As a human race, we can often make matters more complicated than they need to be. This certainly holds true in the realm of nonprofit board governance. Although best practices exist for efficient governance, sometimes nonprofit boards complicate their role as organizational stewards by subscribing to a number of myths. Jan Masaoka’s recent article in Blue Avocado highlights her thoughts on ten of the most common myths “wreaking havoc” in nonprofit board rooms. Whether or not these myths apply to your organization, a fairly simple prescription exists to keep your board on the right path to effective governance: education, communication, planning and evaluation.
First, education is critical. From honest clarification of expectations during recruitment of members to thorough new board member orientation to ongoing education for all board members built into each board meeting agenda – a board that doesn’t understand its roles and responsibilities is destined for trouble. Furthermore, a board that does understand its roles and responsibilities and chooses to ignore them is putting the organization at risk.
An example of communication getting too complicated is the establishment of a myriad of committees, so elaborate, the structure prevents meaningful discussion and streamlined decision-making. While I’m a vocal advocate for a reasonable committee structure and am known to warn against the perils of decision-making and discussion being concentrated in a board’s executive committee, I also encourage you to ask an important question: Why do we have this committee, and how does it enhance the work of this organization? If a committee structure doesn’t seem to be working, tinker with it until it does. One size doesn’t fit all!
Another step to building a better board: plan for the future – set goals and objectives for programmatic activities, but also be strategic in diversifying and securing revenue. “Nonprofit” doesn’t mean you must end the year with no money in the bank! Don’t try to complicate matters by staying within certain financial parameters, seek all of the funding you can for your organization!
Finally, remember to establish a means of evaluation. Again, this doesn’t need to be overly complicated, but determine what makes for effective board education and assess how well you’re doing. Ask board members about communication issues – what’s working and what isn’t? Keep planning documents in front of the board to assess progress and areas needing more attention. Continued appraisal of these plans, both in how effective they are and how relevant they are to the nonprofit’s mission, will help to keep your nonprofit organization on track and more efficient.
Effective board governance can make or break an organization, but how effectiveness is defined requires thought and agreement. To learn more, join me on July 15 for Nonprofit Boards 101. It’s free for our members, and the discussion is always lively. We hope to see you there!
Danielle Clore Director