In my previous posts on governance, I covered the essence of board service and then the bad behaviors seen in many nonprofit boards. Today’s post will focus on the types of behaviors that all board members should strive toward. If you are lucky enough to serve on a board full of these board members, count your blessings. And if you aren't, then now is a good time to start working on that.
- Facilitator: This is the board member who likes to hear all view points while keeping the discussion moving. They make excellent Chairs but if carried out to a fault, can result in meetings that drag on and on.
- Listener: This is my favorite type of board member. This person listens to the discussion carefully, stays engaged, and then offers very thoughtful, insightful opinions at just the right moment. They may not speak up often, but when they do, they are worth listening to.
- Volunteer: This board member routinely volunteers for committee assignments, regularly attends agency events, and even offers help with agency services (without becoming a meddler, of course).
- Connector: A connector never hesitates to use his or her connections to help move the organization forward. This board member provides - even offers - access to people, organizations, funding, the media, and others according to the specific needs of the organization and without self-interest. Having connectors on your board is not only valuable, it is necessary.
- Expert: Every board needs its share of expertise. Board discussions are more fruitful when someone in the room has particular expertise to share. Legal, accounting, governance, marketing, and business expertise are the more typical experts found on nonprofit boards. But it also includes the perspectives of those who benefit from the organization's services who can provide significant insight for the other board members.
How can you make sure you have these preferred behaviors, and few of the less productive behaviors? Your first action should be to provide governance training for your members, either as part of a regular meeting, a board retreat, or a specially called session. An outside facilitator who is experienced in board governance is key for this session.
Second, the chief executive, board chair, and other enlightened board members must reinforce the members' role, and caution against getting involved in the organization's day to day operations.
The third action is to establish reasonable terms and term limits for board members so that the bad behaviors don't become ingrained. It is easier for the Absentee member to be thanked for his service at the end of a term, for example, than to be convinced how important attendance is. Likewise, the historian can be moved into an emeritus role as an honor bestowed to make the transition of a long-term but ineffective member more palatable.
Board service is an incredible honor. Further, it is an opportunity to make a difference in a cause or community you care about. With a diversity of thought and experiences, Boards can become incredibly effective, providing satisfaction to the members, helping the organization excel, and improving the community all at the same time. No board member - or the board - is perfect, but by minimizing the bad behaviors and capitalizing on the good ones, real change can happen.
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