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Questions from Board Building Sessions

The following is a follow-up of additional questions viewers had from our 3-part webinar series with Orr Associates, Inc., titled “Making the Most of Your Board.” To view the full slides and recording of the series, click here

When creating a Sustaining Board, what are the tasks/objectives for that group?

When an effective board member’s term comes to an end but you want to keep them engaged, transitioning him or her to a Sustaining Board, or Advisory Board, is a great way to continue to leverage the experience, insight, and expertise of individuals committed to building and investing in your organization’s future.

While members of this kind of entity would not be responsible for meeting the full spectrum of duties compulsory of Board of Directors members, it’s important to be clear about the expectations to provide a smaller network of support and resources to the organization. Examples of responsibilities could include:

  • Act as an advocate and ambassador for your organization by staying informed on the mission, model and programs
  • Help make a connection with their company, either contacts responsible for philanthropy or leadership development or opportunities for sponsorship and program engagement
  • Nominate other Sustaining Board Members
  • Provide recommendations for Board of Directors candidates
  • Provide recommendations and/or connections to potential funders, if willing
  • Attend one or more annual event
  • Serve on a Board Committee or Ad Hoc/Special Project Committee
  • Support the organization financially with an annual personal gift. You do not have to set a minimum gift amount for this group, but you could if so desired. A set amount would be less than the amount for Board of Directors members

How do you encourage non-productive, overly-critical members to resign?

The board chair and executive director need to face into the challenge of unproductive board members and have an honest conversation with these members. Why are they on the board? What are they looking to accomplish? Few people want to be on a board to do nothing or simply to criticize. Chances are members fitting these descriptions are as unhappy with their board service as you are. It is equally important, however, to face into what ownership you may have for their performance. Have you engaged the board member(s) in question in a way that provides an opportunity to be productive? Are the criticisms valid?

Within the elements we suggest for board member job descriptions we always recommend two items that will foster the opportunities to have these crucial conversations:

  • Specific terms and specific term limits. When board members know at the outset their election isn’t to a lifetime reign, discussing bringing their service to a conclusion is much more natural and expected.
  • Annual board self-evaluations and one on one meetings with the Executive Director to review performance as a board member. Annually reviewing a scorecard of agreed upon performance metrics for each board member provides a mechanism for feedback. Much like employees, we can’t hold board members accountable for performing below expectations if we’ve never shared feedback or provided coaching on how their performance is being perceived.

You said the ED should spend 30% of their time with the board. Please address this with smaller nonprofit organizations where the ED does everything and is responsible for outreach, grant writing and fundraising activities.

That’s our story and we’re sticking to it. No matter the size of the organization, the board needs to work in partnership with the Executive Director. Spending time with board members (especially if you have the right board members) will identify introductions to the constituents you need to connect with and from which you’ll solicit grants and funding of all types.

How do you begin implementing these best practices without scaring off the currently dis-engaged board?

Change is always scary but usually necessary. You have to start where you are so transforming your board must start with the existing board.

Identify and secure some key allies that have the respect of the other board members to lead this charge with you. Next build consensus around the need for a new board member job description to be created and recommended by either your existing Governance/Nominating Committee or a task force of the board; that basic understanding of roles is the first step towards engagement.

You should make clear throughout the process that it will be a process and take time. Existing board members are not expected tomorrow to start living up to the expectations. Over time existing board members will step-up their engagement to meet the new expectation and as you bring new board members who commit in advance to these new expectations you will see your board transformed.

Can you give examples of specific tasks of the Development Committee?

The Development Committee should be one of the most involved and active committees of your Board. Led by the Development Committee Chair and supported by the Chief Development Officer, the Development Committee begins each fiscal year by reviewing and approving the goals and strategies of your organization’s annual development plan. As the development plan rolls out throughout the year, the Development Committee members should be held accountable by the Development Committee Chair and the President/CEO/Executive Director to:

  • Work alongside Committee Members and staff to implement strategies which ensure your organization meets and exceeds its fundraising goals in a timely and effective manner from year to year.
  • Ensure that 100% of the board meets its giving and fundraising requirements;
  • Identify, cultivate and solicit (with the support of your organization’s staff) donor prospects
  • Make a personal donation; and
  • Participate in and attend your organization’s events—including program announcements, board meetings, cultivation and fundraising events.

Your Board and Development Committee are your biggest advocates and ambassadors. Ask them for help, seek their advice and expertise, and lean on them to help drive the goals of the organization forward.

Who should meet with each board member about his/her give/get expectations (Executive Director, or Chair, or both?)

Give/Get conversations with board members should take place in person each year, allowing the Executive Director the opportunity to review giving potential and interests with each board member on an annual basis. Depending on the willingness and availability of the Board Chair, he/she could participate in these meetings alongside the Executive Director. The Chief Development Officer can also add strength to these meetings when appropriate. Each meeting will likely have a different formula for the best representation, but limit the meeting participants to 2-3 people if possible.

What do you do if board members don't meet their commitments?

During the Board recruitment and on-boarding process, financial and time commitment expectations should be reiterated and confirmed by the Executive Director or Board Chair. Throughout the year, the Executive Director and Staff are responsible for keeping the board accountable to their commitments through follow up meetings, benchmark tracking and encouragement/support to each Board Member based on their interests and outreach plan.

During your annual check-in meetings, discuss whether or not the board member has met their agreed upon commitments. Have an open and honest conversation with each board member about their progress, especially if they have not honored their commitments to the organization. Ask them “why,” find out if they feel supported, encourage them to participate in the work of the organization so they feel tied to the mission, and show them how their commitments impact the entire organization. Use a board commitment/pledge form to assist with accountability and encourage board members to reference this commitment form periodically throughout the year.

Kelly Dunphy Kelly Dunphy

The preceding is a guest post by Kelly Dunphy, Vice President of Fundraising and Development at OAI (Orr Associates, Inc.). Kelly joined the OAI team in 2006 and brings her clients 15 years of experience in fundraising. Kelly has experience in leading all types of fundraising, including major gifts, corporate, foundations, and campaigns. Kelly is also an expert in board development, from recruitment and governance to motivating and engaging boards. As the Vice President of Fundraising and Development, Kelly sets the strategy for OAI’s client engagements and manages the company’s fundraising and development services. She excels in designing and implementing new strategies and tactics to transform fundraising performance for her client partners.

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