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How to Supercharge Your Not-for-Profit’s Board to Achieve Scalable Impact

Shutterstock_174469097When considering the future success of a startup organization, thoughts naturally turn first to a clearly defined vision, mission and strategy for putting plans into action. After that, many ask, “How do I galvanize my staff and volunteers to lead?” Social impact organizations affect the most critical challenges facing our society-- for example, lifting individuals out of poverty, providing access to vital services and fighting inequality. Having the right staff is critical and having the right board of directors is equally important. Scaling an organization’s impact means not just maintaining core processes, but also constantly sharing knowledge to build the organization’s capacity to affect change. Without leadership to keep the organization focused, staff can fall victim to fighting the daily fires that are a distraction from the larger goal of expanding the organization’s reach.

So how can you supercharge your board of directors? Here are four things to consider:

  1. Identify needed skills and expertise.

Like any position within your organization, you want to ensure the right talent is at the table. Recruit board members with specific skills that are needed by your organization, such as program-specific knowledge or technical skills like financial or legal expertise. These professionals can be helpful when it comes to facilitating the what-ifs and related risks of strategic planning. Additionally, those with experience in information technology and human resources can help review policies and determine the effectiveness of current systems. A marketing professional on the board can aid in development of messaging for campaigns and outreach efforts. Plus, there can be considerable cost savings from all of this expertise as board members often donate their services, saving the organization money that might otherwise be spent with outside vendors.

  1. Invite board members with solid networks.

Don’t be afraid to invite board members based on their personal and professional networks. Of course, potential board members should not be selected based on their connections alone. They should be inspired by the organization’s mission and motivated to make a difference. It is precisely the strength of their conviction that will help the organization when the board member reaches out to his or her contacts for support. With so much funding from corporate and foundation grants, it can be very beneficial to have board members who are well connected to decision makers and potential funders. Every board needs members who are committed to the cause and those who can help ensure the organization’s financial sustainability and growth.

  1. Provide an orientation.

Make sure your board knows what to do once it’s in place. Individuals join boards for different reasons, and a diverse board will represent a variety of experiences and perspectives. Note, however, that some may not have previous board experience. Explain the tactics of achieving the mission, board member expectations and any special duties that may be required such as committee service, community events or possibly even responding to media requests. When board members have a clear understanding of what is being asked of them, they are more likely to participate enthusiastically rather than being caught off guard with surprise commitments. If you need help getting started, take a look at the AICPA Not-for-Profit Section’s Guide to Board Orientation.

  1. Involve them in the organization’s activities.

Ask your board members to participate regularly in the life of the organization. Encourage them to engage with staff in the office or to volunteer on a regular basis. Whether they help prepare meals, assist on clean-up days or appear at community events, they become even more invested. Their personal testimonies are a powerful way to spread your organization’s message and attract new supporters. Additionally, their involvement in program service delivery may lead to new insights and efficiencies. One caveat: it’s important to clarify roles and responsibilities, lest your board members receive your invitation to participate in the trenches as an opportunity to micromanage. For more information, check out the AICPA Not-for-Profit Section’s Guide to Board Responsibilities.

The best performing not-for-profits succeed because of the committed staff and well-cultivated board members that work towards achieving the organization’s mission. As organization leaders, we should do everything we can to recruit the best board members, educate them on the inner workings of the organization and clarify roles and responsibilities.

If you want to learn more on this topic, I recommend AICPA’s online e-learning course, “Aligning Mission with Strategy.”  You can purchase this course individually or as part of the Not-for-Profit Certificate Program. To learn more, go here.

Tom Pender, CPA, CGMA, Senior Technical Manager- Portfolios, American Institute of CPAs. He frequently volunteers with not-for-profits and has served on a number of boards, including Wheels 4 Hope, an organization that provides safe, reliable automobiles to economically vulnerable families and individuals in North Carolina.

Not-for-profit board orientation image courtesy of Shutterstock

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