Nonprofit Radio: Building Your Best Better Board

I spoke with host Tony Martignetti on his Nonprofit Radio podcast about building your best better board. Our discussion stemmed from a blog post I wrote on Setting Up an Effective Nonprofit Board, though we focused on existing nonprofits rather than startups.

  • Board roles – Financial oversight is of course important but that’s far from a complete description of the board’s roles. Oversight of the programmatic impact is another key role among several others.
  • Board responsibility – Boards must center their work on the organization’s mission and values.
  • Board member expectations – In recruiting new board members, it’s important not to diminish expectations (e.g., “It’s not that much work.”) and to be honest and complete in disclosing all the requirements and expectations of a board member (including any meaningful contribution requirement).
  • Diversity – Boards should strive for greater racial diversity in an inclusionary manner but they must also more fully understand why this is important to their mission.
  • Orientation and training – Orientation, ‘board buddies’ and mentorship, and trainings about the organization and topics important to its mission and/or governance are solid investments.
  • Board-staff relationships – While traditionally, this has been discouraged to avoid micromanagement by the board, facilitated discussions among board and staff can create healthier, stronger organizations better prepared to advance their mission.
  • Board terms – There is not a single best term length or set of term limits that apply universally, but there are practices that can encourage or discourage more diversity and inclusiveness.
  • Board size – Similarly, there is no single best size of a board, but there can be too few or too many directors. For most smaller charities that have been in existence for some time, less than 5 may not be ideal and more than 20 may not allow full participation by all directors, but there may be many exceptions. Who is on the board is more often the more important factor than how many.
  • Removing directors – Removing a director can be extremely difficult and contentious. Sometimes, there may be an alternative, such as having a director resign to take on another role in a manner that allows them to feel good about their changed role.
  • Junior boards – This can work in some cases (though probably not with this name) when part of an active recruitment process for those who may want to serve on the board of directors after getting a stronger sense of the organization. But there’s a danger if the BIPOC representation on this body is higher than on the board of directors.