Growing Your Board of Directors and Finding the Right Balance
Caitlin G. Gibbs
A characteristic of a strong not-for-profit organization is an active board of directors that can support the organization in many ways — financially, with their time, and with the skills the members possess, both personally and professionally. Attracting the right people to your not-for-profit board can be challenging. You obviously want people who are enthusiastic about your mission and who are willing to give their time. Time is often a scarce commodity for people, so you need to exercise caution to not overwhelm your board members or other volunteers.
While organizations should take full advantage of the resources their board provides, they must also recognize that those resources will not always be available. Between term limits and retirement, turnover on the board can be a challenge. This can make it tempting to accept almost anyone who expresses interest in becoming a board member. However, not everyone is qualified or has the right skill set to help you build a strong board that will be an asset to your organization.
For example, assume your organization wants to have an attorney as part of its membership, and you know that the attorney currently on the board will be rotating off next year. You might want to start recruiting an attorney to join the board now. That way, the incumbent attorney can spend some time introducing the new person to the types of legal issues that have been encountered during their service and make the transition smoother. The succession issue also applies to the officer positions. These positions often rotate, with people gradually moving up to assume an officer position over time. For example, the board president may only have that position for one or two years. Part of the responsibility of the officers is to consider the skills of their fellow board members and help select, and then mentor and train, someone to succeed them in their role.
Recruiting for your board can be difficult. But it is also one of the most important functions of your organization. Board members should be added strategically to make sure the board is well rounded and diverse enough that it can reach the best possible decisions in guiding the organization. Board members, in turn, have to be mindful of their responsibilities. They have a fiduciary responsibility to the organization they serve. This means that a board member must be willing to spend the time necessary to understand the issues they are voting on, willing to question management and make decisions in the same way they would if they were making decisions impacting their own life.
Of course, most people who serve on boards also have busy personal and professional lives, and you want to be respectful of their time and use their time to the fullest. Allocating some of that time to planning for an orderly succession when your current board members are no longer serving can be key to keeping your organization strong over the long haul.
For more information on how to grow your not-for-profit organization’s board of directors, contact Caitlin Gibbs at [email protected], or call her at 312.670.7444. Visit ORBA.com to learn more about our Not-For-Profit Group.