I’m not bringing these bits of advice down from some mountaintop somewhere.

But they do deserve consideration as tried-and-true principles of building a strong, effective board.

  1. If someone doesn’t care about your mission/cause, they should not be asked to serve on your board.  Better to leave a seat unfilled than to carry that dead weight for a term…or two!
  2. Asking insightful, strategic questions in a respectful manner is the most valuable behavior a board member can bring to the table. 
  3. Before being invited to join your governing board, a candidate should have some donor and volunteer history with your society.  You should know something about him/her, and they should be acquainted with you and your mission.
  4. Anyone who serves as a board member should have your society in his/her top 3 organizations for charitable giving.  (#1 always preferred!)
  5. Your board is responsible for advancing your mission.  As such, board members must help raise money to fulfill the mission.  Wait, forget “help.”  Board members must LEAD the fundraising charge.
  6. There’s board orientation AND there should be ongoing board education/re-orientation. 
  7. There are myriad ways for board members to lead the fundraising charge without asking for money.  Make introductions, identify potential donors, open doors, thank donors, host a small group lunch or cocktail party, speak enthusiastically as ambassadors and advocates, help develop strategies for approaching donors, help define the case for support.
  8. Rigorously enforce term limits.  Doing so ensures new blood, new thinking, and new perspectives.
  9. Develop a scorecard or report card that your governance committee can share with each board member on an annual basis.  The scorecard should reflect competencies and tasks.  It’s a great tool for ongoing education as well to bring any performance issues to the table before things get out of hand.
  10. Make sure you build time for socializing into your board calendar.  Encouraging this kind of offline, informal team-building. Board members need to interact with one another outside of official meetings.

As with anything worth doing, success in board development takes time, teamwork, and heroic leadership. It will require attention, determination, and patience from both your executive director and board leaders. But it’s an investment that will pay off in tangible ways: increased giving, entrepreneurial energy, and just plain old support for your everyday work as a staff leader.  As with anything worthwhile, you will get out of your board exactly what you put into it.

Do you have a commandment or two you would add?  Let us know!

Mike Bates, CFRE


Consultants in Association Philanthropy

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