8 Ways to Align Nonprofit Board Members and Their Practices With Your Organizational Values

Discover actionable tips on strengthening your board and ensuring its members champion the values that uphold your nonprofit’s mission.

Nonprofit board dilemmas are nothing new, but with the radical shifts of the past two years and the lightning-speed of technology, the ways that we address them deserve a refresh. We met with a panel of experts well-versed in nonprofit board experience to discuss new strategies and approaches to this critical governing body of the organizations we serve each day. 

Our webinar panel for A Board Cleanse: Aligning Board Members & Practices to Values included:

Check out these top takeaways for getting your board members activated, engaged, and on the same page. 


1. Recruit for Skills Rather Than Connections

When nonprofit leaders are in the startup stage, they often look to their immediate circle to form V1 of their board: friends, family, former colleagues, and associates. While this may feel like an efficient move, not to mention a comfortable one, it can present challenges if members aren’t living up to their roles. 

Rather than recruiting board members based on their relationships with leaders in your organization, reach out to people with the skills you need to grow your reach and bolster your resources. When board members come from outside of your network, you can build a true governing board that empowers you to address issues in a manner that focuses on the health of the organization instead of your personal relationship. 

Looking beyond your network can be especially helpful when your leadership team struggles to gain consensus, as outside perspectives and pointed expertise can help guide the group to common ground. To find that ideal fit, listen more than you talk. We often focus on selling the organization to a potential board member. While this should be part of the process, board members should also have an opportunity to sell their skills, experience, and enthusiasm for your mission and the people you serve to your leadership team and staff. 

Some organizations even ask a prospective board member to serve as a volunteer for a year first to get to know a person and what they have to offer before giving them a prized board seat. 


2. Develop a Comprehensive Board Governance Strategy

We often hear about board member woes: the ghosty board member who misses meetings and shirks responsibilities, the domineering board member who stalls progress, and the board member with great intentions who just doesn’t seem to hit the mark on their assigned duties. Because nonprofit boards hire and fire organizational leadership at the Executive Director level, addressing members who may not be a fit can feel intimidating. Fortunately, these sticky issues can be resolved in a manner that’s all business through a board governance strategy that’s set in place the moment a new member joins. 

Boards should operate strategically, but that’s only possible with a governance strategy that touches every aspect of the organization, from organizational values to how work is managed in the field to term limits that keep your board moving forward. This equips your board with standards and expectations to ensure that each member serves in the capacity that best supports your team and mission. When members know what’s expected of them, the tough conversations can focus on the values and responsibilities you’ve built together rather than personal traits.


3. Hire a Nonprofit Board Consultant to Help Craft It

Many new Executive Directors face a tough transition when they inherit a frustrated board. However, when exemplary governance practices are in place, that board has the tools to function properly and set that new leader up for success. 

Because board governance strategies should be bespoke to serve an organization’s very specific needs and growth journey, hiring a consultant can help bring your board and Executive Director together to design a strategy that empowers everyone to do their best work.


4. Bring Your Board Together Through Team-Building

We often ask, “How do I get my board engaged?” But that question lacks the language that elicits the answers you hope to receive. Instead, change the verb and ask, “How do I inspire engagement?”

Happy hours, team outings, and time set aside to converse about everyday life can foster human connections that build the trust needed to take risks together and have tough conversations that further positive change. Need some inspiration? Try bolstering relationships among board members and between Executive Directors and their board through team-building activities that remind them just how wonderful it is to be a part of your team and mission.


5. Streamline Board Communications with Technology

Managing a board takes a whole lot of logistics, and relying on your inbox to handle the influx of documents and communications is a logistical nightmare. Remember, your board members are volunteering in addition to their busy work schedules and personal lives. 

Make it easy for them to keep tabs on the latest pertinent information that equips them to serve by storing all communications and documents in a single digital location that’s easily accessible to everyone involved. In the same way, consider the efficiencies of tech tools like Docusign that enable board members to pass on having to download, print, sign, and scan and instead, click, sign, and complete. Once you break out of your digital rut by investing in tech and tools, you’ll be amazed how quickly board members reply, sign, and engage. 

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6. Keep Notes on Hand for the Newbie

Joining a board is like coming into a movie in the middle of it. You find yourself asking questions like, “Why is this guy angry? Why is this child sad? What are they talking about?You just don't have a lot of context. 

Fortunately, boards can soothe first-day jitters and answer those swirling questions from new board members by keeping documentation that enables them to hit “rewind.” Meeting minutes, documents detailing the history of each board member and their bios, and recent board accomplishments can help new board members get up to speed in a snap and allow them to begin pitching in sooner. 

For extra support, give specific board members dedicated check-in responsibilities to particular members who can field questions and lend support to board members in their first year. This is just one of many ways your board can foster equity and inclusion from the very start.


7. Champion DEIB Through Exemplary Board Governance

Many boards have, with good intention, pursued DEIB initiatives in a reactionary manner, only to see them fizzle over time. But make no mistake, your board members should absolutely reflect the staff and community members they serve. 

Although it’s anything but a one-and-done effort, DEIB is much more durable when everyone feels it’s their goal. Instead of starting at the board level, conduct an internal audit of your organization’s DEIB practices in your services first. 

Next, reflect DEIB on your board by:

Offering WFH options for board meetings and remote-supported responsibilities.

Far-flung board members, board members who are parents, and those who work front-line jobs can’t easily make it to onsite meetings or perform board responsibilities during office hours. If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that tech empowers us to work from anywhere. Whenever possible, offer remote options that cut travel expenses, support working parents, and let asynchronous work happen at times that don’t cut into the hours board members need to care for themselves and their loved ones. 

Rethinking your board members’ give/get policy.

Requiring a minimum financial contribution can make it difficult to achieve the diverse representation that will help your board thrive. Move away from an individual give/get to a collective one that asks your board to pursue your organization’s revenue goals together as a community.


8. Have Tough Conversations When Necessary

When a board member ghosts or isn't living up to your organization's values, it can be awkward to tell them to move on. Try these tips to help it go smoothly:

  • Take a heart-centered approach and honor them as a human. 
  • Tell them what you expect and what you’re experiencing. 
  • Ask them to share their experience. 

If they're not engaging with you, call it and say it's not working out. If they want to turn things around, look at your governance strategy and point to their responsibilities. In most cases, having the conversation means it's over, but sharpening your skills in facilitating these heart-to-hearts is essential for good leaders and, ultimately, solid teams. 

The past years have all of us stressed to the max, so let’s show grace to one another, and let’s not forget to show grace to ourselves. The work will always be there, and those times that we pause to care for ourselves aren’t selfish. Those moments make us better at everything else we do. Yes, even our missions. 

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