Three Ways to Get Your Board Composition Right

Do you wonder what is the right composition for your board, the configuration that will have the expertise, abilities, and skills to create a well-functioning board? Planning your board composition in a deliberate way is a tenet of exceptional nonprofit management.  But how to do it?

The first key is the Board Skills Matrix. A skills grid is a valuable tool for identifying the necessary board member skills for your nonprofit. (Click here to email me to receive a sample Matrix.) The board matrix will:

  • Determine the board skills your nonprofit requires to be successful
  • Determine the skills of your current board members
  • See where the gaps are

But what skills does your board need? Some of the typical skills include Finance, Technology, Leadership, Fundraising, Legal, Strategic Planning, Governance, and Risk Management. What other skills might your board need to be successful? Consider what you hope to accomplish in the next 5 years and what board skills might help you get there. Will you need help with Human Resource Management, Property Management, Marketing, or Grant writing? Your specific Board Matrix should help you focus your recruiting efforts on the necessary skill sets.

While a Board Matrix is a highly useful guiding document, it should not be your only consideration. The second key to an effective board is ensuring board members have:

  • Passion for the cause
  • Respect for others
  • Thoughtful ability to consider issues, articulate those thoughts, and ask pertinent questions
  • Sense of responsibility for making things happen
  • Vision to think beyond today

Third, confirm that potential board candidates:

  • Have the right cultural fit
  • Add value to the current board composition
  • Are able to align their skills with the strategic direction of the nonprofit
  • Possess the right experience within their field
  • Represent diversity of all kinds – racial, geographic, religious, gender, profession, age, etc.

With thoughtful planning and focused implementation, your board of directors can posses the critical talents to partner with your chief executive and lead your nonprofit to excellence.

5 Ways to Improve Your Board Meetings

The most important contributions your board members make to your nonprofit will be at the board meetings.

The best board meetings engage the board members and allow for robust discussion and decisions on strategic issues. To improve your meetings, consider implementing these five best practices:

1. Use name tent cards for everyone at every meeting.

You may think everyone knows everyone’s name, but they don’t, or they forget..….so make it easy! The tent cards can also be used to “assign” seating, so board members have the opportunity to sit next to different people at each meeting.

2. Develop an acronym chart.

Make a chart of frequently used acronyms and include it in the board package for each meeting and/or make a poster of the most frequently used acronyms and have it displayed at all board meetings.

3. Use a consent agenda.

Place committee reports/minutes that usually don’t require further discussion on the agenda for consent approval. These minutes/reports will be in the board packet for review by the board members. The board members will still have the opportunity to ask questions, if any, and the board will have more time for items that need discussion.

4. Reduce one-way communication from staff.

Be sure that all staff reports to the board need a response from the board at the meeting. If not, the written report should be in the board package for review and board members can ask questions, if they have any.

5. Conduct board meeting evaluations.

At least once a year, ask your board members to provide feedback on your board meetings. This can be in electronic format or a simple one page grid with 10 or fewer questions. You might want to obtain feedback on topics such as: quality of board packages, effective use of meeting time, clear agenda, board participation in discussion, and focusing on most important topics.

This post originally appeared in the Nonprofit Village newsletter.