Each of the 170,000 charitable organizations in Canada (85,000 of them are registered and recognized by the Canada Revenue Agency) was founded with a mission to support a community or solve a problem. However, good intentions aren’t always enough. An organization also needs strong leadership and plenty of funding to be successful.
Mission-oriented board members who clearly understand their organization’s strategy are the factor that separates non-profits that meet their goals from those that fall short. A non-profit’s board of directors provides guidance, encourages innovation, and is a key to its long-term success. In addition to advocating for the cause, the board guides an organization through external and internal challenges, and provides insight and vision to the organization.
Although differences in opinion and background are among the essential qualities for volunteer board positions, there are also certain characteristics that all members should possess to ensure a productive collaboration.
When even one board member lacks these qualities, it can negatively affect the efficiency of the non-profit’s governance. This is an expense that most non-profits can’t afford, given the limited resources at their disposal.
Each prospective board member should be passionate about the organization’s cause. Although plenty of professional fundraisers or wealthy individuals would like to get their seat at the board members’ table, finding the ones who are dedicated, enthusiastic, and invested in your mission is not an easy task. Some skills can be learned, but the innate ones, such as the love for animals or helping those in need, are more important.
Aside from being leaders, board members should be willing to learn from others and listen to them. Those open to learning will be able to share their experiences and viewpoints, knowing that others on the board are willing to learn from them as well. The members with this mindset are more likely to increase the potential of your volunteer organization in the long run.
Those board members who do their research, prepare questions, and familiarize themselves fully with agenda items are an invaluable asset to any board. These people always come prepared, both for meetings and some casual engagements, such as going through a contact list and thinking about who should be invited to the next outreach event.
Exceptional board members put non-profit’s interests ahead of their own egos. This could be something as simple as not speaking up during a meeting to allow others to share their ideas or something more significant, like volunteering extra hours for the sake of a common goal.
The non-profit sector is always on the lookout for board members who, apart from doing what is right at the moment, attempt to bring success to the organization long after their board terms are over.
You should try to find creative individuals to fill in your volunteer board member positions since those who think outside of the box often turn out to be beneficial to non-profit organizations in the long run. Creative board members will frequently introduce innovative ideas, thus leading to necessary vision changes.
Since board members are the face of an organization, they also need to know how to communicate effectively — not just with potential donors but also with other members of the board or other community stakeholders. Plus, in case of any disputes, you can expect good communicators to resolve all issues quickly and constructively.
Some of the best non-profit board directors are known for their honesty, integrity, and unwavering ethics. They are committed to building and enhancing public trust whenever possible. In addition to their innovative ideas, compassion for others, and infectious passion for the organization’s mission and vision, great non-profit board members often provide their guidance and direction.
Another important quality is flexibility, as it enables a healthy exchange of ideas.
Board members who approach their duties with an open mind are more likely to encourage their colleagues to share their perspectives and work toward mutually beneficial solutions.
Good intentions and high hopes cannot fund a volunteer organization, which is why having board members with fundraising experience is always beneficial for a non-profit. After all, an organization can greatly benefit from their ability to tap into their networks and bring in additional support.
In addition, board members also need to be skillful in managing a non-profit’s budget. Having this experience will help them understand whether initiatives are viable and what the return on these efforts will be.
No matter their experience level, great non-profit board members know how to build and nurture relationships with staff, donors, and community members. They are willing to guide and lead the executive director and serve as their sounding board, as they understand the benefits of partnering with them.
To remain productive, even the most talented and dedicated board members need good infrastructure and positive culture. Poor organizational practices, many obstacles to overcome, and the lack of proper communication will most certainly lead to burnout. This is how you can ensure that your board members feel supported for years to come.
To maximize the efficiency of your board members, you can make use of various tools available. They simplify the preparation process, and they can even allow all board members to access any information they need quickly.
Some of these useful tools include scheduling tools for easier meeting planning, agenda tools for meeting preparation, tools that serve as document storage, and more.
To make your board members even more productive, you can provide them with all the necessary documents and information at least one week prior to the meeting. This way, you will make sure they fully understand their role and expectations.
If you want your board members to stay inspired and continue to achieve the best results possible, it is a good idea to reward their exceptional behaviour.
There are all sorts of ways to accomplish this. For example, some organizations honour their outstanding board members annually. In contrast, others may prefer to be acknowledged privately — by receiving a thank-you note from someone who has benefited from their time and efforts.
Since there are different ways of showing gratitude — and, after all, you know each of your board members best — it is best to plan ahead of time and research how to reward them for their outstanding service.
Your senior directors might be the most significant training resource for newcomers. By having experienced members demonstrate the ropes, you will help them become acquainted with the culture of your non-profit organization in no time. Additionally, a senior board member will feel much more appreciated for their outstanding service.
In the end, when you have a functional board that embraces the qualities of trust, respect and inclusion, your board is more likely to have a little fun while providing their valuable time resources to achieving your organization’s goal. If your board has even the slightest hint of dysfunctionality, you should attempt to rectify it immediately. Not doing so will lead to a board environment that may deteriorate rapidly and become toxic, and potentially threaten the very existence of your organization.
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