Friday, March 28, 2008

How Do You Make a Nonprofit Board Not Boring?

"On the importance of term limits for nonprofit board members:
'It's sad to think how many boards are just a couple of funerals away from greatness.'"
-Kelly Kleiman of The Nonprofiteer, Things We Wish We'd Said (Board Development division)
I've never been on a nonprofit board, but I've been in board meetings as a staff member. "Fun," "inspiring" and "efficient" aren't words I would use to describe them. I guess I'm not the only one. In a 2007 survey of over 5,000 Board Café readers, 52% said "most boards do a so-so job."

What are new models you've seen that work to create engaged, creative, effective boards whose meetings its members look forward to?

In's, Is Your Nonprofit Board Bored? Eight Ways to Keep Them Awake Joanne Fritz lists eight tips from The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management including:

• Set up periodic retreats away from the usual meeting site. When working with the Girl Scouts in St. Louis, we took the board members to one of our camps for an overnight. This allowed board members to bond and loosen up which favored good discussions.
Gayle Roberts of the Fundraising for Nonprofits blog compiled 30 Tips for Effective Nonprofit Board Leadership based on advice she received from her LinkedIn Network. A few tips that I particularly liked were:
• Find 15 minutes on the agenda of each board meeting to either reflect upon a big picture trend or to learn about an issue that affects the work of the nonprofit.

• Develop individual board member agreements that specify what each member will contribute and what they can expect in terms of support and opportunities.

• When chairing a meeting, find ways to draw in people who don’t always get a chance to speak or who are newer to the board.

• Weed out the people who have nothing better to do than to contribute through negativity or simply want something to put on their resume.
Nicole Notario-Risk, the author of Board Service Provides Growth Opportunities for Emerging Leaders, on the Johnson Center's NP2020 blog, enjoys being on a board and has used it as a professional development opportunity. The 27-year-old board president gives four reasons why you should join a nonprofit board:
• The opportunity to challenge yourself and develop specific skills.
• The ability to serve a mission closest to your heart.
• The chance to learn from a skilled Executive Director and/or staff.
• The opportunity to be a part of a great team and build relationships.
I'd love to hear your stories about how you keep your nonprofit board from being boring, and example of new models for board development and management.

Photo by me.


  1. Anonymous2:27 PM

    I sit on a board with one organisation as a trustee (UK) and also in my day job as CEO of a charity have to work closely with my board - thank you for a great article! We try to adopt much of what you have suggested and recently did outcomes planning and 'visioning' the future recently on our away days. Keeping the energy running on a board is always a tricky one to deal with.!


  2. Hi Laura,

    What is the #1 tip you have for other heads of nonprofits/NGOs for how to keep their board engaged?

  3. Anonymous4:19 AM

    I work for a large social service nonprofit. We use board agreements that help board members to think about their commitments to the organization around a number of dimensions such as connecting with others, financial giving and the like. Once a year in December they renew their board agreement and a development officer is "assigned" to work with the board member as an agreement coach over the coming year to help them be successful. It works well.

  4. Great post, Britt! I think Urban Sprouts is finally reaching this achievement - after our last board meeting everyone said they had fun! To start, we use inclusive team building activities like we do in our programs to help our board bond and get to know each other, while inspiring each other about our personal connections to Urban Sprouts' work. At meetings we allow time for eating and socializing. We start every meeting with a board participation check-in, in which everyone reflects on their involvement since the last meeting. We rotate facilitation, so each member works with me (the ED) to plan and lead the agenda. That way everyone feels involved and shares leadership, and shares their own expertise with the group. Plus, our first youth board member just joined so that automatically makes meetings more fun! I also agree that overnight retreats are GREAT for group bonding. Overall, interpersonal connections and inspiration about our org's work are the ultimate glue that makes us all excited to spend time together!

  5. Anonymous2:11 PM

    If you want to get great resources about nonprofit boards, how to recruit board members and how to create an environment for success I suggest The Board Building Cycle from BoardSource.


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