How do they do it? And more importantly, can YOU do it?
To try to answer that, Justin Wheeler, CEO and Co-founder of Funraise, recently brought them on to the Nonstop Nonprofit podcast to chat board relationships.
Before we begin: Luke and Pat's process was evident even in the way that these two prepared to talk to Justin on the podcast: the amount of readiness they came with made the conversation progress smoothly and gave us time to focus on actionable tasks that any nonprofit can tackle.
Q: First, what does the term "well-functioning board" mean?
A: Well-functioning boards are strategic in their actions. They're efficient in the way they use their time and power, and they distribute the work so that everyone has a job to do.
Here are three things that a well-functioning board offers a nonprofit.
Clarity on roles
Similar to a coach and a quarterback: the coach never steps onto the field, but both the coach and the quarterback have the same goals. And what are those goals? Board members are there to protect the mission, hire and evaluate the ED, and ask the tough questions. The ED is there to build the nonprofit's team, raise resources, ensure operational excellence, and fulfill the mission.
Great Communication between ED / Board
Big statement: Your nonprofit's ED should be spending 20% of their time on board-related activities and relationships. Visits with the board chair and individual members, and prepping regular reports for the board.
A great Board Chair
In The Go Fund's words, a great Board Chair is empowering, teachable, and confident. The role of the Board Chair is not to control or micromanage the ED, it's to support the ED, increasing the trust that the rest of the board has in the ED. A great Board Chair applies feedback quickly, resisting the urge to compete for attention or be the hero. Finally, a great Board Chair genuinely cares about the mission.
Q: How do you know it's time to take action with your board?
A: For Luke, that moment came when a board member approached him with some not-so-glowing feedback on The Go Fund's board meetings. Ever the pair to take criticism in stride, Luke and Pat took a step back and reevaluated their meeting needs.
If your nonprofit doesn't have a board member kindly calling your board out, take a step back anyway. What is currently being done during the meeting that can be done before or afterward? Maybe updates can be sent from the ED ahead of time. Maybe board members can read up on agenda items so that simple Yay/Nay votes can be completed at the top of the meeting.
Q: What steps can nonprofits take to ensure they're building a high-performing board?
A: The #1 thing that nonprofits can do to make sure their board is well-functioning is to recruit the right people. Nope, you're not fishing for CEOs and CPAs, you're looking for people who have, over time, demonstrated a deep care for the organization and its mission.
To that end, there are 5 must-have qualities that every board member should possess:
- They must be connected to your organization, with a demonstrated interest in your mission before they're ever nominated.
- Board members must be current donors, at least for the previous year. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
- They've gotta have availability. Board members need to show up. Attend meetings. Commit.
- Every board member must bring their own unique, valuable skillset; this could be an understanding of finance, fundraising, operations... or something else that your organization sees as useful. Maybe this is revealed as a second language, time management, a great icebreaker, or strategic thinking.
- Board members must be charitable. 'Nuff said.
Q: What factors make a well-run board meeting?
A: Well, to start with, the Board Chair should be leading the meeting—not the ED. And the board's agenda should be focused on strategy instead of tactics. The big picture, you know? Instead of deciding which team member should run the year-end campaign or choosing a venue for an offsite meeting, your board should be thinking in terms of "Should we add new programming?", "What will happen if we strategically align with this outside organization?", and "Do we need to change our mission statement?"
Running your board meetings efficiently leaves space and time to tackle the real tasks in front of your board. And when there's no looming time constraint you may find your board has plenty of time for interaction and questions.
Q: Do you have suggestions for additional resources that nonprofits can use to up their board game?
A: To get everyone on the same page, The Go Fund board members all read The Board and the CEO by Peter Greer. And to model great board meetings, try The Nonprofit Board Answer Book by Board Source.
The best part of these actions? This is stuff that every nonprofit can do: you don't need a big board budget to build relationships, ask the tough questions, or recruit the people who have proven their care and interest in your organization. What you need is a board who's willing to show up.