How To Build an Effective Nonprofit Board… From Scratch!
The role of any nonprofit board is governance. Put simply, this means oversight and responsibility. Your board is liable for what happens in your organization, whether or not they are directly involved.
The role of board member is a unique one in any organization. In every case, building a solid, well-functioning board is key to your nonprofit's success.
Structure of a Nonprofit Board
Building your nonprofit board includes choosing a structure that allows for effective and thorough governance. This means thinking through board officers and any committees that might make sense for your organization's needs.
Most boards have a Chair or President who oversees all board matters. They work most closely with the executive director or CEO of the organization and should maintain a high level of presence and involvement in board matters. For these reasons, your board chair must be a solid leader who has genuine passion for your organization.
The board chair's second-in-command is the Vice Chair (Vice President) who can fill in for the Chair when necessary. This person needs a similar level of investment in your organization; they are often the ones tapped to step into the primary Chair position when the current Chair's term ends or the Chair rolls off the board for another reason.
Your Secretary keeps your board on track. They keep thorough notes -- or minutes -- of your meetings and know the ins and outs of your organization's bylaws.
Finally, your Treasurer will have primary oversight of your organization's budget and finance finances and monitor compliance with financial reporting. The rest of your board will often look to your Treasurer for guidance around your organization's finances. The person you choose should have a relevant background.
Committees can be a great way for your board to cover more ground without bringing on more people. Focusing members' efforts and insights in a particular area can help to ensure high-quality decisions are being made. It’s often easier to do with a smaller group of people!
Committees can be permanent for the long-term, or they can be temporary or project-based. Some of the most common committees on nonprofit boards include:
- Executive Committee, which steers the direction of the board as a whole
- Fundraising Committee, which keeps an eye to the fundraising activities of the organization
- Finance Committee, usually chaired by your treasurer, which oversees and makes recommendations to the rest of the board about your organization's finances
Other common committees include marketing, evaluation, and governance, among others.
Find the Right Fit
Building a board is about finding the right board members for your organization – and that requires knowing in advance what will make someone a good fit.
When recruiting board members, you want to make sure you have a realistic understanding of where you are as an organization and what you expect from your board members in terms of time, energy, and monetary contribution.
You also want to ensure you have a good mix of diverse professional skills on your board. Options include legal, financial, project management, nonprofit leadership, fundraising, and marketing, for example.
To all this, you want to add diversity in terms of race, gender, age, and background, as well as a willingness to jump in, roll up their sleeves, and get to work. Look for passion, experience, and community representation, as well.
Don’t Skip Onboarding!
When you've recruited the ideal mix of board members for your organization, it’s time to ensure they truly understand your mission and their role in helping to fulfill it.
Once new members join your board, it's time for onboarding. A good process will make a world of difference in how engaged and committed they are to your nonprofit moving forward.
This is true for your existing board members, too! Engage in regular and relevant board development efforts to keep your entire board functioning at their fullest capacity.