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Are you getting the board members you need?
By Jill Pfitzenmayer / April 23, 2014 /   Loading Disqus...
I talk with lots of nonprofit executives and board members about the composition of their governing body. There are some who feel that the “ideal” board member is a retiree with lots of disposable income and strong connections to wealthy folks in the state. There are many board members who fit that profile and who bring passion, talent and treasure to their role. But are you shortchanging your organization because you’re thinking too narrowly about board membership?

We strongly advise nonprofit boards to think strategically about their board members and the skills needed to effectively govern the organization. 
  • Is there a broad skill set on the board, or is the board tipped in the direction of a single profession (e.g., lots of lawyers)? 
  • Do board members have sufficient time to devote to the work, or are members stretched too thin by serving on multiple nonprofit boards? 
  • Are there enforced term limits so that tenured board members can rotate off and new members can rotate on? Or do current board members think it’s ok to serve a lifetime on one board?

Sometimes nonprofit boards create structures that unnecessarily impede new members from joining. For instance, meetings may be held during business hours only so that those with limited ability to leave children or work may not be able to participate. Some organizations have a “give or get” policy that may restrict potential board members from more modest means. There are lots of individuals eager to give back to the sector through board service, but have no idea how to meet current board members.

Serving on a nonprofit board is a big responsibility: it requires critical thinking skills, passion for the work and a willingness to participate in fund development at many levels. Not everyone is cut out for this work and I am concerned that some nonprofit boards are reluctant to replace board members because it is challenging to find new faces. In fact, if a board consciously decides to “up its game” and ask more from their members, I honestly believe that strong board members will step up and those who are only loosely connected to the organization can step down. This is a healthy approach to revitalizing board leadership and all Rhode Island nonprofits deserve strong, robust governing bodies.

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