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  Board Development

Effective boards don't just happen; they are created by well thought out, ongoing board development efforts that have become 'institutionalized' by a non-profit organization.

Many organizations suffer because they have not made board development a priority. They suffer from a high turnover rate among board members or conversely no turnover at all-board stagnation. Both are equally bad for an organization. Another common complaint is that board members don't do anything or only reluctantly contribute their time, money and talents to the success of the non-profit organization they have been asked to serve.

These problems can and should be addressed. First, and this may not be in your current by-laws so you will have to add it, make the Board Development Committee a standing committee of the board. Many organizations rely on a Nominating Committee, which meets once or twice a year, to fill vacancies on the board and prepare a slate of officers to serve the organization. A Board Development Committee would be charged with constantly looking for potential new board members and with identifying leadership skills among board members who could be asked to serve as officers in the future.

Secondly, this committee would also have the responsibility of providing a comprehensive orientation program for new board members to bring them 'up to speed' as quickly as possible on the history of the organization, its mission, current strategic plans and an overview of how funds are raised and used by the organization.

Next, the committee would ensure that all board members are aware of their legal and fiduciary duties and responsibilities to the organization and the community at large. Non-profit boards are charged with the responsibility of protecting the interests of the organization as well as the public interest. Briefly these duties are:
  • Duty of Care. Directors and officers must perform their responsibilities in good faith and with the same care ordinary persons would use in managing their own affairs. They must remain active and informed, and conform to appropriate standards of business practice.
  • Duty of Loyalty. Directors and officers must act in good faith and in a manner that does not harm the organization. They must also avoid any conflicts of interest or appearances of impropriety.
  • Duty of Obedience. Directors must comply with provisions of their own by-laws, articles of incorporation, and all federal, state and local laws.
Finally, members of a non-profit board of directors are responsible for raising the funds necessary to operate the organization, run its programs, and pay the salaries of any paid employees, and to maintain sufficient reserves to meet unexpected needs or a temporary shortfall in fund raising revenues. The board must approve the organization's annual budget, for revenues as well as for expenses. By approving the budget, the board is committing to raising sufficient funds to meet that budget. At a minimum, each board member should contribute to the organization from his or her own funds. Other fund raising methods include applying for grant funds, organizing and operating fund raising events and using direct mail and other solicitations from the general public. These activities may be carried out by the members themselves or they may choose to hire a professional development director to oversee these programs. However, by hiring a professional fund raiser, they are not absolved of their primary responsibility for funding the organization.

Board Development is such a vital part of any non-profit organization's commitment to fulfilling its mission in the community that it must not be overlooked or given only grudging support by the board. A strong and effective board is the primary public 'face' of a non-profit organization and is often the deciding factor in whether an organization succeeds or fails in its mission. Effective board development is the responsibility of everyone on the board of directors.