Have you ever started an organization you were passionate about, only to be held hostage to the whims and emotional baggage of the board president? I hope not because let me tell you that it did not make for a great first foray into the world of nonprofits. However, it did make me determined to never have an experience like that again.

The Ugliness Taught Me 6 Lessons

I have never forgotten the horror of my first board experience. In fact, that feeling has stuck with me and helped me to shape the policies and organizational structure of the nonprofit I’m now proud to be a part of. It is my hope that by sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned, you too can begin to implement them in your nonprofit — hopefully without the trauma of first-hand experience. Maybe this way something beautiful can grow out of the earlier ugliness!

Lesson 1: Just because you are passionate does not mean your nonprofit will be successful.

Passion can manifest in a lot of ways. It often looks like a flurry of activity. If you are passionate about a cause, you may be incredibly busy. But you might be busying yourself with putting out eternal fires or even bogging yourself down in the day-to-day activities without furthering the overall mission of the organization.

Lesson 2: Make sure you agree on fundamental issues.

Iron out the differences in fundamental issues that will impact your organization. You need to be on the same page with your mission, goals, and policies. Your organization will not be successful if there are deep-seated disagreements.

Lesson 3: Just like democracy, boards thrive on checks and balances.

Make sure you have checks and balances in place for everyone. These might look like task overlap or oversight for when certain things happen. People cannot be afraid of bringing up difficult topics when certain actions seem questionable. Similarly, the board as a whole must not be too intimidated to deal with difficult topics or difficult people.

Lesson 4: Create a universal social media policy.

There HAS to be a social media policy that applies to everyone in the organization, especially when officers have differing political opinions. And if you’re bringing outsider perspectives in, chances are they will!

Lesson 5: Policies need teeth.

Policies without teeth are practically useless. They can “check the box,” but if a policy isn’t followed by all (or implemented in an equal manner), resentments fester. This inequality negatively impacts morale among group members.

Lesson 6: Integrate yourself with the community and your volunteers.

Many (if not most) nonprofits continuously interface with the communities they serve. But this means they must be continually networking—both with members of the community and potential partners.

Read the full article about nonprofit governance at Blue Avocado.