Recently Stephen Halasnik and David Langiulli spoke on the Nonprofit MBA Podcast about what it takes to be an effective board member and what happens when a board functions with high levels of trust and candor.
It is no secret that open communication helps an organization run more effectively, but what does this look like in practice? With strategic planning and proper board culture, nonprofits run more effectively, enabling the organization to achieve its mission.
How to Be an Effective Nonprofit Board Member
We all know that having board meetings is the number one baseline to having an effective board. Individual board members coming together to meet as a full board is the best way to incorporate strategic planning into your operations. What does this actually look like for individuals? Having a structure and being able to stick to it is crucial. Being candid, open, expressing opinions and ideas will help everyone get a better feel for how others are feeling on the board. Possible topics for discussion include talking about the agenda, risk management, how frequently to meet, what should be discussed at each meeting if, etc.
Without openness and honesty, board members can become frustrated and this can create conflict, as individuals may not feel their ideas are being heard nor respected. Having a structure and sticking to it is crucial, but make sure to check in with your other board members periodically to ensure the current course of action is working for everyone. This will pay dividends and in the end, create less turnover within your organization.
Keep in mind too as new board members are taken on board, it is crucial to fill them in properly, keep them in the loop, ask them about their opinions, and allow them to have a say in discussions, strategic plans, and the direction of meetings. It is also important to have proper job descriptions so new members know what they are getting themselves into.
The Importance of Culture Within the Nonprofit Sector
As stated above, it is almost impossible to avoid conflicts of interest as a whole, so it is crucial to have strategies in place to help with culture. Having a culture that is all-encompassing and welcoming to all ideas is so important for longevity. This in turn can help lead to better decision-making as well. What are so important factors to keep in mind when talking about culture? Culture can factor in upholding and maintaining aspects of accountability. This could look like having a template of expectations for new members and old staff members to follow and sign in agreement on. As new members come in and old ones leave, it is important to let them know what is expected of them in order to form a stable culture. Culture isn’t formed overnight, and that is why having a specific layout of expectations is crucial.
Without a proper culture of honesty and advocacy, the issue of gossip can come up. Gossip is formed when members feel like they can’t approach their team with issues or concerns. In order to ensure gossip is minimized, it is also the board executive to embody a culture that is welcoming to their members which is approachable and nonjudgemental. Being open to feedback and also acknowledging suggestions is also important. It is one thing for members to listen to suggestions, but it requires another level of communication and honesty to act on those suggestions.
David suggests that behavior assessments are also considered in order to assess the personality types of board members. For example, the DiSC Behavior Assessment assesses communication styles and what an individual’s preferred communication style is. This can help in regards to feedback and acknowledgment of suggestions. For example, there are a diverse set of communication styles. Some individuals may be more rational and analytical, and others may have a more creative and spontaneous way of communicating. Being able to identify these differences can help when conflict arises because this information can help pinpoint areas of issues.
Top Three Attributes for a Board to Have Successful Fundraising
- Be Willing to Get Messy: Don’t be afraid to dive into the unknown. Be available to try new things, even if you haven’t tried it before, and be willing to experiment.
- Ask Yourself “Who Do I Know”: Ask yourself who you know who may care about your mission.
- Don’t Be Afraid of Getting a “No”: Once your complete steps one and two, and you get a response you didn’t hope for, don’t get discouraged or take it personally. In addition to this, don’t stray away from people just because you feel uncomfortable, because you never know what the outcome could be. Don’t let your own self-limiting beliefs stop you from reaching people who may benefit from your board service and organization.
The Importance of Executive Directors in Nonprofit Organizations
Implementing strong Nonprofit leadership and a good governance strategy in place is going to be your outline of how your nonprofit committee members and board operate. Board Governance and board leadership are the basic structure for how you want things to be run, and without that board members really would have nothing to work with. Both board members and executives have to work together to hear each other, while also holding up their end of the expectations. This also ties back into understanding your board needs. A good executive director listens to the wants and needs of their members, and this helps create that trustworthy culture talked about above.
This can carry out all the way into your onboarding of new board members, as well as financial management too. As a board leader, it is important to make sure that all your new members are aware of your governance practices and bylaws so that all your board members know what their legal and fiduciary duties are. Further, having proper leadership is crucial for succession planning. When it comes to the transition of power, it is important to have a clear and organized plan in place so that when it is time, your board of directors, board chair, chief executive, etc. are all given the information for a smooth transition. This may even include maintaining all documents for the IRS, especially if you are a tax-exempt organization. This will help ensure that your organization is organized, run legally, and is up to par with all the nonprofit expectations in the United States (or wherever you are located). Everybody will feel happier at an organization that is run properly.
About Stephen Halasnik
Stephen Halasnik is the host of the popular, The Nonprofit MBA Podcast. He’s the co-founder of Financing Solutions which is a leading provider of loans to nonprofits in the form of a Line of Credit. The line of credit for small businesses and nonprofits is fast, easy, inexpensive, and costs nothing to set up making it a great cash backup plan.