Board Development

Is your board having the impact on your non-profit that it should?

These five phases of  Board Development will help you get the results you desire.

The role of a non-profit board is to be the stewards of the mission. These boards have to exist for legal reasons however boards should exist to provide value for the organization. That value can be fundraising, governance, provide professional skills that do not reside among the staff, and financial oversight.

Nonprofit 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. The board should be active in creating a strategic plan for the organization that includes the organization’s mission, vision, values, and strategic goals. In addition to the strategic plan, your board should have its own development plan of to ensure it is staffed properly and is operating as effectively as possible.

The purpose of a board development plan is to build an effective Board of Directors whose activities & involvement positively impact the outcomes of your organization’s mission, vision, values and strategic goals.

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 an organization. Boards are like parents: they need to support, encourage and inspire greatness in their “child” if the organization is to survive and thrive. What happens when the board does not understand its role or embrace it? The nonprofit becomes an “orphan,” unable to secure sufficient funding, attract committed staff and enthusiastic volunteers or reach its full  potential.

Effective boards ensure that board members’ skills and assignments are aligned with both the organization’s needs and the members’ own interests. This sounds easy, but in practice, it requires a deep understanding of what the organization needs from its board, and what each member can (and wants to) provide given his or her skills and interests.

This  plan will address any weaknesses and inefficiencies with the current board and will guide the future development, actions and staffing of your board. The plan also encompasses how to fill gaps when the board needs different people, how to recruit them, and how to exit board members appropriately when that becomes the right thing to do. A good plan will make the job of the board chair and executive director easy and allow them to focus on how to move the organization forward and achieve its Strategic Goals. These five phases will guide you in the development of your a board development plan.

Phase ONE: Current Board Evaluation

To obtain a clear picture of how your board is functioning and identify deficiencies and opportunities, you will need to assess the skills, interests, and contributions of the current board. In order to fully understand how well the group is leading your nonprofit organization an assessment of individuals contributions as well as how the board functions collectively needs to be made. This should be done with a select group of board members and the board chair. On some boards this may be the executive committee.

A few of the questions that should be asked of board members that can easily be answered are:

  • Do I attend meetings regularly and participate in discussion at these meetings?
  • Am I informed about the mission, vision, values and strategic goals of the organization and do I support them?
  • Do I contribute my time and money to this organization to the best of my ability?
  • Do I serve on committees and task forces when invited?
  • Do I encourage others to support this organization and serve as a spokesperson when asked?

Other questions may include:

  • Does your Board have full and common knowledge of their roles and responsibilities of a board of directors? 
  • Board members understand the organizations mission/vision/values and it’s programs? 

From the results of the individual questionnaires and the board activities from the past year you can collectively access the performance of the board with the following tools and discussions:

  • Board Member Performance Evaluation
  • Board Fundraising Assessment
  • Evaluate committee structure of the board and create new committees if needed or abolish extraneous ones
  • Evaluate effectiveness of board meetings and restructure if necessary
  • Determine if some board members should be asked to leave the board

Phase TWO: Organizational Needs/Board Make-Up

It is important to determine the skill sets and personal background that should make up your board. Many existing members may fill these roles while certain skill sets may need to be filled with future board members. Secondly, it is important to determine what type of culture the board wants to create for itself and what the focus of the board will be relative to decision making. This can be done with the entire board or again with the executive committee.

What professional skills, demographic make-up, social economic background, and fundraising ability does your organization need from your board? Some typical skills needed by almost every nonprofit are:

  • Legal expertise
  • Financial management
  • Accounting expertise
  • Marketing skills
  • Communications/Public Relations
  • Fundraising ability/Event management

What type of culture do we want for your board & board meetings?


Is there a clear understanding of your organization’s decision-making processes?

The board and executive director should have a shared view of the board’s involvement in the decision making process and which decisions it should make. Board level decisions are clearly differentiated  from areas where the board can expect to have input into an executive director’s decision, or where it will only be informed about decisions (perhaps even after the fact). The agenda of each board meeting clearly reflects the agreed-on decision-making process

Phase THREE: Board Member Expectations

As your board evolves over time, so will its role in supporting the organization. As the board matures their role will transition  from Governing and Operating to Governing and Managing and eventually to a Governing and Fundraising Board. Their focus should be on fundraising and recruitment of other board members that can have an immediate impact on the organization. Its expectations are for the Executive Director and staff to operate the day to day business of the organization without the assistance of the board. Board members are passionate about the organization and contribute significantly at the committee level and in the annual strategic planning process.

