just one element of the big picture, and board members need to understand it at a high level, especially when they are engaged with others outside of the organization. When board members go out to meet with donors and prospects, the CEO or a fundraiser usually accompanies them. Team members can explain, elaborate, and add color to a board member’s words and conversations, but each board leader must work to be fluent enough about the organization and their work to be able to participate in a discussion. substantial.
  • Don’t leave the nonprofit policy to chance: Board members are responsible for ensuring the development, implementation, and compliance of the organization’s policies. We live in a world of transparency, and it is simple in the digital age that something that may be well intentioned gets out of control, and not in a good way. In other words, people can be quick to judge and pile up when they see something that has become a viral problem of some kind. The best defense for any situation is a great offense. Board members have the responsibility to ensure that management and appropriate organizational advisors in financial law and management prepare documentation that is reviewed and updated as needed annually. Policy documents that are essential to any nonprofit business include donor privacy policies, email retention, whistle-blowing, conflict of interest, document destruction, discrimination, and sexual harassment.
  • No free ride: The reality is that carrying out an organization’s mission and the work it does on its programs requires money. It is also necessary to hire the most talented people to ensure that a team can properly plan and execute the required work. That means money is a necessity for any non-profit organization. Board members have a legal and fiduciary responsibility to the organization where they serve. They must ensure that a nonprofit has the resources it needs to complete its mission, and one of the most important needs a nonprofit has is money. Therefore, board members must understand that there must be a 100% board commitment to annual donations based on the financial capacity of each board member. Those with higher means can give more and one of the best rules to use for board fundraising is “give or take” which means you give it out of your pocket or raise it from others. Board members need to be aware that donors (especially institutional funders) ask about board donations and if you can’t demonstrate the board’s commitment to the cause, why would anyone else want to donate?
  • Micromanaging Doesn’t Work: Key aspects of the board member’s job is to oversee overall strategy and planning, secure resources, approve the organization’s budgets, align with the mission of the organization’s programs and services, and the performance of the CEO. What the board shouldn’t be doing is micromanaging an organization, questioning the CEO or management team, or getting involved in routine personnel issues. Let’s see it another way; When companies have boards of directors, members understand that they have an oversight and governance role. They do not work in the day-to-day affairs of the corporation. Nonprofits are businesses and board members need to understand that unless they are dealing with a crisis, their role is to govern and supervise and not go into the details of the organization’s management and operations. ; that is the function of the leadership.
  • Board guidance and evaluations are not boxes: One of the essential activities that any board must perform is to reflect on itself in a mirror. It begins by having new board members undergo an orientation, either individually as they join or as part of an annual board orientation so they can understand good governance. Let’s be honest; most people are not experts on the roles and responsibilities of the nonprofit board. If you want your charity to grow and become a sustainable organization, start with leadership at the top. You should guide the board members on their responsibilities to the board and also to their assigned committees. And more generally, it is essential to have an annual board meeting that evaluates the performance of the board. Organizations should budget for a consultant or facilitator who comes to work with them once a year to evaluate the performance of the board, which is often done during a board retreat and with tools including surveys, workshops, and other tools. evaluation, training and evaluation.

Nonprofit board members have different reasons for serving a particular group. Of course, there should always be passion and interest in the mission and work done by the charity. It should never be assumed that board members will know or understand your work. Nonprofit leaders have a responsibility to make sure they have a well-functioning organization and if the chairman of the board is not talking about proper governance of the board, the CEOs should not be shy and should raise the issue. theme.

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