A strong, engaged board of directors is crucial to the success of any non-profit organization, no matter the size, mission or vision of that organization. Ensuring the board is engaged should be a focal point for the leadership of the organization and the board itself. It is not enough to have a full slate of board members. Each of those board members should have a clear role within the organization’s board of directors. Following are best practices in order to keep the board engaged and facilitate the fulfillment of the organization’s mission:
- Keep the focus on the organization’s mission. The organization’s culture should assist with all employees and board members in carrying out the mission of the organization. The mission should be at the center of all decisions made by the board and the organization. Board members and potential board members should understand the mission and continually review the activities of the organization to ensure they are in line with the mission of the organization.
- Continuously monitor the organization’s strategic plan, including the goals set by the strategic plan. The organization’s strategic plan is not something to file drawer or put on a bookshelf. At least twice a year a significant portion of the board meeting should be devoted to the review of the strategic plan. In addition, the strategic plan should be updated periodically, especially if significant events take place, such as staffing changes or program changes.
- Review the needs of the board continuously. How often does someone say to their fellow board members during a meeting, “I wish we had someone who could do that for us.” I’m sure every board has had this conversation. The board should continuously review the skills of the existing board members and identify the holes they may need to fill. For example, if the organization’s social media presence is not quite up to par, the board should seek out a potential board member that can help with social media, or someone who can guide the organization’s staff members, depending on the size of the organization.
- Create a clear committee structure. Committees are particularly important to small organizations that rely on board participation and volunteers. Committees are equally important to large organizations that require governance over several different programs and activities. The board should ensure all board members are part of a committee and that each committee has clear marching orders and tasks to complete. This helps board members understand their roles within the organization and keeps them engaged.
- Plan for the future. Succession planning for non-profit boards is important. Current leadership must work with their fellow board members to identify the future leadership of the board. This is extremely important in small organizations that are managed by the board of directors or volunteer organizations where the board members take on staff responsibilities. The current leadership should look for opportunities for those future leaders to take on responsibilities within the organization to allow them to grow their skills. They also need to keep an open dialogue with fellow board members regarding the future of the board’s leadership.
- Communicate. Keeping the board engaged requires a lot of communication. It is not enough anymore to fill a seat at a monthly board meeting and vote on the issues put forth by the chairperson. Decisions constantly need to be made, and committees and subcommittees are constantly working to accomplish the goals of the organization. The leadership of the organization, the board and the committees must continuously communicate with each other in order to make timely, informed decisions.
There is a lot of responsibility that comes with participating on the board of directors for an organization. The easier the organization and the current board leadership makes getting involved in the organization, the more talented future board leaders they will attract. Also, the clearer and more structured the board is, through use of committees and communications from leadership, the more engaged the board members will be. This will result in a more productive and effective board for the organization, allowing for the organization’s success in fulfilling their mission.
Jessie Kanter, CPA, is a manager in the firm’s Accounting and Auditing Department with 15 years of public accounting experience. She has provided audit services to a variety of clients, including non-profit organizations. Jessie’s focus is in quality control of financial statement audits in which she provides consulting on complex technical accounting matters and internal support and review for the firm.