Just because something has always been done that way, doesn’t mean it works for you anymore.
If you’re struggling to achieve an effective and high-performing nonprofit board, rethink your approach and know it’s ok to turn your board structure upside down to get the results you need. Not everything is etched in stone.
Here are a few ideas to recharge your board:
1. Stop being afraid of big boards. The top reason I hear that a roster over 12 or so is taboo is because they will be too unwieldy to manage. For who? What a cop out. This simply isn’t true if you’re investing in good board development practices.
When you do, they’ll own their work and hold each other accountable. You also need diverse perspectives to advance your cause. Smaller boards can’t do that as well. And if you need to increase awareness or raise more money, why would you NOT expand your volunteer force?
Also, we know generative discussions are a key engagement strategy for strong boards. It’s tougher to have meaningful conversations with a small group.
I was an ED and helped manage boards of 8 – 45 members. I’d take a large board of the right people over a small board any day.
2. Get rid of terms limits. When you have super stars, they shouldn’t be kicked out. Again, when you’re investing in creating a high-performing board, if some members aren’t puling their weight, you honor their service and gracefully exit them. Regular evaluations of board performance as well as individual check-ins will help you identify challenges early.
Do you ever get the feeling they (and maybe you?) are just waiting for their term limit to arrive? Ick.
I was an ED who helped manage boards with term limits and without. I’d take a board without term limits any day.
3. Don’t give undue influence and power to your Executive committee. What’s its purpose? Do you have one just because your bylaws tell you to have one? You can change your bylaws. I believe many organizations will operate just fine, if not better, without one. They are exclusive and hurt your culture of transparency in many cases.
And better yet, if your current committee structure isn’t working, disband them all and start over! Establish short-term task forces or other work teams to focus on the priority projects this year and then reassess next year. There is no reason to complicate things.
I was an ED who helped managed boards and had an Executive committee that met no more than quarterly and it worked great!
4. Broaden your definition of fundraising. Yes, board members absolutely need to be involved in fundraising (I can explain why in a different post). There are 5 steps in the Cycle of Philanthropy and as long as each volunteer is fully engaged in some way, you’ve achieved success.
Because honestly, not every board member can go out and raise $20,000. However, they can make introductions so someone else can close the deal; and they can help steward donors so they continue to invest over time.
Leverage each volunteer’s talent and connections while equipping them with tools for success. Each person brings individual gifts – the same size does not fit all so be sure to manage your expectations and remember that fundraising is only one of their responsibilities.
I was an ED who helped managed boards that led the annual campaign (not staff) and we were a successful fundraising machine.
If you’re frustrated with your current board structure, do what Gandhi says: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Establishing a comprehensive board development program is a process. Don’t be afraid. Be bold and try something different when it comes to board structure. It’s waaay better than being frustrated and ineffective without an end in sight. Ick.
I can help you navigate the change and put strategies into place for the good of your community. Let’s talk.