One can quickly become a cynic when working on a nonprofit board. After all, isn’t it true that only 5% of the people do all the work? give all the money? stay in town? Of course, staying in town means, having time to give. The challenge in building a good nonprofit board is to find that 5% who are available, monied and not interested in leaving town.
There are many resources available that outline the types of members that should be on a functioning Board. It is important to look for a variety of talent for your Board. Look for folks who bring certain backgrounds to the table. And look for potential members who bring special skills to the table. It reminds me of looking over a menu in a Chinese restaurant. Pick one from each classification, an accountant, a lawyer – all genders should be represented and all ethnic minorities should be included. Funders are very interested in finding diversity on nonprofit boards. The balance of viewpoints is valuable to an agency. There are always many ways to solve a problem or to address an issue. On a Board with a variety of people, all respecting one another, the discussion usually is helpful and enlightening. The outcomes are always positive for the organization and pave the way for building a stronger Board.
However, there are other criteria that should be considered with the “one from column A” picks. Those criteria include understanding the agency mission, being committed to the mission and vision, and that big four letter word……….TIME. Time commitment needed is often measured by the size of the organization, the age of the organization and the staff support available to the Board. For example, a new or relatively small agency survives on extensive “hands on” time commitments from Board members. As an agency grows and staff is hired, time commitments may not ebb as much as become less day to day operations and more policy level service. In a new or small agency Board members may find that time is necessary to answer phones, deal with clients or order supplies. While in an older, larger agency, those roles are filled by staff while Board members deal with hiring auditors, developing policies and supporting the executive director in meeting potential donors or in meetings with potential grantors. Time is the key to good board membership. It takes time to spend in discussion with others on Board issues. It takes time to cultivate donors. It takes time to plan budgets, review programs, support the executive director. Saying yes to Board services means making time.
There are ways to give time on a Board that are as valuable as attending monthly meetings. Each Board member should serve on at least one Board committee. In addition, other Board work includes representing the Board with other groups and in other parts of the community, taking part in fund raising efforts, and recruiting new Board members and volunteers.
Another facet of Board time commitment involves training and orientation. Board members must be kept abreast of the challenges within the organization and the changes in law or mission that demand retraining. It is also the role of Board leadership to design and implement orientations for new members. One of the important tasks that only a Board can do is conduct an annual self evaluation. Have we stayed on mission; have we reached the goals set down in our planning process; have we recruited and trained new members for the next term? Are we leading this organization in a manner that attracts support and attracts others to join the Board?
There is one more element to evaluate in recruiting a nonprofit Board member. Money. Nonprofit Boards have THE responsibility to keep the organization viable. Not all Board members will be able to give at the same level. All members must understand that membership on the Board comes with an expectation of financial support. The size of the donation is not as important as the fact that a Board member makes a financial contribution. This is also key in Board evaluation. Do all members give to the agency? There should be 100% financial participation by Board members.
Building and maintaining a thoughtful, hardworking Board for a nonprofit is a job for the Board leadership. Finding volunteers with skill, time and interest in making a financial commitment is a full time challenge for nonprofits in our community. Could we be looking for you?
November 2003 Time, Money