What does an effective board look like?

While oversight is fundamental to the sustainability of a nonprofit, it is simply not enough.

A board's performance is closely tied to overall organizational growth. It is important that your board review its own goals and accomplishments, to assess its strengths and challenges, and to determine what it needs for future viability.

How can your board be more effective?

The first step is to identify where your board is now and where you want to be. Check out the many surveys available to cull the thoughts of your nonprofit's leaders. (Sample surveys can be found at BoardSource or OneOC)

Don't get too wrapped up in the results, the survey is a tool, not the answer. Use the survey as the start of a productive conversation among the board, identifying where there is consensus and disagreement, and what the strengths and gaps are. Engage in a discussion about what the board's role should be, how the board is doing, and what the most important improvements and priorities are.

According to BridgeSpan, nonprofit thought leaders, "When the survey is complete, the process of finding shared vision is just beginning."

End Nomination Committees

At OneOC we are eager to see the end of Nominating Committees. Calling the committee that identifies new board members the "Nominating Committee" implies that its only task is to nominate board members for election to the board.

It's more than just a nominating committee.

Meeting regularly throughout the year, not just when there is a board member slot open, the Governance Committee should have three efforts to champion:

First, yes, one of those efforts is to nominate and recruit new members. But, as part of that, recognize and celebrate the efforts of the board.

Secondly, it ensures the board is always in learning mode — learning about the cause and mission, as well as learning about excellent board practices. I once visited a board that spent the first five minutes of the meeting handing out M&M's to members who shared a "mission moment" they'd experienced with the nonprofit's clients. More commonly you'll see missions printed on business cards and on name tents at board meetings. But the goals are similar – keep focused on the mission.

Third, the Governance Committee manages the board's efforts to assess its performance. Surveying board members every one to three years – to maintain a conversation on the future needs of the board and the organization – is part of that task.

How are you increasing your board's effectiveness? For resources on Board Development, check out our Nonprofit Toolkit.

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