The role of the board in governing a non- profit organization cannot be overestimated. The board makes the difference between a good nonprofit and a great one, and can even make or break the organization. The board must ensure the non-profit’s mission is relevant and that the mission can be achieved today, and is prepared to fulfill it’s mission into the future. Organizations function much more efficiently and successfully when they are supported by a board that understands their role and supports the operations by providing the resources it needs to fulfill it’s mission
Boards need to review their performance every few years, if not annually. They need to ask themselves hard questions about their role and are they fulfilling their role. Are they making the organization better for it’s staff and the community they serve. Boards also need to stay up to date on best practices, governance, expectations of donors, and the new Form 990 and IRS guidelines.
Too many nonprofit boards have become insular, with little turnover and no real understanding of what the stakeholders want. Too many boards are detached from their true role and are dis-engaged from the staff and it’s mission. For many human services organizations where government grants and contracts have been their mainstay of revenue, boards have dismissed their role completely in fund development, or minimize conversations about creating an organization that is sustainable, and benefits from diversified funding sources.
Boards will muddle along, year after year without taking stock of what their real role should be given the current situation. If this is happening to your board it might be time to bring in an outside perspective. A fresh set of eyes and ears can many times reinvigorate a group that still feels passionate about the mission, but is know longer sure how to govern the organization.
High functioning boards focus on resource development. Resource for nonprofits include people, staff, boards, volunteers, and committee members, money and assets. If your board meetings do not include significant time discussing resource development and resource allocation then you need help.
To determine if your board might benefit from the help of an outside consultant ask yourself the following questions. If you cannot come up with a definitive, collective answer quickly or if you have NEVER asked these questions of yourselves, it might be time to engage in structured board development work:
1.) What size should your board be today? Do we talk about the number of volunteer leaders based on the skill sets we need, what committee structures are needed, fundraising outreach, etc?
2.) Do we adhere to term limits, what do you think about term limits?
3.) How should we set up our governance structure so board meetings are filled with issues the board needs to handle and not issues for day to day operations.
4.) Do we have functioning committees that get things done for the board and how do these committees communicate with the board? Do we allow non-board members to serve on committees?
5.) When was the last time we reviewed our mission, vision, value statements and by-laws?
6.) Has our funding increased, decreased or remained the same over the last three years?
7.) Do we have a functioning Fundraising Committee or Development Committee? Do we have a Development Director, and If so, does the Development Director feel they have the support of the board by opening doors in the community? if not, what role do we think the CEO/ED should play in fund development. Have we discussed this with our CEO/ED? How would we backfill the operational needs of the organization if we decided our CEO/ED should be development focused and not operationally focused.
8.) Do we have a Strategic Plan that we follow? One that drives our annual operational goals and that’s shared with all stakeholders. Do we recruit people to our board based on the Strategic Plan needs and the overall goals of the organization? Or do we ask ourselves, Does anyone know anyone who will serve on our board.
9.) Do we have a board development plan? If not-, If yes-
10.) Do we expect our CEO/ED to find board members?
11.) Is the board burned out and tired? Is less than 50% of our board disengaged? Do we have fewer than five board members and think this is OK?
12.) Are the board meetings lengthy and overwhelming? Are they boring with little outcomes or change? Do we take action from the discussions at the board meetings?
13.) Do we think we are a true partner with our CEO/ED?
14.) Do we think we are a working board or an advisory board? Does this match the needs of the organization at this point in time?
These are a few of the questions that boards should be asking themselves. Small non-profits will often say, “We do not have money to hire a consultant.” That may be true but how long will you continue to plod along, with no increase in funding, no real outcomes, burned out or dis-engaged board members and an unfulfilled mission? If you don’t act, it may be too late and it certainly won’t get any better.
Evaluating a board from the inside, a fellow board member or board leadership, is hard for a lot of reasons. There are feelings and egos that are easily bruised, long term members who made significant contributions in the past, deserve a certain amount of respect even though their contribution has declined, and friendships that have been formed can be strained. We can ask the hard questions others shy away from and will be the bad guy when delivering not so welcome information.
- Work with leadership to plan the process and define the timeline.
- Help drive the process without influencing the content.
- Ask questions on behalf of the leadership team, board, or staff that an insider might not be comfortable asking.
- Plan each meeting’s agenda, and ensure the group and the planning process stays on track.
Were here to help, call us for a free consultation to see if your organization is a good fit for our services. Beartooth Business Consulting, 406-690-5988, or by email email@example.com.
Beartooth Business Consulting is a member of the MNA, Montana Non-Profit Association