Not too long ago, an article was published about broken nonprofit boards. More specifically, it focused on nonprofit theaters. Still, because of the immense need in communities in all areas, not just in the arts, it’s essential to understand what leaders could do to ensure success. We’ll get into what you could do to ensure your board is up to snuff. Remember, they’re essential for the future of fundraising and that of your group. But, let’s take a look at that article and other common complaints about nonprofit boards.
- According to the article, failing nonprofit boards include the following:
- People who have no expertise or knowledge of the mission.
- Limited times when boards gather and work together (e.g., meeting quarterly).
- Boards designate themselves as the final decision-makers.
- Many people serving on boards don’t represent the communities they serve.
- Boards have no accountability.
- Board members get to decide who joins them.
Management of Broken Nonprofit Boards is Necessary
Unfortunately, as was noted in the article, nonprofit leaders and fundraisers feel they have another program to manage. In this case, it’s the management of board members or managing up. Still, until nonprofits and the sector, managing up is necessary. That said, executive directors and fundraisers need to realize that they have power. As is also noted in the article and is an essential ongoing discussion, there has to be a significant representation of diverse people on boards.
So, how do nonprofit leaders start to have those tough conversations and ensure functional and not broken nonprofit boards?
1. Leaders have to seriously consider their boards accurately
The first thing that nonprofit leaders have to do is to see their boards. In other words, you can’t begin changing stuff without knowing who is on your board. For instance, is your board significantly represented by members of the community it serves? If not, that’s a problem leaders have to recognize. Also, nonprofit leaders who don’t want to challenge their boards sometimes allow it to do whatever it chooses. That’s how you get board members managing staff, which is never a good thing. Ultimately, leaders have to think about their boards. And they have to come to terms with its reality before doing anything.
2. Get motivated to start the tough conversations
Once a nonprofit executive sees clearly who and how their board functions, it’s time to have serious discussions. Those conversations could begin with trusted management. Depending on how the board functions, it’s also possible to speak to a board member or two. Nevertheless, it’s vital to the organization and the community it serves not to have broken nonprofit boards. People need help. Communities are in need. One of the stopgaps in the U.S. are nonprofits to help people get back on their feet. By communicating with others, nonprofit leaders start to understand they aren’t alone. They also validate what they think about their board.
3. Continue to recruit supporters for board changes
Nonprofit leaders should consider that nonprofit boards don’t have to be large. In other words, depending on the nonprofit law of your state, you may have three people serve as board members. Those three people would have fiduciary responsibility for the organization. From there, your nonprofit could recruit people who are not “board” members but advisors. Plenty of nonprofits have advisory groups. Moreover, your nonprofit could create several representative and expert teams of advisors. For instance, you could have a group advise on finance, filled with people who have that expertise. You could do the same for other programs. The short of it is that doing so allows nonprofits much greater flexibility and brings on experts.
4. Forget that money equals expertise
For decades nonprofit boards recruited community leaders and wealthy people. The thinking behind it was that they would bring money to the organization and their friends. However, as many people who have participated in broken nonprofit boards know, that’s not often true. And that’s especially true for smaller grassroots organizations. So, something that nonprofit leaders should realize is that money doesn’t equal expertise. Moreover, getting people who’ve “been there” does bring expertise. So, reconsider the profile of your ideal board members. As many fundraisers know, money doesn’t always mean board members will give it to your organization.
5. Create programs for the people you need and not your board members
Unfortunately, often when substantial amounts of money get donated, many strings are attached. That shouldn’t be the case. So, for change to happen at the board level, nonprofit executives have to realize that their first priority is to the communities they serve. Nonprofits needing lots of money sometimes create programs or change programs based on the desires of donors. However, again, board members usually aren’t experts in social programs. Therefore, consideration should always happen in understanding the terms of any financial gift. Again, first, it’s about those served and not board members or donors.
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