Transform Your Board: 7 Best Practices for Nonprofit Leadership
At a recent Nonprofit Leadership Summit, several nonprofit leaders gathered in a quieter part of the grand hall. They exchange stories and insights, and many share a similar sense of concern about organizational challenges. One leader shares: "Our board seems disconnected from our day-to-day realities. It's impacting our decision-making process and, ultimately, our effectiveness." Around her, nods of agreement ripple through the group. Many echo similar sentiments, highlighting a common struggle mirrored in recent findings: a study showed that very few nonprofits regularly assess how well their boards are doing , and only about a quarter are confident that their boards understand the finer details of day-to-day life in a nonprofit. As the chatter continues, one thing becomes clear: they need a set of solid best practices to hold their board members to. From their shared challenges, the leaders crafted seven essential practices. Here are the tried-and-true methods they came up with! Meeting Attendance/Engagement Nonprofit leaders should foster a culture where board members value attendance as a non-negotiable aspect of their role. To measure engagement, consider tracking contributions in meetings, not just presence. Encourage members to prepare in advance, ask critical questions , and follow through on action items. This not only enriches discussions but also drives momentum for achieving organizational goals. Financial Oversight and Participation Effective board members should be financially literate to guide the nonprofit's economic strategy. Implement regular financial training and provide clear reports tailored to non-financial individuals. Engagement can be measured by their involvement in budget reviews and their ability to fundraise, ensuring they actively contribute to the nonprofit's financial stability. Advocacy/Community Representation Board members should be the nonprofit's most fervent advocates. Leaders can encourage this by assigning each member specific advocacy tasks, like speaking at events or contributing to social media campaigns. Track their impact through newly formed partnerships, community engagement metrics, and increased awareness of your cause. Fundraising and Donor Engagement Members should actively participate in fundraising using their unique networks. Nonprofit leaders can help identify each member's strengths and align them with specific fundraising activities. Success can be tracked through the number and size of donations influenced or secured by board members. Executive Director/CEO Oversight The board's relationship with the Executive Director/CEO is pivotal. Establish clear evaluation criteria for the CEO and conduct regular performance reviews. This ensures accountability and supports a strong, trust-based relationship between the board and the organization's leadership. Advocacy and Community Representation Board members must leverage their personal and professional networks to enhance the nonprofit's profile. Leadership should set clear expectations for member involvement in community events and use metrics like increased engagement or partnership opportunities to measure success. Recruitment and Training of New Board Members Nonprofit leaders should involve current board members in the recruitment and mentoring of new ones. Create a structured onboarding process with clear benchmarks for new member integration and contribution. Monitor the effectiveness of these processes through feedback and the evolving skill set of the board. The Engaged Board: Powering Nonprofit Success Bringing it all back home, the key takeaway is that a nonprofit thrives when its board members do more than just show up—they engage, they advocate, and they commit. It's about board members who not only understand the balance sheets but also roll up their sleeves for fundraising. It's about those who stand as proud ambassadors in the community and those who ensure the ship is always crewed by the brightest minds. Embrace these practices and watch your board transform from a group of individuals to a united force driving your organization's mission forward. Meet the Author - Kristin Chute Kristin Chute is a freelance writer with a passion for helping nonprofits increase their reach and impact. She has written for companies offering SaaS solutions, nonprofits directly, and donor loyalty programs. Kristin believes in the power of nonprofit organizations to change the world. With expertise stemming from her career and personal connection to volunteering at her childhood summer camp, she shares insights to help nonprofits increase their reach, engage supporters, and amplify fundraising efforts.