The Becker Blog

Best Practices: What makes a Board of Directors great?



As a non-profit board member, you may have sat through countless meetings over the years wondering why they aren’t more useful or efficient. You are a busy person and wonder if you might just be wasting your time. Too much energy is spent talking about operational details and not enough on policy or future direction. There is a lot of talk and not much action. Conversations seem to go around in circles. Months go by without much movement.

These are the all too common complaints about small boards of directors that are symptomatic of dysfunction within an organization. Luckily, there are simple steps that can ensure that your Board of Directors is well run.

Board leadership is an essential piece of the non-profit picture. It is the responsibility of every board to understand what its role is. Below you will find the top 8 things that constitute the best practices of board leadership for non-profit executives and questions to ask yourself to ensure they are working.

A Great Board of Directors…

1. Keeps an eye on the mission statement of the organization.

o The mission statement of the organization is the rudder for any non-profit. Does your organization have a mission statement? Does every Board member know what it is? Is the mission statement well understood? Does it provide direction during decision making?

2. Conducts a strategic plan at least every 2 to 3 years.

o Does your organization have a strategic plan? Does the board know where association is going and where it has been? Does the strategic plan actively support the direction of the mission statement?

3. Makes sure that all Board members have job descriptions and are well trained in their individual roles.

o It is important to have a board orientation package that explains exactly what is expected of each executive, the number of meetings per year, and policies and procedures of the organization. This might also include regular orientation sessions or opportunities for conferences and workshops.

4. Has a plan for future financial stability.

o Any great non-profit must prepare a budget that is tied to operational and strategic plans. Budgets are regularly monitored to ensure that board members have an understanding of essential of non-profit accounting. Audits or other outside scrutiny is essential to ensure independent reviews.

5. Understands the environment in which the non-profit operates.

o The key to any planning is to understand where the organization fits within the field that it operates. This means that the board must acquire and review information that is relevant to its mission statement. As well, a board must actively engage in conversations with outside stakeholders regarding how well they are doing in their respective community.

6. Ensures that the organization adheres to the jurisdictional legislative requirements in which they are operating.

7. Measures the board’s performance through annual assessments and reviews.

8. Establishes a constructive relationship with the Executive Director and/or AMC.

o The working relationship between staff and board is essential for an effective organization. Roles and responsibilities must be clearly outlined and the relationship between the ED and the chair of the board must be open and frank.

These simple steps can be translated into a check list that Boards can create for themselves to monitor where they are in the process of implementing these best practices. It is possible that the process of transforming a good Board of Directors into a great Board of Directors will take some time. With determination and perseverance, it is entirely doable. The rewards for taking on the mantel of good governance will always prove to be a worthwhile investment in time.

Christina will be hosting a Board Development and Training workshop in Toronto on Saturday October 19th, 2013.

[Click here to register or find out more]

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