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 partnersThey 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.

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