A pressing challenge facing social sector organizations is the need to recruit dedicated and engaged board members. Yet, finding the “right” board members can be difficult. On one hand, nonprofits need a certain type of person, with specific areas of expertise, to serve on their board. On the other, there are many energetic individuals who want to share their talents. But, the two groups sometimes need a “matchmaker” to help find one another. While there are services, like those at Board Source, that help accomplish this task, they are not utilized frequently enough to fully meet the needs of nonprofits. To fill this gap, organizations, such as the Dallas Business Club, are creating programs to match their MBA talent with organizations in need. Social Impact Architects was excited to help them pilot this important program this year.
As “matchmakers” pairing interested individuals and nonprofits, we have found that “fit” is incredibly important and thought we’d share our latest thinking from both perspectives, a la He Said, She Said, and how to find common ground between the perspectives:
- Nonprofit CEOs Say:
Boards members don’t attend meetings or are not prepared for meetings.
- Board Members Say:
We want our time to be valued and obligations understood upfront. Board meetings are often unstructured and don’t add value.
We encourage nonprofit boards to have a board commitment form or contract, which is signed annually. It makes board obligations, e.g., committee requirements, monetary donations, clear upfront and should include all relevant dates for board meetings or major events. We also encourage CEOs to use email for updates and work collaboratively with the Board Chair to ensure that board meetings follow agreed-upon ground rules and contain strategic discussion items.
- Nonprofit CEOs Say:
Board members don’t understand what we do and make strategic decisions without fully understanding programs, issues or organizational history.
- Board Members Say:
We want to understand more about the organization, but need to receive the information in a structured process.
We encourage nonprofits to bring new board members onto the board through a “dating” process. Start first with having prospective board members attend functions, visit programs and attend a board meeting as a visitor. Once both parties feel there is mutual “fit,” ask the prospective individual to consider the board. Nonprofits should be sure to have a detailed conversation about board commitment requirements and answer any questions. We also encourage nonprofits to have a board book, which is updated annually and could include the history of the organization, key governance documents and contact information. Nonprofit CEOs should also invite board members to key community meetings on issues impacting the organization, so they can stay on top of trends.
- Nonprofit CEOs say:
I don’t really know what board members think about the organization, board meetings or me.
- Board members say:
We want to be able to share feedback to improve the organization, but don’t know the best or most appropriate way.
We encourage nonprofits to bring measurement currently used for programs into the boardroom. Each board should set metrics for itself and use a dashboard to track progress. Ideally, all nonprofits are conducting an annual assessment of the CEO and board performance using a 360 process. If meetings are a problem for your board, you can also conduct a regular meeting evaluation.
We strongly believe in the role that the board plays in providing guidance to nonprofit organizations. Their insider-outsider viewpoint should provide a fresh perspective on issues and can help provide objectivity to decision-making. Their connections can add to the nonprofit’s ability to tell their story to the community it serves. The best nonprofits have a strong CEO AND a strong board that work together in a partnership to create a strong nonprofit. However, to ensure this happens, nonprofits and board members have to find the right match and fit, and establish an ongoing commitment to transparency, communications and continuous improvement.
We welcome your feedback on this “He Said, She Said” board/CEO conversation – feel free to add your own for the community to benefit from. Tune in next week as we profile a hot topic in the news today – domestic violence and the latest trends in this conversation.