Building a Strong Board in 6 Steps | npENGAGE

Building a Strong Board in 6 Easy Steps

By on Nov 8, 2012


I love the tale of the Tennessee Fainting Goats.  When they feel panicked, their muscles freeze and they fall over.

We’ve all had that moment – when the task in front of us is just too much and we freeze. Our board members, humans themselves after all, are no different. As strong leaders though, we can help them avoid this moment of paralysis and ultimately have a great board experience while driving our mission forward.

So how do you avoid these temporary freezes?  By building a strong board from the very beginning and establishing solid expectations with adjustments along the way.

Here are some quick tips to help make this happen.

Step one:  Review

What kind of board do you have now?  Typically a board will have a personality – founder, operational – or the more dangerous microscope board, they want to know every detail but have a hard time solving problems.  You need to understand the character of your board and then determine if that personality fits your mission.  If it does, that’s great.  If not, you need to make adjustments to make things work.

Step two:  Recruit

For years we have focused our board development on the ever present composition matrix.  That’s still a good idea but filling in boxes is only part of the puzzle.   By identifying very specific skills sets, you may throw off the whole character of the board you’re trying to create.  You want to also focus on experience, knowledge and perspective of the problem you’re trying to solve.

Step three:  Requirements

Once you have identified the right candidate, interview them.  Make sure you are on the same page.  Give or get?  Meeting attendance?  I am a big believer in board member contracts.   Before you offer them the job, make sure they know what you expect and what they can expect from you.

Step four:   Retain

The best way to keep a board member is to keep them involved.  Honor your commitment to them by making sure that they know the meeting schedule; they receive information in advance; their minds, moments and money are treated with respect.  Don’t create committees for the sake of structure.  Create structure based on needs.

Step five:  Recognize

You don’t have to host a parade but you should make sure that their names are spelled out on your website.  You should create an opportunity to thank them.  This weekend, I went out of my way to help an organization do something unique.  They gushed their thanks but it was really too much.  I finally said, “just say thank you and mean it and leave it.”  You need to do the same.

Step six:  Remind them!

We humans are simple creatures.  We strive to do good work but every now and then we need to be reminded about why.  The structure of the annual retreat is an excellent opportunity to review the personality of your board, look for gaps, recognize leadership and work towards improving your quality of service.

And by the way, thank you for your service.  It’s appreciated.

This post is excerpted from Blackbaud’s Corporate Citizenship blog.


Debbi Stanley is manager of the Blackbaud client success team. As certified fundraising executive, Debbi has raised more than $15 million for nonprofit agencies and is a recognized expert in strategic, succession and resource development planning. During her nonprofit career, she served in many positions including development director for health and human services agencies and she was a successful consultant teaching nonprofits approaches to organizational development that properly leverage resources for project sustainability. Her expertise in situational leadership and her knowledge of funding strategies has helped hundreds of nonprofits do more for their communities. An avid fan, Debbi is blessed to have two sons who are great athletes at both forms of football – the American and the International version.

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