Working With a Board of Directors: 6 Keys To Working Effectively

Andrew VaethBoard of Directors, Nonprofit Collaboration

working with a board of directors more effectively

The success of a nonprofit in realizing its mission is dependent on collaboration between the Board of Directors and Executive Director (ED) or CEO.

Because board members may be generous donors, have influential community contacts, and usually have a strong influence on the ED’s longevity at the organization, the ED wants to keep them happy. For some EDs, finding a balance between pleasing the Board and effectively managing the organization can be difficult.

With this complex dynamic in mind, it’s up to the ED to collaborate effectively with the Board. Board meetings and the time between them are opportunities to foster a collaborative and positive relationship, while moving initiatives forward for the organization.

Above all, EDs should always be respectful of the Board’s time. Board members are volunteers, and they’re busy with their own day jobs. These individuals deserve an organized, thoughtful approach to involving them in the organization.

Keep reading for more keys to successful collaboration between EDs and board members.

Keys to Working with Your Board

Define roles and responsibilities. Each board member should know exactly what their role is, and each meeting should conclude with complete clarity about everyone’s responsibilities, action items and next steps. This eliminates duplicative efforts, confusion, and the chance of important tasks slipping through the cracks.

Set expectations. At all times, each board member should know what’s expected of them and of the Board as a whole. To achieve this, each meeting should start with a status report of open projects. At the conclusion of each meeting, have a discussion about what needs to be accomplished in the coming month and quarter. Additionally, the ED should communicate updates between meetings, keeping everyone updated on new developments.

Stay focused on the mission. With many brilliant minds in one room, it can be difficult for the Board to stay focused. People may have differing ideas about what the organization’s direction should be. So, how does the ED keep people focused? Decisions, activities, and plans should all point back to the mission. Use the mission as a thermometer to measure if certain activities are worth the time. If it doesn’t positively impact the mission, the activity shouldn’t be a priority.

Be transparent. EDs should share information openly and often, especially ahead of board meetings. Important information should always be easily accessible in a shared server or other centralized area. Board members don’t usually like surprises, and a consistent flow of information helps to avoid unforeseen events.

Hold board members accountable. In asking for and getting commitments on action items, be firm but appreciative. Log the action item in a task management system that allows you to assign and monitor responsibilities. When board members know that the ED is tracking action items and their fellow board members can view the status, they are more likely to follow through on their commitments. This approach creates an expectation of accountability over time, where things work better in the long run.

Make board meetings engaging. Too many board meetings involve sitting around a table with the meeting minutes on a piece of paper, talking through each point. It’s boring, and it’s easy to see why some board members may become disengaged. Instead, use a visually compelling slide deck to move things along an organized path. Human interest is critical. Include pictures of people— use a slide to introduce a new employee, show clients being served, or share pictures of a recent fundraising event. Consider asking a client, employee, donor, or partner to give a brief talk about their experience or ideas about your mission. With this approach, the board feels more connected to the organization overall.

With these tips, the ED can expect more participation and engagement from the Board.


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