Anyone can make it onto the board of a nonprofit organization. In most cases, there’s not even any experience required. Surprisingly, some of the greatest nonprofit board members started their journey to nonprofit board service with nothing but a passion for the organization and an innate desire to do good. Conversely, a fair number of nonprofit board directors have lots of board experience and do little or nothing with their positions.
Many people do a fair job as board director. Many more do a good job as board director. To truly be a great nonprofit board member requires having good character, a strong commitment to the cause, the gift of time, and a willingness to use personal and professional resources to advance the organization’s mission.
According to Robert Greenleaf, founder of the servant-leadership movement, nonprofit board members are servant-leaders, and they are servants first. Greenleaf’s philosophy is that nonprofit board members serve as community trustees with a focus on serving, strengthening and transforming their communities. Nonprofit board members will experience personal growth as a byproduct of nonprofit board service.
Nonprofit Board Members Are People With Excellent Character Qualities
Some of the best nonprofit board directors naturally embody strong character traits such as honesty, integrity and unyielding ethics. They work continually to build and enhance the public’s trust and never fail to do the right thing, whatever that is. Great nonprofit board members are set apart by their innovative ideas, compassion for others, and infectious passion for the organization’s mission and vision.
A Strong Commitment Is a Given for Great Nonprofit Board Members
The best of the best unfailingly devote their time, money and resources to their nonprofit’s cause.
Such board members are happy to see an agenda arrive in their mailbox and they’re eager to read it thoroughly to prepare their questions for the rest of the board. Great board members have the dates of all board meetings and important events on their calendars, along with automated reminders. They’re dedication to preparedness is reflected in excellent board meeting attendance. During board meetings, they’re attentive, engaged, inquisitive and collaborative. They never shy away from asking a question, no matter how ridiculous it may seem.
In the community, great board members are happy to be ambassadors for the organization, sharing the mission and vision with personal and professional connections in the community as a matter of course.
Great Board Members Are Innovative and Forward-Thinking
Active and engaged board directors are always looking for new opportunities to increase their personal knowledge about board service by taking advantage of workshops, classes, conferences and other opportunities for learning more about their responsibilities. They’re happy to invite their fellow board members along to share their experiences and take what they’ve learned back to the rest of the board.
Some of the best board members were mentored by other great board members. They value opportunities to share their knowledge by mentoring less-experienced board members and they’re willing to be mentored by board members with more experience than they have.
Committed nonprofit board members encourage the board to conduct regular self-evaluations to identify their individual and collective strengths. In addition, they take their responsibility for evaluating the executive director seriously and conduct it with fidelity.
Board members with excellence in mind look at boards through a strategic lens, as opposed to an operational lens. Related to this duty, they’re happy to participate in short- and long-range planning and goal-setting.
They know that diversity on the board and in leadership is crucial to their success, and that board composition, staff and membership should represent the diversity that they see within their communities.
Great nonprofit board members are the first to step up when the board calls for appointments to serve as officers, committee chairs or event chairs.
Nonprofit Board Members Make Regular Financial Contributions
Many nonprofit organizations make the mistake of failing to inform board member candidates that they’re expected to make regular personal donations to the organization, in addition to the time they spend in volunteer service. Their commitment to fundraising extends to the expectation of using their personal and professional networks to raise money for the organization’s work. Outstanding nonprofit board members offer innovative, creative ideas for successful fundraisers. They’re the first to offer to take a leadership role in organizing fundraising events and to volunteer their service during such events.
Enhancing and Nurturing Relationships Are Representative of Great Nonprofit Board Members
Whether they have experience or not, great nonprofit board members know how to enhance and nurture relationships with leaders, staff, donors and members of the community.
They understand and appreciate the benefits of partnering with the executive director or CEO, and are willing to lead and guide them and serve as their sounding board. They form solid relationships with leadership where they are equally comfortable sharing bad news as they are sharing good news.
Exemplary Nonprofit Board Directors Take Their Fiduciary Duties Seriously
Exemplary nonprofit board directors understand the meanings of Duty of Care, Duty of Loyalty and Duty of Obedience in word, thought and deed. They’re willing to apply these principles in the course of their board membership. They put the interests of the organization ahead of their own and disclose potential conflicts of interest. They’re willing to hold themselves and the rest of the board accountable for remaining loyal to the organization’s mission and strive to enhance the organization’s reputation and standing within the community.
They’re ever mindful that they’re ambassadors of the organization even when they’re not officially on duty. As part of their commitment, they refrain from disclosing confidential matters and spreading gossip or creating ill will.
Well-Respected Nonprofit Board Directors Know How to Stay in Their Lanes
Well-respected nonprofit board leaders understand that their primary role is that of strategic planner and overseer. They’re careful to maintain a balance of duties where they oversee senior management and staff activities without micromanaging them.
Great Nonprofits Enlist the Help of Great Board Directors
Greatness encompasses many things and covers many areas. Nonprofit board members who attend all meetings well-prepared and arrive ready to ask the hard questions take the first step to great board performance. They’re active listeners who respect and acknowledge others’ opinions. They don’t dominate conversations or push their personal agendas. They’re eager to find that delicate balance between collaborating and challenging ideas to bring out the best in the rest of the board’s decision-making. Nonprofit board experience merely enhances board directors with all the right stuff.