• Seven Ways Great Boards Excel

Boards set the tone for overall nonprofit performance. Great boards don’t spend their time listening to reports and approving predetermined decisions, or micromanaging and second-guessing staff decisions. Instead, they serve as a high-performance team, using individual members’ skills, talents, knowledge, and expertise to set strategic direction and to build the organization’s capacity to deliver mission-driven results.

How do you know if you have a great board?

1. The board has the right mix of people with the right mix of skills. Great boards engage individuals who have a passion for the mission, vision, and the organization. Each board member adds unique value that would greatly impact the organization if he/she were to leave.

2. Board members work together as a team. Great boards are like a championship sports team. They are able to put their egos aside and engage in strategic thinking that builds on one another’s ideas, thoughts, and opinions to make effective decisions.

3. The Board Chair and CEO/Executive Director are partners. They are clear about the differences in their respective roles, trust one another, and use their skills, strengths, and expertise to support and complement one another in leading the organization. (Read more about what makes for a strong Board Chair/CEO relationship.)

4. The CEO/Executive Director embraces his/her role in building board capacity. The CEO/Executive Director recognizes that most board members have had little or no training in how to govern, and seeks out opportunities to provide the board with the skills, information, and support to successfully carry out its role.

5. The board adopts a culture of curiosity, inquiry, and learning. Board members are constantly seeking and sharing information and knowledge about how they can add value to the organization. They are self-reflective, using feedback mechanisms and assessment processes to engage in continuous improvement.

6. Future board leadership is identified and cultivated. Great boards think about who will be their next board leaders before the need arises. At least a year ahead of the retirement of their current board chair and other board leaders, they have identified their next board leaders and have begun grooming them for their roles.

7. Board members feel they are part of a winning team. Individual board members are engaged in an exciting learning environment, meeting interesting new contacts and friends, and having fun. Thus, they are more willing to make board service a priority in their day-to-day activities.

Great boards add significant value that can be measured in terms of organizational resources, organizational performance, and organizational influence. But it isn’t easy. Most board members have never had formal training on how to govern a nonprofit — it’s like telling someone who has no construction experience to go build a house without giving them the skills and tools to do so. At La Piana Consulting, we offer a range of services to help your board excel, from guidance in governance models to comprehensive board assessment and development. Contact us to talk about your needs.

Categories: Governance

Tags: board development


Kathleen Osta
Thursday, May 21, 2015 2:33 PM
Thank you for capturing some of the key nuggets in a succinct way. One of my crusades as I work with particularly young nonprofits is to impress upon them the importance of having a year-round, fully functioning Nominations Committee that is responsible for thinking about leadership, developing criteria and screening prospects in a clear, respectful way.

The tendency to feel indebted to board members instead of recognizing that you are inviting them to contribute to the well-being of the community & to build on the success you've achieved so far is not the typical mindset.

I'm interested in your perspective on this.

Thank you,
Kathleen Osta in Asheville, NC
Vance Yoshida
Friday, May 22, 2015 11:25 AM
Hi Kathleen,
Thanks for your comment. Your crusade to help boards be proactive about their nominating and development activities is an important one. One thing to consider, especially for small or start-up boards, is that it may not be feasible for them to sustain multiple standing committees. We sometimes suggest a simple three-committee structure for this reason (http://www.lapiana.org/Portals/0/Nonprofit%20Board%20Committees.pdf). The main idea is that -- regardless of the structure it takes -- there is one board committee that includes as part (even if not all) of its charge the responsibility for nominating and development.

I'd also add that nonprofits probably have the wrong board members if they have to feel indebted to them. You want to find board members who are passionate about your work and want to be part of building an organization that will change your community; these board members don't just want to be players on a team, but champions of a successful team. To attract and keep them, you'll want to make their board service one of their best learning experiences and help them build relationships with other individuals who share their passion.

Thanks again for sharing your experience, and best of luck in your work.

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