Board member expectations are always a hot topic in this sector. 

Ask any nonprofit executive or development staff member and they’re likely to give you a laundry list of things their board could do better.  Consultants frequently have a wish list for nonprofit boards as well. 

Gail Perry recently published a great set of New Year’s Resolutions for Board Members.  These suggestions are spot on – she really knows what she’s talking about.

Her article got me thinking more about the subject of nonprofit boards.  But not about what board members need to do differently.  I’ve thought about that plenty on my own, as someone who has worked with boards from inside a nonprofit, and from the outside as a consultant.  And most recently as one who has been a nonprofit trustee.

Instead, it got me thinking about what board members need in order to be successful.  About equipping your board for success. 

1. Set clear expectations.  In writing.  Don’t assume that a board member or potential board member knows exactly what you need from them or expect of them.  Instead, assume they don’t have a clue, and that you need to explain everything. 

2. Engage them.  You’ve recruited these people because they have specific skills and abilities.  Don’t be afraid to put them to work.  Don’t just expect them to read minutes from past meetings and review reports.  Engage them in dialogue.  Bring them the complex issues you’re struggling with.  These people might not have experience inside nonprofits, but they most certainly have valuable business experience that could help you.

3. Be transparent.  Don’t hide problems or sugar coat issues.  Your board members can’t help you if they don’t have a clear and accurate understanding of the situation.  These people are your bosses, so you might be hesitant to bring up issues out of concern that it might reflect negatively on you.  I get that.  But you only do yourself a disservice by not being upfront with them. 

4. Train them.  Remember, your board members are not nonprofit experts.  They’re not CFRE’s.  They’re not program directors.  They are accountants, marketing managers, attorneys, sales executives, community volunteers, nurses, etc.  Each has a wealth of personal and business experiences that will be valuable to you.  But without direction and training, you won’t be able to maximize the impact they can make for your organization.  So help them out by providing training (or seeking it out) to make sure they have the tools and knowledge necessary to help you.

5. Appreciate them.  It’s human nature.  Everyone likes to be recognized for their contribution and appreciated for the hard work they do.  Your board members are no different – especially since they aren’t financially compensated for their service to your organization.  So go out of your way to make sure your board members know how great of an impact they’re making on your nonprofit.  Thank them regularly, in different ways (verbally, individually and corporately, have a client write them thank you notes, etc.).  You’ll be amazed how far a little appreciation will go!