Giving Compass' Take:
- Here are four attributes of boards that outline responsibilities to make board members the most effective they can be.
- What contributes the most to an effective board?
- Read more about best practices for boards and leadership.
What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
Board members, individually, may be highly skilled in an essential arena such as financial analysis, government relations or even fundraising. But if they aren’t team players, the disruption they create will eclipse their contributions. Cooperation and collegiality are the lubricants that unify individual board members’ talents into a team greater than the sum of its parts. And, as a whole, the board should seek to reflect the diversity of the community it serves.
Duties such as “loyalty,” “care,” “obedience” or “manage accounts” are the legal obligations assigned to nonprofit board members by most secretaries of state. Often their offices provide helpful guides like this from the Ohio Attorney General. These duties are a starting point but only a minimum standard of compliance, not the recipe for outstanding governance.
A better understanding of board members’ responsibilities is conveyed by “w”: effective boards are comprised of diverse members who bring a balance of work, wisdom and wealth. To these responsibilities add “wit” because a board that enjoys working together is more likely to be fruitful. On a high-functioning board, each board member brings one or two of these traits (plus “wit,” which is a proxy for cultural fit). The board as a whole is comprised of a balance of these traits because an imbalance in any one area weakens the board’s ability to ensure an effective organization. What does each mean?
Board members should contribute their expertise. A CPA might serve on the finance committee. A knowledgeable civic leader might bring experience to a governance committee. Those with broad social networks help to plan a successful gala. And board service may also channel their skills in ways that spur professional and intellectual growth, too.
Wisdom is most often called for in board and committee meetings. Wise board members come prepared, not opening the board packet and skimming the agenda on the way to the meeting. They listen carefully, ask good questions and dispense advice sparingly.
Like any business, nonprofits run on financial capital and expect board members to help provide it. Depending on the type of nonprofit, contributed revenue can pay essential day-to-day operating expenses or may provide the "margin of excellence." Board service asks all trustees to contribute what they can, with the expectation that some board members will have greater access to assets.
Wit is exhibited when board meetings are lively, stimulating gatherings that members want to attend. Wit reveals a culture of inquiry where board members’ questions are rooted in a desire to learn and understand.
Read the full article about board members by Laura MacDonald at Forbes.