Boards of Directors in Nonprofit organizations sometimes carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They have to not only be fiduciary leaders, but show leadership in the organization’s mission and objectives. It is a tough job.

With many non-profits fighting for an ever shrinking pool of funding, today it is more important than ever to have effective leadership on boards.   Boards have to be accountable to many others including: funders, staff and executive directors, outside stakeholders and influencers and often government agencies. But how does one measure effective leadership?

Let’s begin by defining leadership as it relates to boards and non-profits. According to the National Council of Non Profits (2015), good 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 making sure the nonprofit has adequate resources to advance its mission. If these things are done, we can conclude that there is effective board leadership. Board members are sometimes called trustees which means that the assets of a nonprofit are entrusted to the board members, who have a legal and fiduciary responsibility to see that the nonprofit is fulfilling its objectives.

Other good board leadership traits include presenting the best picture of the organization to potential funders and other organizations that support its mission and goals. Reporting financials and meeting compliance regulations are other aspects of good leadership. I have to emphasize here how important it is to be transparent and open with information as nonprofits come under regular scrutiny on financial matters. So board training is critical.

Board training should be on-going because often members are new in their roles. Board members also come from a variety of backgrounds (marketing, finance, operations) and may have not had to manage organizations in the past. Having a good recruitment and outreach effort is key to having the right mix off talent on boards. The on-boarding process should be efficient and timely as most board members are required to jump right in and get into the workings of the organizations. As mentioned, leadership development and training should be reviewed often (using outside resources is best) to keep up with current practices, regulations and industry standards.

In my many years of serving on boards both as co-chair and general board member, I always felt that the best boards work under the principles of collaboration and open communication. These areas are so important for the functionality of a good board. This all comes back to good leadership. How do you find and cultivate good leaders? Some think in the general public that good leaders are born and cannot be nurtured. I think that having a good combination of personality and work ethic are needed to make good board leaders. Of course, training and guidance – particularly for new members- is important for the board’s success.

The National Council of Non Profits suggests that a good board of directors have the following:

  • Legal duties such as duty of care, duty of loyalty and duty of obedience
  • New members get an orientation
  • An understanding of governance policies and accountability processes
  • Manage the executive director and determine their compensation
  • Have a clear job description and use the mission as a guiding principle
  • Accept training as needed to become effective leaders

Board roles change, and often the leadership no longer serves the best interest of the organization. Having the right leaders in place and conducting on-going training and board development, means that the organization stands a better chance for survival. Good boards are reflected in good organizations that are fiscally sound, accountable, diverse and living by its mission and objectives.