It is important to have a document for existing and future board members that clearly communicates what is expected of them as board members. This document should also  outline each individual’s role as board members, responsibilities of board officers, committees and staff. A few of the things that should be considered in creating expectations for the board are:

  • Actively participate in fundraising
  • Having an annual board appeal, 100% participation
  • Providing donor referrals
  • A minimum time commitment
  • Participation on one or more committees
  • Clear understanding of the board’s role and the staffs role
  • Participation and attendance at sponsored events
  • Participation and attendance at the board/leadership team annual retreat

Another way to look at this is:

Gather, Get Ready & Grow


  • Gather—the first step is to bring the board to consensus that fundraising is a board responsibility.
  • Get Ready—the next step is to prepare the board for fundraising.
  • Grow—the last step is the board implementing the development plan, then realizing the benefit when donors and contributions grow.


When the Board, Executive Director, and Development Director are working in sync toward achieving your strategic fundraising priorities, the organization will realize new levels of  success.

Phase FOUR: Board Recruitment Plan

Every organization dreams of recruiting and retaining a board of visionary planners,generous investors, willing askers, and passionate pragmatists. While this may seem an unrealistic dream having this goal and a plan to achieve it will get you much closer than you are now.

It is important to have an established set of procedures and policies for recruiting new board members. When recruiting new board members, it is important to go beyond making a list of skills needed for organizational tasks. Board members should not only lend their expertise but give entree into areas of influence for fundraising possibilities. Additionally, it may be helpful to have people on the board with connections such as:

  • Access to foundations, corporations and individual philanthropists
  • Media contacts
  • Political contacts
  • Contacts with other professional and service organizations

Some larger more institutional boards may have a recruitment committee while most non profit boards rely on the whole board to recruit new members. No matter whose responsibility it is to recruit new members, the organization should have a plan as to how the recruiting process is done. Developing an onboarding packet will significantly decrease the learning curve of new board members and increase their impact on the organization.

This recruitment plan should address:

  • How you will identify potential board members whose profiles fit the needs of the organization
  • Who will be involved in the interview process, and what that process is.
  • How you will communicate expectations to potential board members.
  • The development of a board recruitment packet that includes:
    • Strategic Plan, including mission/vision/values
    • Organization Fact Sheet
    • Board of Directors Job Description
    • Board of Directors Pledge Form
    • By-laws
    • Financial Statement from prior year
    • Current marketing materials
  • The development of an onboarding packet for new board members that includes many of the same documents listed above but these additional documents
    • Annual Calendar
    • Organizational Chart
    • Staff List
    • Staff Job Descriptions
    • Board Education Program
    • Board of Directors Contact List including terms
    • Committees
    • Volunteer programs
  • The development of an orientation program for new board members that includes these documents
    • Facility tour
    • Understanding of Financial Reports
    • Programs
    • Staff Introductions
    • Board Committees
    • Fundraising Training

Phase FIVE: Board Performance

The board must establish a way to evaluate its performance on a regularly basis, both collectively and individually. Second they need a plan for improving leadership performance so that the board becomes visionary and leads the organization to new levels of success. This annual work is usually conducted by the Executive Committee. To get started boards must:

  • Set some realistic objectives for the board that can be measured
  • Conduct an annual board retreat where results of board performance are shared
  • Recognize the board for its contributions to the organization

Evaluating a board from the inside, a fellow board member or board leadership,  is often 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 mostly friendships that have been formed can be strained. It is often easier with a lot less stress to hire an outside consultant to do this evaluation and development planning with you.  They can ask the hard questions and be the bad guy when delivering not so welcome information. They can also lead the organization in its evolution whether that’s moving from Governing and Operating to Governing and Managing or from Governing and Managing to Governing and Fundraising. Boards like any other organizations must change and evolve and that is often hard to do with volunteer part-time board members.

As a consultant my role is to facilitate these proceeding without influencing content and keeping the project moving forward to completion. My role is to help educate the board on its development responsibilities and get the board to understand that fundraising is it’s number one priority for the organization. The final step in preparing the board to do fundraising is to train them in fundraising theory and practices.  Please call us if we can help.