Posted , by Wendy McGrady, Executive Vice President. Topic: Board Development.

Is your nonprofit’s board of directors living up to expectations? Do they even know what is expected of them?

In our work with nonprofits, we’ve sometimes found that when staff and board leadership are disappointed in their board’s performance, it’s often because they have not made their expectations clear—particularly in fundraising. Therefore, to build a successful board of directors, you must be intentional with whom you choose and how you present the opportunity and responsibility, from the earliest stages of the recruitment process:

Ensure the nominating committee is considering your nonprofit’s unique needs at this point in its organizational development.
The “matrix” for determining board skills and diversity needs to be a fluid document, representing current needs of the organization and the board. That said, fundraising is usually a constant need.

Talk through responsibilities—including fundraising—during first meeting with potential board members.
You should have a written statement of roles and responsibilities that includes expectations for engagement, giving and fundraising. Are board members also expected to participate in events? Attend a certain percentage of meetings? Talk through each of these points with potential members so expectations are well-defined.

Make it clear, during board member orientation, that fundraising is a priority.
Leadership staff, including development/advancement staff, should participate and share fundraising goals and challenges. The new board member’s role in fundraising should then be a topic of discussion at a follow-up meeting with development staff.

Support and guide new members in their role.
Staff and veteran board members should assist new members in focusing on strategic priorities and equip them to do so. If you have a large number of board members who have never served on a board before, it’s wise to start by providing third-party guidance on good governance, or the role of a board in fundraising, at a board meeting or board retreat. If they’re more experienced, perhaps they simply need a refresher in major gift fundraising. We can’t expect board members to excel at something they’ve never done unless we provide them the appropriate training.

Have board members evaluate themselves—and set goals.
Led by the board chair or vice chair, it’s a good idea to ask each member—and the board as a whole—to evaluate their engagement goals and performance every year.  In addition, having them set thoughtful goals on how they’d like to engage in the coming year gives you something to work with as you strive to keep them involved.

By strategically recruiting the right people for your board, making your expectations clear and helping them hold themselves accountable, your increased board engagement should lead to increased results!

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