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Building the board your organization deserves
By Jill Pfitzenmayer / November 12, 2015 /   Loading Disqus...

I have many conversations with board and executive leaders around the practice of finding and keeping talented board members. Through those discussions, and through resources such as BoardSource, I’ve learned some best practices to help organizations develop a board with high performance expectations for their members.

The most essential factor for any high performing board is the unanimous decision that this is how the board will operate. Boards do not casually enter into a phase of high performance; it is an intentional and often time-consuming practice, but one that will pay dividends in the end. I would encourage every board to have a candid conversation at the next board meeting about whether members feel their board is high performing and if not, to develop an action plan to move into a new phase.

Here are some common features of a high performing board:

  • Term limits: this is the number one indicator of board health. Some boards have term limits but don’t follow them, and some boards don’t have term limits at all. High performing boards attract passionate and energetic individuals who may not want a life sentence on a nonprofit board. If your organization does not have board term limits, please have a board discussion about how you can phase in a process for board members to rotate off while new board members can join.

  • Clearly stated board responsibilities: high performing boards employ some simple measures to maintain their functioning. First, they conduct an annual self-review to make sure that they are operating according to sound governance principles. Second, they establish by-laws, committee structures, and meeting schedules to support active and engaged oversight of the organization. And finally, there are clear position descriptions for at-large and officer roles, and all board members understand that they must make a financial gift to support the organization.
  • Board members are thoughtfully and strategically selected: once an organization is out of the start-up phase of development, it is time to consider the skills, abilities, and diversity needs of a high performing board. High performing boards seek individuals with specific skills and backgrounds to complement existing members and to add intellectual heft. Often new board members are brought on through a strong board committee structure.

If your organization is struggling to find and keep great board members, or if you would some help moving your board into a high performing phase, please give me a call at the Initiative for Nonprofit Excellence.


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