Five Tips for Successfully Managing Nonprofit Boards
All nonprofit organizations are led by a board of directors that sets the strategic direction of the organization, oversees implementation of the program, ensures legal compliance and financial health and monitors staff performance. The staff executives – executive director, president and chief executive officer – and staff members are accountable to the board, implement board decisions and keep the board members informed of the organization’s progress. Here are five tips that can help nonprofit staff work successfully with the organization’s board of directors.
- Prepare a strategic plan, annual work plan and annual budget for board approval. Every organization needs a roadmap to know where it’s going and how close it is to the finish line. A strategic plan, revisited every three or four years, will ensure that there is consensus and an understanding of the goals and direction of the organization. Each year, the board should adopt an annual work plan and budget that describe how the organization will progress toward meeting these goals during the year.
- Document roles and responsibilities for board members. Every board should have a short document that describes the roles and responsibilities of board members – attending meetings, fundraising, serving on committees, participating in programming, etc. This document should be formally adopted by the board, shared with prospective board members and used, on an annual basis, to benchmark each board member’s participation.
- Schedule regular board meetings. Board meetings should be scheduled on a regular basis – quarterly, monthly or bimonthly – and the dates should be set well in advance. Ideally, board members should be notified of all board meeting dates at the beginning of the year and reminders should be sent out well in advance of each meeting.
- Provide board materials well in advance of meetings. Board meetings are the best opportunity for staff to update the full board on the organization’s progress, new opportunities, challenges and changes. At these meetings, the board should hear committee reports, review financial progress, review and decide on new opportunities and make decisions regarding organizational and leadership changes, such as new committees or board members. Background materials for these discussions and actions should be complete, well organized and sent to each board member at least a week ahead of the meeting.
- No surprises. The board of directors is ultimately responsible for the fiduciary, organizational and operational health of the organization. Its members are also the best resource a staff has. It is the responsibility of the staff executive to ensure that the board members or their representative – chair or executive committee – has full and timely information regarding any challenges, changes or opportunities facing the organization. Regularly scheduled calls with the board chair or executive committee is one good way to ensure this happens.
Nonprofit organizations come in a wide variety of sizes with many different missions. Boards may have from three to 30 or more directors.
These simple tips will help any board run more smoothly.