Board Basics: Tips for Creating a Stronger Board

Posted: 04/12/2012 10:43:45 AM by WorkInCulture editor | with 0 comments

I recently did a workshop for the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts on Board Basics. It was geared toward people who worked with or reported to a board, much like me in my role as WorkInCulture’s Executive Director.

I thought I would share three top tips from that presentation that may help you build a stronger board.

1. Actively recruit the people you need.

Many of us are guilty of just asking whoever seems willing without looking at what skills you really need to make your board work better. I recommend creating a simple board skills matrix. Start by asking your current board (the Board Chair might take the lead on this or the Chair of your Governance and Nominating Committee if you have one) to self-assess their own skills and then identify where there are gaps. You want a mix of people who know and understand your community, who have broad management/administrative skills particularly for our sector, who have specific skills like finance, and legal and who understand fund-raising if that is a priority. It is also good to have people who bring some experience serving on other boards as they will bring some experience with board governance.

2. Be clear about what you expect from Board members.

Think about it as if you were hiring someone (although for no pay!). When you are recruiting a new board member provide them with something in writing about what you expect, including a realistic estimate of the time commitment. If the organization has no staff and the board members are expected to actually implement (i.e. it is a ‘working board’) you need to be clear about that. The document I am talking about is sometimes called a Charter of Expectations or Code of Conduct. New members should actually sign a copy when they come on the Board. Yes, it means some potential candidates will say no – but isn’t it better to have them decline to serve rather than serve badly?

3. Remember that Board members are people too!

Not only are they people but, in our community, they are mostly volunteers. Keeping your board engaged and motivated can be an on-going challenge. In my experience, Board members respond best to clear expectations, well-run meetings, a collegial atmosphere and taking pride in achievement which often means doing more rather than less. Consider making it an expectation that all Board members serve on at least one Standing Committee or on a project-oriented Taskforce. Standing Committees (if you are an incorporated nonprofit you must have a Finance/Audit Committee and should have at least a Governance/Nominating and an HR Committee) are an efficient way of dividing up the workload. The Board as a whole should thank members for jobs well done and certainly celebrate out-going members with some small token of appreciation.

Let us know if you have other tips to share.

Diane Davy
Executive Director

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