According to the Leading With Intent, 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices Survey1
- Boards are no more diverse than they were two years ago and current recruitment priorities indicate this is unlikely to change.
- Boards are starting to embrace their roles as advocates for their missions, but stronger leadership is still needed.
- Strong understanding of programs is linked to stronger engagement, strategy, and external leadership-including fundraising.
- Boards that assess their performance regularly perform better on core responsibilities.
- Chief executives and board chairs agree that the board has an impact on organizational performance, and that two particular board characteristics matter most: the board’s understanding of its roles and responsibilities, and the board’s ability to work as a collaborative team toward shared goals (Board Source, 2017).
Board members as champions of diversity
Not-for-profit boards influence every aspect of the organization. And while there’s no absolute standard for the number of directors or members, most states in the U.S. require a minimum of three board members. Board size will vary depending on your constituency, operational budget, staff size, mission, and fundraising needs. But it should include leaders representing various community businesses and industries.
Diversity is all about varied perspectives, relationships and experiences. Legal, finance, human resources, real estate, media, medical, advertising, government, hospitality, education, technology and religious fields serve as partners for not-for-profits in both lending their expertise and their volunteer leadership. A strategic board composition that includes racial and ethnic diversity equips your organization to plan for the future, manage risk, support current needs, and operate within the complex society in which we live. A well run, productive and diverse board is one where new talent is embraced and existing board members feel fully engaged.
The benefits of board diversity include the ability to be reflective of the community, responsive to environmental shifts, inclusive in its decision making, and dynamic in its function. Recruiting new board members is typically a collective effort—shared between the board and the organization’s staff. And the ways to source diverse prospective board members are numerous. In addition to contacting existing corporate sponsors, individual supporters, key business leaders, and existing volunteers, you should also seek board engagement from your constituents, industries not yet represented on your board, and institutions that align closely with future strategic goals.
Board members as engaged leaders
When a new board member joins your organization, it’s critical that you host an orientation covering operations, governing documents, and board member responsibilities.
A board member orientation might include reviews of the following items, which may be supported by a Board member agreement of understanding of roles and responsibilities that requires a signature. We cover some of these items in more detail later in this document.
- The not-for-profit’s mission, history, values and a tour of the facility
- Contact information of current board members and key staff
- Board member roles and responsibilities
- Key policies
- Governing documents
- Summary of Directors and Officers Insurance Policy
- List of committees and who serves on them
- Calendar of meetings and events
- Introduction to key stakeholders
One way to spur immediate board engagement is to assign new members to a committee as a part of the onboarding process. Understanding their particular passion and expertise will facilitate a well aligned placement. Some common committees of a not-for-profit board are Finance, Investment, Fundraising, Program, Nominating, and Planned Giving.
For committees overseeing the finance and investment functions, the ‘Truist Investment Committee Report Card’ is a helpful tool in assessing investment committee dynamics.
To access the investment committee report card, you can visit the Investment Committee Toolkit at truist.com or contact one of our advisors.
This tool allows you to review the investment committee’s function as it relates to committee members, governing documents, meeting frequency, and other key performance indicators.
Annually reviewing existing programs and committees with all board members is a best practice that helps keep board members more actively engaged.
Board members as informed advocates
New board member should be presented with the following governing documents of the organization: Bylaws (including provisions covering internal policies and procedures), Articles of Organization/Incorporation, and General Policies. Remember too that one of the most significant board powers is the ability to hire, fire, evaluate, and compensate the CEO/executive director. Board members provide vital oversight, insight, and guidance to the CEO/executive director on the organization’s daily management.
Board members who are familiar with the organization’s bylaws are best positioned to support the mission through strong fiduciary oversight.
The following key provisions are typically included in the bylaws:
- Types of Officers that serve on the board
- Executive committee powers
- Terms, powers and succession of officers
- How vacancies are filled on the board as well as the Executive Director/CEO
- Term limits
- Meetings to be held
- Quorum requirements
- Number of members/directors required to approve an action
- The person (s) responsible for reviewing the organization’s financial statements and dispersing organization’s funds
- The process of amending by-laws
Other governing documents to review include the organization’s Conflict of Interest Policy, Gift Acceptance Policy, Attendance Policy, Whistleblower Policy, Financial Policy, and Investment Policy. A helpful practice is to have the staff and board members all sign an acknowledgement of the policies.
Board members as effective fundraisers
Contributed income is a crucial revenue component for any not-for-profit organization. For some, however, it’s the only revenue source. Income diversification should be a top priority. Without it, your organization becomes vulnerable if contributed income from any source is on a declining trajectory. Lower contributed income could necessitate program cutbacks and staff reductions—or even force you to merge with a healthier partner or shutter operations.
Board members play an active role in attracting and retaining financial resources for the not-for-profits that they serve. In fact, it’s a board member’s fiduciary duty to provide direct, personal charitable support, and/or leverage their network and relationships to generate institutional or individual support.
Fundraising is an ‘all hands on deck’ function that involves staff, volunteer leaders, and board members. Fundraising expectations of a board member typically include their own personal financial commitment to the organization. It’s best to have this discussion prior to the new member being voted onto the board. Additionally, board members should be expected to add value supporting several the above fundraising initiatives.
A new and increasingly popular approach to fundraising is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding platforms were originally created to promote a specific individual’s needs or to assist an entrepreneur launch a new product.
But crowdfunding scope and reach has dramatically expanded. It’s projected to become a $90-$96 billion dollar industry by 2025 and is increasingly being leveraged as a valuable tool for charity fundraising.
Most crowdfunding occurs on websites such as ‘Kickstarter’ and ‘Indiegogo.’ They allow the organization to post descriptions and pictures of the project that needs funding. A crowdfunded project request can then be shared via Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms. Live crowdfunding is another variation of this approach—incorporating live events where you solicit attendees to support your cause or help fund a special project. Both models allow donors to ask questions and offer feedback; which facilitates discussion and builds relationships between donors and organizations. Additionally, both approaches can attract and inspire new donors who might not have contributed to your cause otherwise (Crowdfunding for Nonprofits).
Board members are often the first and best champions of great governance
In their quest to make a difference, board members dedicate their time, talent, and treasure to supporting charitable organizations. They work closely with key stakeholders of all types to expand the effectiveness of your organization, and help ensure its work is beneficial to the community that it serves. And a focus on diversity and inclusion can only make your board even more relevant and connected. Tools for effective governance like bylaws, board member orientations, and inclusive fundraising campaigns support boards in upholding their fiduciary duties. Together, boards, staff, constituents and the broader community do the meaningful work of making our world a better place.