Once Again: What Makes for a Successful Nonprofit Board?

Once Again: What Makes for a Successful Nonprofit Board?

By: Eugene Fram

Successful nonprofit boards come in a variety of organizational structures and sizes, largely determined by the their mission, vision and values. However, Carter Burgess, Managing Director & Head of the Board Practice at RSR Partners, an executive recruiting firm, suggests three of the most prominent success factors. Although his article is directed to for-profit boards, there are many suggestions that apply to nonprofit boards.

Board Composition
1. Alignment – Board members backgrounds and interests should align with the mission, vision and values of the nonprofit. While it would be foolish to have, for example, a cancer support board totally composed of cancer medical specialists, it would be helpful to have an accountant who has survived the disease or has a close relative who has been touched by cancer. A pediatrician who has lost a close relative from the disease would be another type of candidate.
2. Right Questions – Obviously these experiences will enable the director to direct critical questions to other board directors and the CEO.
3. Active vs. Retired – “Given the ever shirking pool of active …(managers) who have capacity for board service, retired… (ones) are a logical alternative” But a careful balance between the two groups is needed.

Board Culture
“A board should possess a culture that is based on independence of thought, collaboration, honesty, mutual respect, (especially between the chair & CEO) and transparency.” …. “[I]deal; director attributes include but are not limited to: high intellect, the highest integrity, sound judgment …good old common sense, team player, ability to challenge in a constructive way, calm under pressure, think strategically, and get down into the weeds when absolutely necessary. “ For example, be prepared to assume some management responsibilities in an extreme crisis. Review new director backgrounds carefully.

Commitment to the Board
“…[W]hen serving on a board, there is a certain amount of unpredictability and an unwritten requirement to go above and beyond the call of duty when the need arises, (particularly at crises times). “ If some refuse, the results can lead to a highly dysfunctional board.

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