A guide to board development
It is a fact of life that the phenomenon of Board vacancies exists. Usually, this turnover occurs at the most inopportune time. Turnover happens either by plan or by circumstance. In order to prevent disruption, all nonprofits should have a well-developed plan to ensure that their Board thrives and grows with the needs and mission of the agency. Unfortunately many small to middle size nonprofits leave Board development and selection to chance, filling vacancies as they arise without a solid plan in place. Having a sensible roadmap to guide Board development and selection will avoid many of the common problems that plague nonprofits when vacancies occur. These easy to follow steps will help develop that plan.
Every Board member brings a wide range of assets and characteristics to the Board. These are both tangible and intangible but are often on full display during Board meetings. In order to formulate a plan that will help in future Board development, it is best to begin objectively. A good recommendation is to start with a simple spreadsheet that lists each Board member, and that member’s pluses and minuses. For instance, does that member have a special skill, like a CPA certification or law degree? These are critical skills needed by most Boards. However, take care to include members’ soft skills into account as well. Many Boards have members who miss too many meetings, lack interest in the mission, disrupt meetings or simply fill space while not contributing anything positive to meetings or events. Once you have a good idea of the current Board’s strengths and weaknesses, you can begin to look for members who will bring positive results to your organization.
Just as teamwork is important to long term success, so is building a strong board. And, just like an athletic team, success is built on several layers of players. When people are chosen to fill the open slots on the board, try to think several layers deep. Just like an athletic team plan for an adequate “bench” of players to insure against injury, trade or poor performance, a prudent planner has several potential candidates in mind when filling Board positions. Reasons are varied, however, not every person who is approached will accept the offer. Also, Board vacancies sometimes occur quickly due to illness or employment transfers. Having a short list of prequalified candidates who meet well-developed assessment criteria will assist with reducing transition problems when or if these issues occur.
After you have done all the hard work of critically assessing your current Board, carefully monitoring individual member’s strengths and weaknesses, resist the urge to look outside the list of candidates you have developed. There may be important stakeholders who try to bring pressure to bear to insert a “favorite” into the selection process at the last minute. However, your organization will be best served if you will adhere to the roadmap you have established to strengthen your Board. When new prospective members are suggested, add them to the spreadsheet to fill future vacancies. This will allow you more time to perform the due diligence needed to properly vet them for a Board seat.
Failing to plan for Board vacancies can have adverse effects on a nonprofit’s mission and bottom line. Leaders avoid Board gridlock at all costs. An ineffective or disinterested Board, will stifle growth or lead the agency away from its core mission. These easily achievable guidelines will help prepare a leader to develop a proactive plan that will greatly strengthen your Board, leading you to new heights as a manager, Executive Director or CEO.
Nonprofit professional, thought leader, lifelong learner, passionate about the intersection of modern business principles and nonprofit organizational strategies that enhance the lives of individuals, organizations and entire economy sectors. Earned BA and MA from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, TX, LLB from University of London, and LLM from Thomas Cooley School of Law. Writes about business and nonprofit management, leadership, golf, and leisure activities.