An effective board of directors is key to an accountable, successful organization. What does an effective, engaged board look like? Beyond the traditional financial, policy, compliance and mission-driven roles, a fully engaged board is also actively and productively invested in the work of the organization. Boosting board engagement is not an exact science and may involve some trial and error, but organizations can take actions to affect how board members feel about the organization and how they interact with each other and with the management team. Below, we outline key questions to consider when evaluating board effectiveness and engagement.
How Empowered is the Governance Committee?
Is your governance committee really just a nominating committee or is it empowered with the ongoing development and engagement of board members? This involves focusing on fundamental issues like execution of the strategic plan, adherence to the organization’s mission, assembly of an experienced, diverse board and securing the necessary education or information to seize opportunities and minimize constraints for the board.
Are You Actively Recruiting Board Members?
With 70 percent of nonprofits reporting difficulty with qualified board member recruitment, the governance committee can make it easier for the right candidates to emerge by creating specific profiles for new board positions and current members. Understanding and identifying the right mixture of skill sets, experiences and mindsets of current and potential members is critical to creating the right board team.
How Strong is Your Board Orientation?
Recruiting a board member is only the first step in what can be a very beneficial relationship. A comprehensive orientation program that introduces new board members to their roles and responsibilities and to the organization’s mission sets the tone of engagement for new board members.
A board mentoring program that assigns new board members to a veteran or past member is an effective way to address questions and pass along important information. A board member who recently rotated off may be an ideal person for this role. This helps a new member gain comfort in the role, while retaining the past member’s engagement.
Are Board Members Engaged in Successful Partnerships?
It is critical for all board members to personally connect and forge a relationship with the organization they serve. To that end, encourage board members to build relationships with one another and with the management team. This starts with the rapport between the organization’s Executive Director and the board chair. Regular and candid communication between these two leaders establishes mutual trust, and sets the stage for a shared governance model.
Are You Committed to Diversity?
In its survey of more than 1,700 nonprofit chief executives and board chairs, BoardSource found that 90 percent of CEOs and board chairs were white, as were 84 percent of all board members. These numbers are largely unchanged from BoardSource’s initial survey in 1994. Studies indicate that board diversity fosters greater engagement by allowing members to share perspectives that come from varied backgrounds and experiences. People tend to interact differently in a diverse group. They tend to probe topics more extensively, engage in fuller conversations and make better decisions.
Do You Assess Board Performance Annually?
An annual board assessment is critical to ensuring and maintaining a high level of engagement. The governance committee should take on the responsibility of leading the annual board self-assessment process. The results will help identify the board’s development opportunities for the following year.
Investing time to cultivate board engagement will pay dividends for any organization. When truly engaged, board members are the organization’s top ambassadors, advocates, strategists and supporters.
Board engagement is an ongoing, fluid process with discrete components and steps. RKL’s team of business consultants and operational improvement experts are available to assist your organization with implementing a board engagement program. Contact Douglas L. Berman, CPA, Not-for-Profit Industry Group Leader, to start the conversation.
Contributed by Gretchen G. Naso, CVA, MBA, Principal in RKL’s Business Consulting Services Group. As a Certified Valuation Analyst, Gretchen has extensive experience providing business valuations for privately held companies, general partnerships and family limited partnerships. She also conducts operational reviews for closely held businesses, governments and not-for-profit organizations, which allows her to identify and prioritize opportunities for financial and operational improvements.
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