Board Characteristics and Qualifications
#1. Nonprofits should strive to have board members who are representative of the organization’s.
A nonprofit board of directors is best comprised of people who bring varied perspectives and can also represent the views of the organization’s constituency. The work of the board will benefit from authentic and credible information directly from the community it serves. Participation from a diverse board is important in setting organizational goals; without it, nonprofit boards run the risk of making uninformed decisions and carrying out misguided work in the community.
- When recruiting board members, take into consideration how to recruit people that would be diverse as well as representative of the organization’s constituents.
- Have current board members look intentionally to their personal and professional networks for candidates that are diverse and representative of the organization’s constituents.
- Seek out and be responsive to the feedback of the organization’s constituents.
Related Practices: Governance #2
- National Council of Nonprofits “Finding the Right Board Members for your Nonprofit”
- GrantSpace “How can I find board members for my nonprofit?”
- Community Tool Box “Obtaining Feedback from Constituents: What Changes are Important and Feasible?”
#2. Board members should be committed to the mission and the success of the nonprofit.
While nonprofits often seek a variety of skills and expertise to carry out the governance function, a strong commitment to the mission of the organization is also important. Without a strong commitment to mission, a board member runs the risk of viewing their role as solely related to technical expertise. Bringing a strong commitment to the mission and success of the organization provides strength and resilience as the organization pursues its vision and long-term goals.
- When recruiting board members, have clear job descriptions.
- When considering potential board candidates, meet with them to better understand why they want to be on the board and the ways in which they are committed to the work of the organization.
- Have an orientation for new board members.
- Joan Garry Consulting “A Template For A Great Board Orientation”
- GuideStar “What to Ask Every Prospective Board Member”
- The Bridgespan Group“Nonprofit Job Description Toolkit”
#3. Board members should actively develop an understanding of the mission, ongoing activities, finances, business model and changes in the operating environment of the organization.
In addition to carrying out their fiduciary duties, and employing their unique skills, board members should orient themselves to the broad context of organizational activities. There are some important considerations, such as operating environment, business model, program structures and community demographics, which also provide board members with the background needed to best carry out specific fiduciary duties. These duties, including financial oversight and strategic planning, will be more robust and appropriate when additional context is taken into consideration.
- Have an orientation for new board members so they can get familiar with organizational procedures, policies and operations.
- Board members can continue to develop their understanding of the organization by looking over important documents and communicating with various stakeholders throughout the organization (e.g., other board members, staff, volunteers and clients).
- Community Tool Box “Welcoming and Training New Members to a Board of Directors”
- United Way “Board Development”
#4. Board members should value diversity and understand the role of broad participation and the importance of including diverse groups of people in the current and future success of the organization’s work.
Diversity among the board members is valuable because it brings greater potential for creativity, innovation and outside-the-box thinking. Broad participation is also a key focus because it is not merely the physical presence of diversity that should be the goal, but meaningful inclusion and incorporation of all board members. Committing to doing work in this way is not easy. More diverse experiences and perspectives also brings more potential for conflict and disagreement. Ultimately, valuing diversity is demonstrated in daily practices and beliefs, not just as a stated or written value.
- Define what “diversity” means for the organization and why it is a value.
- Commit board time and resources to establishing and nurturing diversity as a value.
- Intentionally seek out multiple opportunities for constituents to provide feedback to the organization.
- National Council of Nonprofits “Diversity on Nonprofit Boards”
- TSNE MissionWorks “Achieving Diversity in the Nonprofit Workplace: A Step-by-Step Guide”
- The Bridgespan Group “Constituent Engagement”
#5. To demonstrate their personal stake in the organization, board members are expected to volunteer their time, help raise external funds and make personal financial contributions to the organization.
One of the fiduciary responsibilities of a board member is to assist the organization in obtaining adequate resources to enable it to further its charitable mission. Fundraising and making personal financial contributions represent some of the most concrete ways in which board members can support their organizations. This can potentially have a compounding effect as potential donors may be less inclined to fund an organization if it is evident that the organization’s own board members are not contributing.
- Encourage board members to volunteer in program-based activities whenever possible.
- Board members should participate in fundraising efforts both internally and externally.
- Board members should consider how much they can personally contribute to the organization financially and make a commitment to doing so at a personally meaningful level.
- Network for Good “Boards and Fundraising: The Role Every Board Member Can Play”
#6. Board members should receive no monetary compensation for their board duties other than reimbursement for board-related expenses.
State law does not restrict board members from being compensated, but any compensation must be recorded on the organization’s IRS Form 990. Board compensation may negatively impact public perception and public trust as well as send a message to funders, donors and the community about how the organization uses its funding.
- Adopt a policy stating that board members are not to be compensated for their board service beyond reimbursement for reasonable and documented expenses.
- National Council of Nonprofits “Can board members be paid?”
Note to Readers: Please be aware that certain words have particular meanings in this document.
- “Must” is used to describe practices required by stake or federal law, and is noted with a gavel symbol and highlighted in red.
- “Should” is used to describe highly recommended practices.
- “Constituents” describes people with a stake in the success of the organization and may include members, neighbors, clients, volunteers and contributors.