Develop Your Non-Profit Board

Keeping members of not-for-profit boards engaged and enthusiastic can be an ongoing challenge. It’s easy for volunteers to become bored and listless if they are not offered development opportunities. And developing your not-for-profit board is important to the effective governance of your organization.

But how do you develop your board?

Board development relates to activities undertaken by board members to recruit talented members, train directors, promote effective decision-making, motivate and recognize board member efforts, evaluate the board’s work and promote ongoing community leadership.

Six elements of development, outlined by Jeffrey Wilcox of Executive Consulting For The Not-For-Profit Sector, are key to ensuring that your Board remains high functioning, efficient and retains and attracts talented board members:

Ensuring that the board attracts enthusiastic, talented and skilled people is extremely important. So you must be able to identify those possessing skills valued by the board and the organization. Defining the attributes you are looking for in board members is the first step. What areas of expertise are required? Do you need legal, accounting or human resources skills? What about fundraising or medical knowledge? Once you know who you need, it is wise to decide what abilities are necessary based upon the mission of the organization. Perhaps an entrepreneurial attitude is important in your organization. Being creative, or a good communicator, or a strategic and critical thinker are key attributes that board members should possess. Diversity of gender and race or age may be important, depending on the organization’s needs. Finding board members who fit the needs of the board and the organization takes commitment and perseverance.

2. Director Training
Educating board members about what it means to be on the board requires training in a variety of fiduciary areas, such as knowledge of financial reporting or fundraising. Workshops that inform board members about processes that facilitate effective decision-making are helpful. Helping new board executives understand the elements of board work—good governance, board and Executive Director evaluation, strategic planning and fundraising can be part of the board’s educational strategy.

3. Decision-Making
Effective decision-making is an ongoing development issue. The process in which boards make decisions, especially contentious ones, is important to the creation of a well-functioning board and contributes to the success of the organization. Participatory decision-making to build consensus is key. Agreeing to disagree, ramming decisions through or endlessly arguing minor points tend to mire a board in ill will, distrust or paralysis. Rather, engaging in constructive dialogue that explores all sides of the situation, referring to organizational mission and strategic plans for direction and respecting all members’ contributions are ingredients for consensus. Ensuring that everyone understands the issues and that everyone has a say who wants one, is important. Discussing decision-making practices and members’ relative satisfaction with the way the board makes decisions is an important development question to periodically ask board members.

4. Understanding The Organization

Ensuring that board members understand the organization’s mandate, its programs, its concerns and its way operating is important for the board to make good decisions. For example, understanding the strengths and areas in need of improvement of new and ongoing programs is key to making good decisions. Take time to familiarize board members with program information. The organization can help the ongoing development of board members by keeping them informed about the concerns, triumphs and constraints over the year.

5. Motivating Board Members
Developing the board helps directors stay motivated and engaged. Helping to keep board member enthusiasm can be facilitated by putting resources into board member growth. Recognizing board member’s contributions is also important. Being appreciated is important for most volunteers. Board members are no different. They put a lot of time into the position and having this effort acknowledged is a worthwhile board development activity. Reinforcing the worthwhile nature of board work to the overall success of the organization is a development activity that can be facilitated by connecting board efforts to organizational achievements.

6. Evaluation
Evaluating the board’s work means performing a self-assessment during which members are asked how satisfied they are with their understanding of the fundraising strategy, the board’s focus on long-term policy issues versus administrative matters, the selection of new board members and the like. The board should assess its effectiveness relative to the strategic plan and its oversight of the plan.

Board development is an important function that, when performed effectively, helps directors stay engaged, informed and on track. It aids in recognizing member efforts and supporting the success of the organization. In addition, developing board members means encouraging board members to commit to engaging in lifelong community leadership. This is achieved through ongoing skill acquisition, a sense of having contributed to a worthwhile project and being a vital part of an essential volunteer effort.

Dr. Jennifer Newman is vice-chair of the RainCity Housing and Support Society Board of Directors. RainCity Housing and Support Society provides housing and    support for people living with mental health, substance use and other challenges Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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