Here, on the other hand, are some of the key principles of a well-functioning board that I have discovered:
– Ideally, the organization should be new and, if not new, should at least be doing something that is new. You can easily test a group’s raison d’etre by attending a board meeting and calculating how much time is spent on matters that, if you had just wandered accidentally into the room, would in no way identify the organization’s reason for existence.
If your meetings are anything like most of the meetings I attend, you’d be happy for a window in that conference room now and then. But what if you could be someplace else? Say, take the board meeting on the road?
Too often, I meet boards that are extremely reluctant to quantify the community impact they’d like to make, fearing they’ll fall short of the goal. When asked to set a goal for how they’ll enhance their community, too many boards hedge. It’s tempting to think about your organization only in terms of what you are
Decisions answer a particular question confronting us here and now. They often lack application to any future questions that might arise.
Policies, on the other hand, provide a framework for making decisions that can be applied to future questions. Not only are they key to sound board decisions, but policies allow boards to more effectively delegate authority to others.
In Recruiting Board Members? Ask for Help, I described how one small nonprofit held a gathering to ask members of their community for help in thinking up names of possible board members. As I was cleaning out their folder for filing, I spied the invite letter our recruitment team prepared.
“I went onto the board of a few nonprofits as part of the expectation of my job. It seems it wasn’t enough that I was attending board meetings, and bringing with me a pretty significant corporate gift and my own personal donation. In not sure order, I started getting requests from the staff for all kinds of needs from serving on committees to attending events to requests to help open doors or solicit others. I was overwhelmed by the hidden expectations of serving on a board. I had no idea what I was getting into.”
It’s ideal to have your next board recruits ready-to-pick from an in-house farm team of committees volunteers, and donors. But most boards that find themselves asking for our help to build a stronger board haven’t created that team (if they had, they probably wouldn’t need our advice, now would they.) Or, even if you have built a farm team, it may be pretty homogeneous, lacking the rich diversity of backgrounds, ethnicity and experiences that you desire. So many boards benefit from recruiting members beyond their inner circle.