4 Smart Strategies to Help Build an Ideal Nonprofit Board

To create the ideal board of directors or trustees for your nonprofit, recruit strategically and provide appropriate training.

An effective board of directors or trustees is critical to your nonprofit’s success. But how big should the board be? What are the ideal traits of a board member? How much training is needed? And what about compensation? Answers to these basic questions can help you create the ideal board for your nonprofit.

With nonprofit budgets and face-to-face contact strained by the pandemic, utilizing password protected, mobile-enabled digital communication, collaboration and connection and engagement digital platforms, such as Engagement Communities, can be the easy and affordable answer to recruiting, training, supporting, inspiring, streamlining tasks and retaining your stakeholders, especially board members.

Be smart about board size

Experts caution against boards larger than 15 people, because it becomes challenging to ensure that everyone is heard. On the other hand, boards that are too small may not allow for enough diversity in perspectives. For example, in the U.K., the Small Charities Coalition and the Charity Commission recommend a minimum of three board members. You’ll need to decide for yourself the right number of board members for your organization.

Recruit your board of directors strategically

Putting together a board of directors or trustees involves more than filling seats. Recruiting strategically can help you achieve your organization’s mission. That may sound intimidating — but you can make it manageable by considering the expertise, experience and connections your organization needs.

Almost all boards, for example, will need members who are knowledgeable about a the nonprofit’s audience or population being served as well as members who have connections to the local community. Look for a diverse group of people who are passionate about your organization’s mission and committed to putting in the necessary time, as well as representative of those with a stake or interest in the organization’s work (such as a teacher or parent for a charity focused on youth or education). Fundraising skills and financial and management expertise are often valuable assets for a board as well.

Once your board of directors or trustees is in place, the work isn’t over. Recruiting must continue as members leave the board. Current board members should be on the look-out for potential recruits. It’s also important to remember that board needs may change over time. For example, fundraising may be a particular need if a capital campaign is in the offing.

Periodically the executive director or chief executive and board chair should review the skills and expertise of existing board members to identify potential gaps. This analysis can then be used to guide identification of future board members.

Provide appropriate training to board members

New board members should receive an orientation that explains their roles and responsibilities. You might address:

  • Mission and vision. Offer a brief history of the organization. Describe the nonprofit’s mission and vision for the future. Explain the services provided to clients.
  • Expectations. Tell board members what’s expected of them. This might include financial support, meeting attendance and volunteer expectations.
  • Staff and volunteers. Provide a current organizational chart, including bios of current board members and key staff. Review job descriptions to clarify roles and responsibilities.
  • Policies. Review relevant policies, such as those governing conflicts of interest, personnel management, standards of conduct and ethics.
  • Reports. Provide recent financial reports, an annual report, and any other documents that list donors or other funders who support the organization.
  • Legal and tax documents. This may include board bylaws, articles of incorporation, certification or documentation from tax authorities or regulators, and a summary of insurance coverage.
  • Practical details. Provide board member job descriptions, a list of board committees (including members, charters and current initiatives) and a schedule of meetings for the next year.

Consider compensation

Few nonprofits pay their board members directly. Instead, board members typically volunteer their time and seek reimbursement for expenses, such as travel and lodging for board meetings or conferences. As a best practice, your nonprofit should establish an expense reimbursement policy.

References

National Council of Nonprofits: Board orientation

National Council of Nonprofits: Board roles and responsibilities

National Council of Nonprofits: Can board members be paid?

National Council of Nonprofits: Finding the right board members for your nonprofit

The Balance: Paying board members by Joanne Fritz (2016)

The Bridgespan Group: How should a nonprofit board be structured?

By Leigh McKinney, Writer and editor grounded in the nonprofit health care arena

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