Building an Effective Board

An integral part of managing and building an organizational endowment is to do an assessment of the institution and its governing board:

  • Does the board understand their fiduciary responsibility?
  • Does the board realize the significance of the endowment?
  • Is the board willing and able to raise funds for the endowment?
Underlying the above assessment are deeper questions:
  • Does your organization have the right people on the governing board?
  • When was the last time your organization did an assessment of the board itself?

Having been involved with endowment building and nonprofit management for many years, I have determined that board composition and board development come before anything else. In these years of experience with education, healthcare, cultural, community foundations and social service organizations, there is one constant expression, “We need to strengthen our board.”

Boards can be divided into three categories: Mission Focused, Technically Focused and Vision Focused.

Mission Focused – This important segment of the board is typically focused on the integrity of the mission. These board members attend every board meeting, help with mailings and sponsor special events.

  • For a college, the focus is on the learning component. These board members have a real interest in the quality of the curriculum, graduation rates and a passion for the institution.
  • For a healthcare organization the focus is on the delivery of quality care in a patient sensitive manner.
  • A symphony society board member wants to assure the quality and variety of the musical presentation.
  • A board member of a community foundation is deeply involved in building a strong base of support for the community with funds for scholarships, community renewal projects and social service organizations.
  • For a library, this board member wants to protect and grow the collections, improve circulation, and acquisitions, and to provide more online resources.

Technically Focused – Every board needs individuals who have special skills with respect to particular needs of the organization. These board members also have an appreciation for the mission of the organization.
  • Such skills may include knowledge of finance, investments and accounting.
  • Legal expertise is always an important quality for a nonprofit board.
  • Experience in construction and engineering is desirable.
  • In today’s economic environment, a board member with fund raising/grant writing experience is important.
Vision Focused – The final components for a successful and effective board are members with vision.  These members are sensitive to the mission of the organization.
  • As a rule these members are entrepreneurs.
  • They are impatient and want things done “yesterday.”
  • They are demanding.
  • They are hard to find and recruit.
  • They don’t have time.
  • These members require the CEO to spend twice as much time with them as the mission focused members.
  • Vision focused members want to know “when are we getting this project off and running and finished?”
  • They want to know where we will be 5 or 10 years from now.
  • A vision board member is able to write a check without committee approval.

Before you embark on any significant initiative, make sure you have a board that is committed to your mission, is technically focused and can provide the resources to move your organization forward.

Discipline is required when seeking to build an effective board. All too often board positions are filled simply because there is an empty seat. When a board position is open it should be filled with the kind of member that is most needed.