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Building An Effective Board Of Directors

Building an Effective Board of Directors

An effective board of directors is a board that has diversity within its members and diversity with its talents. In addition to having a broad demographic, an effective board regularly evaluates each individual member’s performance, as well as the board’s performance as a whole. Board members have term limits, so a key component to maintaining a productive board is to actively recruit new members who will bring new expertise to the board. Board planning should include at least one annual session where board members focus on strategic planning according to the organization’s mission and vision.

Board Demographics

In today’s business world, boards are facing ever-increasingly complex and difficult matters. A diverse board brings an expansive array of perspectives. The synergy of a diverse board creates a powerful dynamic that is ready to meet the challenges that come before its members. Women are increasingly filling the list of board candidates as boards begin to recognize and welcome their expertise. Boards will also benefit by seeking diversity regarding gender and age. Nominating, governance, or resources committees should also seek board member recruits who have geographic diversity. Boards should consider demographics of other groups of people that may represent the organization’s mission in an important way, such as people with disabilities, differing religions, or differing political views. Recruits should not be sought solely on the bases of a certain demographic, rather their demographic combined with their talents and abilities.

Board Member and Board Performance

Boards of directors have the task of annually reviewing the CEO’s performance. It’s equally important that they review their own performances, individually and collectively. Typically, the executive committee, the governance committee, or the board resources committee will oversee the board member’s performance.

The designated committee may use a template of a board member profile to aid them in assessing skills such as:

  • Legal expertise
  • Financial management/accounting expertise
  • Marketing skills
  • Program expertise specific to the organization
  • Long-range planning skills
  • Communication skills
  • Leadership skills

The committee may also consider the board member’s networking capabilities, including access to foundations, corporations or other important contacts. The committee evaluates themselves, as well as their peers, before assessing the board as an entity. The final evaluations should be shared with the executive director either during the annual executive committee meeting or another special meeting. Once the results have been reviewed by the executive committee, they can be shared with the remainder of the board. (See also The Role of the Board Evaluation in Board Performance)

Board Member Recruiting

There are several steps that a board should take before formally inviting a potential candidate to consider serving on the board. The resources committee should obtain resumes and profile sheets on potential board member candidates that contain the person’s contact information, areas of influence, and skills.

The resources committee should meet year round and work with the board to help find the best candidates for future board members. The strongest person on the board should chair the resources committee. The remaining members of the resource committee should all be board members. The first step that the resource committee should take is to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the existing board. Another task of the resource committee is to write descriptions of the board and committee positions, so that candidates will know exactly what is expected.

During group work, the committee should classify board members according to the diversity they represent, their skills, and network contacts. Factoring upcoming board member term expiration dates, the committee can identify gaps in board diversity and talent, which the committee will seek to fill for future terms.

The resources committee then matches candidates to the needs of the board and compiles a list of recruits to present to the board. Upon approval by the executive director and the board, the committee should prepare a recruitment packet which gives recruits pertinent information about the position and the organization. If the organization requires board members to participate in an annual retreat, the packet should include this information. The committee then presents a firm list of candidates to the board to be voted upon. The board elects the new members and invites them to the next board meeting. (See also A Board Member’s Take on Board Recruitment).

Note of caution:  Board members should not take the responsibility for recruiting candidates. That task should be left to the committee.

Board Vision and Strategic Planning

A board should hold at least one meeting annually, where they focus on strategic planning according to the organization’s mission. A good way to do this is by planning an annual board retreat with the goal of reviewing the prior year and planning the coming year, and beyond.

Board retreats are most effective when the chosen venue resembles a relaxing atmosphere, away from the normal meeting space. The annual board retreat can range from a full day to a long weekend. All board members should be required to attend. An ice-breaker is a good way to set the stage for socializing and getting to know one another better while the group does its work. The board retreat may be led by the executive director or by an independent facilitator.

Barriers to Board Effectiveness

It’s just as important for a board to know what not to do, as well as it is to know what they should be doing. When one or more of the following barriers to effectiveness are present in a board, it can make the work of the board ineffective:

  • Micromanaging less important matters
  • Ineffective nominating committee
  • Failing to rotate and cross-train board members
  • Staying too small
  • Hanging on to unproductive board members
  • Failing to have a strong strategic plan
  • Weak committee work
  • Failing to do an orientation for new members

Every board member has a responsibility for improving leadership so that the board leads the organization to success. This means each member should be assessing whether the board has a diversity that represents the organization, its clients, and its network. Board members also have the responsibility for making sure that the board and its members are performing as well as, or better than expected. Recruitment, member orientation, and board development should become staples of the board as vital and ongoing activities. Effective boards revive members’ spirit and unity by arranging an annual retreat that focuses on the vision of the organization.

Jeremy Barlow

Jeremy is the Director of Digital Marketing at BoardEffect.

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