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Board of Directors Development and Training

A board of directors that functions well is the cornerstone of a successful nonprofit organization. Boards function well when there is an understanding shared among the directors of the mission of the organization and the roles and responsibilities of the board.
Advantage Consulting Services can help you develop a strong board of directors. We provide a number of free services and resources, but also contract with organizations to facilitate board trainings and retreats, as well as drafting board of directors manuals and policy handbooks.
If you have any questions about board development and management, or if you would like more information about additional resources or the services we provide, please contact us by sending an email stating your questions or your specific request for information.

Board Basics: An Overview of a Nonprofit Board

The board of directors of a nonprofit corporation is legally and financially responsible for the conduct of the organization. It is not a passive role but rather one that must be active for the good of the organization and for reducing liability of the individual directors. It is not just for-profit corporations that are under ever increasing scrutiny for ethical operations.

State laws may establish a minimum size of a board and in some states, new corporations can have a board of directors consisting of as little as only one member who fulfills all roles. As the corporation grows, others are added. As a general guide, nonprofit corporations should have at least five or more members who are related only in their commitment to the organization. Be certain to seek the advice of a lawyer if you have any doubt about the law pertaining to boards in your state.

The varied talents and contacts of a board from diverse backgrounds can help an organization grow. A good board member is one that brings unique ability and perspective to a board and takes an active interest in the organization. Having a "well known" board member for the sake of their name can be more damaging than beneficial. Having board members who are connected in the community, are representative of your constituency and truly want to help the organization succeed are a better fit.

The board governs the organization and has specific fiduciary responsibilities for which it must be accountable. These responsibilities are summarized in How to Provide Good Nonprofit Leadership, a brief article on board duties. Additional responsibilities vary but generally include oversight of policy, budgeting, planning, fundraising, human resources, program evaluation and board development. One of the most important roles of the board is to hire an executive director for the organization and to give that person room to lead. The board should provide oversight and not become involved in day-to-day operations.

The board is organized under officers and through committees. This is a practical and effective way to provide governance of most organizations and helps to involve all board members. Traditionally officers include a chair who presides at meetings and provides management of the board, a vice-chair who presides in the absence of the chair, a treasurer and a secretary. The treasurer and secretary positions may not be needed as today these roles are often assigned to staff of the organization.

Committees of the board can include a finance committee, program committee, development (fundraising) committee, human resources committee, nominating committee (future board members) and other areas depending on the needs of the organization. Often smaller nonprofits may have just one or two committees or create temporary committees based on present needs. The best way to proceed is develop committees as needed and make them standing or temporary depending on the time it will take to complete committee objectives.

When boards meet, and they should, it is important to record minutes of the meeting. These minutes are a legal record of activity. They do not need to be extensive but they should adequately address matters of importance and show that discussions took place including any resulting decisions. Attendance at the meeting should be recorded as well. In legal terms, absence from a meeting or pleading ignorance does not relieve a board member of responsibility for actions of the board. The minutes should provide enough information that an absent member would be able to recognize important discussions that may require their additional review.

The chair of the board should serve as the conduit for communicating goals and objectives of the board to the executive director of the organization. All members of the board should also interact with staff, volunteers and those served by the nonprofit in order to gain insight into operations. This active interest also builds loyalty and enthusiasm and develops mutual respect between the board and those who fulfill the mission of the nonprofit every day. 

What are the key duties of the board?
  1. Determine the organization's mission and purposes

  2. Select the executive staff through an appropriate process

  3. Provide ongoing support and guidance for the executive; review his/her performance

  4. Ensure effective organizational planning

  5. Ensure adequate resources

  6. Manage resources effectively (the buck stops with them, ultimately)

  7. Determine and monitor the organization's programs and services

  8. Enhance the organization's public image

  9. Serve as a court of appeal

  10. Assess its own performance


From "Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards," published by the National Center for Nonprofit Boards, Washington, DC.


How can we make our committees more effective?

To ensure that your committees actually help the board do its work better, follow these suggestions.

  • Determine whether you truly need all the committees. Eliminate the unnecessary ones.

  • Turn some committees into task forces with specific time frames.

  • Draft a clean job description for each committee. Do not allow the committees themselves to determine their charter.

  • Choose committed members who can advance the objectives set for the committee and who are able to attend meetings.

  • Set meeting schedules well in advance.

  • Set term limits for committee members.

  • Regularly assess the effectiveness of the committees. Don't tolerate substandard results.  
Board of Directors Resources

The following publications are available from most book retailers or you can order direct by contacting the publishers.

Nonprofit Boards That Work

By Maureen Robinson

Does the structure of your board allow for maximum productivity? Examine ways to increase the effectiveness of your board and the important power of the executive director in strengthening board performance and keeping board members motivated. Implement innovative ideas for achieving and sustaining an affirmative response to the challenge of board service.

John Wiley and Sons, 2002, 161 pages, hardcover, $26.00.


Structures and Practices of Nonprofit Boards

By Charles F. Dambach

Looking for ways to improve efficiency? Help your board members keep long-term goals and board development at the forefront of their work. Included are practical guidelines on structural issues, such as running meetings, committee structure, size of the board, and term limits. Improve the way that your board works by increasing flexibility and improving interpersonal relationships.

BoardSource, 2003, 52 page booklet, $14.00.

The Strategic Board: The Step-By-Step Guide to High Impact Governance

By Mark Light

Is your board ready, willing and able to focus on its chosen mission? Explore this practical and common sense tool that combine strategic and operational planning, governance and oversight into one simple and easy-to-use package.

John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2001, 300 pages, hardcover, $29.00.

Transforming Board Structure: Strategies for Committees and Task Forces

By Marla J. Bobowick, Sandra R.Hughes and Berit M. Lakey

Is your committee structure too complicated? Explore a fresh look at committees and how your board can use work groups to streamline the work of the full board. Discover the importance of reducing the number of standing committees and relying more on ad- hoc groups and task forces to accomplish tasks. To help you get started, the diskette offers sample job descriptions and additional committee tools.

BoardSource, 2001, 40 pages, paperback, $35.00.




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