It’s important to take a good first step in developing an efficient and cohesive setting for your board of directors to set up shop and pave the way for your nonprofit to thrive. It’s also required. Even if your nonprofit has all volunteers and no staff, a board of directors is a must. We’ve compiled a list of essentials after listening to panel discussions and reading through articles and we think it’s pretty helpful. But you can read through it and decide. Or let your board of directors decide, that’s what they’re there for—self-management.
First, we need to define what the board of directors do. Every board has a fundamental responsibility for self-management: for creating a structure, policies and procedures that support good governance. The term “board organization” encompasses a variety of tasks, from routine matters such as preparing a schedule of board meetings to actions with broader consequences such as developing a policy about terms of service.
Your next step is to choose people who understand your mission. You want a board stacked with insightful, dedicated and passionate people, but you also want them to channel all of that energy into the same thing you’re working for.
Don’t get hung up on overloading the board with names. Choose a manageable number of people that will be genuinely active and contribute in a productive way. Not everyone who has ever donated money to your cause should automatically be chosen. Think hard about who you want.
Make sure that potential board members know what they’re getting into. You want people that are eager and ready to share their wealth of knowledge. It’s helpful to outline expectations and responsibilities up front—better for you, better for them. You want a mix of individuals. Some that have served on boards before (they can bring their experience and knowledge with them) as well as newbies (their excitement to contribute is helpful).
The state where your nonprofit is will set the guidelines for the minimum number of board members, but usually, three is the minimum. If you start with three, stagger their terms. This ensures someone new is always cycled in and fresh faces means fresh perspectives and fresh ideas. To get the board started, make a list of things that need to be done. Everyone should have a task they are responsible for. This allows each member to bring something to the meeting for discussion.
Now that you have all of the information, here’s what you do:
- Have a written job description for individual board members. Send it out to them before the first meeting.
- Develop a meeting schedule. You want every board member to be there, so make sure to look at holidays and local events.
- Make sure to send out an agenda (or at least a topic for conversation) a week before your meeting.
- Keep accurate and detailed minutes. Keep them in a binder or saved in an accessible place.
- You’ll want your meetings to be short and to the point. Your members are busy so quick and focused is the best policy.
- End your meeting with an open discussion for ideas, problems and a time for accomplishments to be recognized. You’re all working hard and should celebrate that.
The board of directors is the governing body of a nonprofit organization. The responsibilities of the board include discussing and voting on the highest priority issues and while members don’t need to know everything about nonprofit management, they should work with the best interests of the organization in mind. If you strike a good balance between experienced members and new members and have everyone working for the greater good of your organization, then everyone should be on board to work hard and get agendas accomplished.