How to Build the Right Board for Organizational Growth


On February 14, I presented: How to Build the Right Board for Organizational Growth, for non-profits at the Social Innovation Forum. The workshop included 17 attendees from SIF’s alumni portfolio and other non-profit leaders in greater Boston. Here are some of my observations.

Common Pain Points

My experience is that most of us struggle with the same pain-points when it comes to our boards.

Too much dead wood and too few shouldering the work are common complaints. Founding board members who overstay their effectiveness, or “Founders’ Syndrome,” can be detrimental to board growth. Expectations are often misaligned when it comes to fundraising.  Organizations often expect the board to take the lead in fundraising, beginning with a personal gift of their own and when this does not occur, the organization suffers.

Additionally, many groups are experiencing a lack of engagement and accountability among board members. There is a reluctance to share networks and contacts that might advance the mission of the organization.  Replacing strong board members whose terms expire is also a challenge facing many organizations looking for stability and sustainability.

Yet a major weakness for many boards is the lack of well-defined position descriptions.  For instance, if active participation in your annual event is an expectation, state that clearly in the description. If you expect each of your board members to actively fundraise and make a personal commitment of their own, define that responsibility in the position description. Articulating the role and responsibilities of your board members in a direct, concise and honest manner will allow you to recruit and retain effective leaders who not only understand what is expected of them, they have agreed to it. 


Building the Right Board: 7 Key Elements

Create a Board Development Committee
Every successful board needs a Board Development Committee. Unlike a Nomination Committee, this should be a yearlong committee responsible for creating position descriptions for each board position, onboarding and mentoring new board members, and maintaining and strengthening the entire board structure for the long-term.

Create a Board Map
Engaging your board in a board mapping exercise to identify what skills and qualities are essential to the future of your organization. Then, create a chart to identify which of those skills your board members have, and which skills you are missing. Use that skill gap as your road map to find new board members.

Build a Pipeline
With the assistance of the board map, begin an outreach campaign to identify, cultivate, and recruit prospective board members.  Utilize current and past board members, donors, volunteers, civic organizations, corporate community relations offices, etc. to fill the pipeline.

Create a Well-Defined Board Member Position Description
Boards need an agreed upon and written set of expectations to hold members accountable for their roles and responsibilities. Position descriptions should include term lengths and limits, time commitment expectations, and responsibilities outside of board meetings.

Implement an Effective Onboarding Process
On-barding begins with cultivating potential candidates through events and activities. An onboarding package should include an orientation program, board position description, pertinent board materials including by-laws, and an assigned mentor if possible.

Assess, Evaluate, & Improve for the Future
Taking time to step back and asses your board’s status is essential for effective board and organizational growth.  A board self-assessment exercise, completed annually, is an ideal opportunity to assess progress and measure accountability.

And Finally, Have Some Fun
A strong and connected board is essential to the success of your organization. Building a sense of community will make members excited to attend and engage in board meetings that may otherwise just seem like another responsibility in their day. Your board members are volunteers who dedicate their time because they truly care about your organization’s mission. Create time to foster and deepen the underlying passion you all share for your work.

To learn more about board development or set up a training at your organization, contact Vicki Burkhart. For more on the session and how you can build the right board, read the article by the Social Innovation Forum.