The complaints never stop.

  • “I can’t get my board members to solicit donors.”
  • “My board won’t come to events and talk to donors about what we do.”
  • “My board members do not ask me how they can introduce their friends to us. Why can’t they open up their contact lists?”
  • “Our development committee is floundering. I don’t think they know what they’re doing.”
  • “I’ve had board members serve on our board for over 20 years. They’re a complete roadblock to change.”

When the venting stops, we ask a few questions. How did you recruit your board members? What expectations for performance did you set? How are you managing them?

And the answers come back hollow and inadequate.

Each board member was recruited because of who they knew and what their network was. Or it was a friend of a good donor. There were no expectations set – as far as they know, they just have to show up for the meetings. And there is hardly any interaction between meetings. No information sent. No problems or situations to address.

It’s no wonder the board is weak and ineffective.

Here’s a different way to do it:

  1. Before you recruit even one board member, make a list of the major categories of work in your organization. Things like:
    • Program: List major program categories (could be 5-7 areas)
    • Fundraising: Direct Marketing, Personal Fundraising (2 areas)
    • MarCom: Marketing, Communications, Public Relations (3 areas)
    • Administration: Finance, HR, Data Processing, Operations (4 areas)
  2. Recruit a board member who is an expert in each of these areas, and appoint them to your board. The objective here is to have board members who cover each area of work you do. And don’t forget to recruit a board member who represents the cause of your organization. For instance, if you are working on low-income housing, you should have a board member who lives in that housing or someone from city government who oversees that area.
  3. Make sure your recruitment efforts, in addition to following points #1 and 2 above, include diversity. You want to have a board that truly represents your community.
  4. Write a job description for the board member that outlines what he/she will do in their area.
  5. Write up a cover letter that invites the board member to accept the “job.” In that cover letter, state what the expectations are.
  6. Be clear on the role of the board member. Now you’re relating to the board members as if they were employees with specific responsibilities and duties – all advice and service, of course, rather than terminal responsibility where the board member tells the employee what to do. No, that is not the job of the board member – it’s about providing counsel and guidance.
  7. Organize meetings around problems to address in every major category of work. This brings so much more meaning to a board meeting. Now, instead of useless chatter filling up a couple of hours once a month or quarter, there is real content – real situations to discuss – real work.
  8. Have annual reviews. – Just like you would with an employee, review each board member against the job description and the expectations you have set. This is critical.
  9. “Fire” board members who do not perform. Yes, we mean that. You would not put up with lack of performance of your employee. Why do it with a board member? Do the right thing here. You know what that is.

A board can be a wonderful contribution of talent and wisdom to your operation and your leadership. But you have to set everything up as outlined here so that your board can have a real impact. Follow these steps and change the way your board is operating. It will make a tremendous difference.