When nonprofit board dynamics are collegial and trusting, you have the perfect climate for robust and productive board discussions. That alone provides sufficient reason for your board to be diligent in its approach to nominating and recruiting the best potential candidates to ensure that your nonprofit board composition is just right.
With every board member term that ends, a new one begins. As a new member arrives at a board meeting for the first time, in-person or virtually, it disrupts the stasis in board dynamics. In the best-case scenario, new board members will fulfill your expectations. The worst-case scenario is that a new board member rocks the entire board in a negative way. In the latter case, what’s the best way to manage a situation where one board member threatens to throw your nonprofit board composition out of kilter? More importantly, how can you assess nonprofit board composition for better outcomes right from the start?
When Nonprofit Board Composition Goes Wrong
When you live in a small community where everyone knows everyone else, it’s not always easy to serve on a nonprofit board. Where do you turn for advice when the board is facing a serious problem with another board member without disrupting the status quo? And how do you broach the issue in a polite way?
Your first inclination might be to tackle it the same way you tackle everything else—by Googling the problem or seeking advice from an etiquette expert. In fairly recent news, a nonprofit board member experiencing this exact problem reached out to Miss Manners looking for an answer on how to raise concerns with the rest of the board over appointing a popular board candidate.
While the candidate was clearly one of the hardest working volunteers they had, the writer that reached out to Miss Manners had been losing sleep over the allegations connected with the board candidate that ran the gamut of poor documentation, wayward spending, and mismanaging grants. The board member was further distressed about the fact that the rest of the board was highly enthused over the notion of adding the board candidate to the board. Adding to the frustration and hesitation was that the inquirer was fairly young and was new to board service. In fact, the new board member was so distraught over the issue, he or she considered the possibility of either abstaining from the vote or pretending to be ill until the matter was resolved one way or another.
How did Miss Manners respond? She recommended that the board member suggest that the board go into executive session so that the board could discuss the matter without the board candidate being present and to approach the issue in an impersonal, matter-of-fact way. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a bad answer considering it came from someone outside the nonprofit realm that lacks expertise in nonprofit governance. It’s certainly better than faking being ill or allowing a vote to take place without proper discussion.
While this isn’t an isolated situation that nonprofit boards face, it calls attention to the importance of making board assessments a vital part of your strategic plan. The right board management software will assist your board greatly in your endeavors.
Assessing Board Composition for Better Outcomes
If you’re familiar with best practices for nonprofit nominating and recruiting, you know that you need to have a process in place to keep your pipeline of board candidates full to ensure the best talent. It can be challenging to balance the changing needs of the organization as people leave and join the board.
With so many issues facing our nation today, strong nonprofit leadership is more important than ever. As we’ve learned in 2020, the needs of nonprofit leadership can change abruptly overnight. By putting the right processes in place and utilizing the right tools for board assessment, your board can be ready to change with the tides.
The type of situation that you want to avoid is allowing current board members to bring random people they know to a board meeting without vetting them first. It’s a waste of time for the board candidate and the rest of the board to encourage someone to join the board that knows nothing of the organization’s mission and may not even have the right skill set to enhance the board’s work.
In your quest to assess board composition for better outcomes, it helps to put the following 4 things at the top of your list:
- Setting up a nominating and recruiting committee.
- Developing a board matrix for board recruitment.
- Establishing a thorough, effective onboarding process.
- Utilizing a board management system.
Let’s take them one at a time.
Undoubtedly, your board agendas are pretty full, leaving you precious little time for nominating and recruiting board members. Rather than run the risk of continually putting the issue of board recruitment on the back burner, it pays to delegate the responsibility to a nominating and recruiting committee. Such a committee is the best resource for scouting new talent, gauging the interest of potential board candidates, and building a pipeline of diverse and talented leadership profiles.
A board development matrix for recruitment gives your board an overview of the skills that your board needs for effective leadership, as well as highlight the gaps in leadership skills and other board demographics, such as diversity and inclusion, at any point in time. It’s wise to consider the entries in your board recruitment matrix to be fluid and a work in progress due to the changing needs of your organization over time.
A common mistake that many nonprofit boards make is to welcome new appointees to the board and fail to onboard them or provide them with the assistance they need to become an active, productive member of their boards. If this sounds like your board, it’s time to establish a strong onboarding process so new board members feel equipped and prepared to participate in their very first board meeting.
Finally, one of the best investments your nonprofit board can make is a board management system with a built-in board assessment tool. A BoardEffect board portal gives you an all-in-one board management platform where your nominating and recruiting committee can collaborate and communicate securely and share their work with the rest of the board as necessary. Your board portal stores your board recruitment matrix and other important documents securely with unlimited cloud storage. It’s also a valuable tool for setting up a responsible onboarding process.
When it’s time for your annual board self-evaluations, the built-in board assessment tool stands as a reference for the types of questions that get to the nitty-gritty of how well your current board is performing and what it needs to take your board to the next level.
Over the course of the last year, nonprofit boards have needed to step up their game and deal with a host of new issues on a variety of social, economic, and political fronts. The right board composition goes a long way toward getting your nonprofit through some of the most chaotic and uncertain times nonprofit boards have seen in years. With the right tools in your toolbox, you can weather the changing tides with confidence and fortitude.