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As defined by the National Council of Nonprofits, “board members are the fiduciaries who steer the organization towards a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies, as well as by making sure the nonprofit has adequate resources to advance its mission.”
But before board members can even begin to fulfill their duties, they must have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities. Without that, there could form a wider set of dysfunctions that take away from the board’s ability to make an impact.
To achieve good board governance there are a number of elements that a nonprofit board needs to address. These elements underpin the fundamental characteristics of good board governance, which are accountability, transparency, responsiveness, effectiveness and efficiency.
Effective communication and collaboration
The interaction of board members doesn’t end when the meeting is adjourned. Successful boards encourage ongoing collaboration and communication between their members year-round.
Christopher Kennedy, CEO of Leadership Austin, says recognizing each board member communicates differently can help ensure the communication lines are open inside and outside the boardroom and promote transparency and responsiveness. “At the beginning of each board year, we have a clear conversation about the best way to communicate with each other,” he said, whether that’s by email, phone, or other. “It’s my job to understand their communication style.”
Effective communication drives accountability, too. For Leadership Austin, that means creating an atmosphere where board members can develop the relationships that allow them to create – and hold each other accountable for – shared goals. For example, Kennedy creates time at the beginning of a board meeting to allow board members to discuss core values of the organization and, at the end of a meeting, share a topic they may be struggling with outside of the board. Each of these exercises frame the discussions and strengthens relationships. “That’s been very fruitful,” said Kennedy, “because we learn more about that person and what they’re passionate about.”
The ability to look inwards
A self-assessment can be a useful tool for driving accountability. Ronda Rutledge, executive director of Sustainable Food Center, says her board’s annual evaluation allows board members to share feedback anonymously and generates a report that reveals accomplishments and shortcomings. “Because they actually evaluate themselves as a board,” she said, “they’re holding themselves accountable.”
What can make these assessments even more useful is the ability to replicate previous board assessments and automating reports so that the board can more easily track and validate its progress year after year without having to go back to the drawing board time after time. Purpose-built board management tools can take board assessments to the next level, driving efficiencies and effectiveness.
Diversity of thought and experience
Your audience is diverse, so to meet their needs and ensure that your mission and vision is aligned with their requirements, your leadership needs to be represent that diversity. That means boards must be diverse in its skill sets and experience, as well as in gender and ethnicities.
But while diversity can lead to improved outcomes, it can be hindered by board members’ different communication styles. Kennedy uses the physical set-up of a boardroom to their favor, hosting discussions in small groups rather than across the entire table. “Even changing the physical space like that can create an environment that allows individuals to be heard,” he said. Then when the conversation returns to the full group, there are usually three to four common topics that bubble up.
Small changes to board meetings like this can encourage participation from each member while also building relationships and allies, so that no board member feels isolated.
The world has gone digital, but the most effective communication channels are often a mix of digital and old-school analog. That’s because boards often have a mix of comfort levels and experience with different tools. Rutledge says she’s tried a number of tools over the years to house documents or track progress, “But my board ranges in age and there’s diversity at every level,” she said, “so the tools we use are just the easiest, like email, calendar invites, and Dropbox.”
But as digital tools evolve for other purposes, so do they for board management. Purpose-built board management tools like NXTBoard’s board management platform can help streamline processes, drive accountability, defeat dysfunction and achieve outcomes.
Board management software can help you run more efficient meetings, get everyone on the same page when it comes to their roles and responsibilities, make task management simple and it can even help with creating, adopting and monitoring goals that align with the vision and mission of the organization. And because it’s purpose built for board members, it’s simple to use. More often than not, no complicated integrations are necessary and the best board portal vendors provide implementation and ongoing customer support.
As Rutledge says, in the end, board members support the nonprofit because they long to build relationships with people who share their passion for the mission. “They want to build camaraderie toward a common cause,” she said, “and I think it’s our job to foster that.”
More information at NXTBoard