New resolutions for your nonprofit board

By Regenia Bailey / Guest Editorial

I’m not going to suggest that your board should resolve to eat healthier, exercise more or cut back on its drinking this year, although all are laudable goals. I am going to suggest, however, that your organization tap into January’s zeitgeist and develop some plans to increase its board’s effectiveness and engagement in 2015. Here are three suggestions to make that happen.

Resolve to provide board members with the tools they need to do their jobs. Some tools may vary from organization to organization, but make sure your board members have the basics they need to do their jobs well.

Each member should have a manual that contains organizational documents, policies and information about board responsibilities. Having this information all in one place – either in print or electronically – enables members to access basic organizational information when they need it.

Provide members with a 2015 board calendar that includes scheduled meetings and other events that members are expected to attend, so that they can appropriately plan their time. Sending the dates via an Outlook, Google or iCal invitation can help ensure that carefully planned schedule actually makes it into your board members’ calendars.

If possible, make sure your board members have seen the organization’s facilities and understand its day-to-day work. Arrange for the board to tour the organization and provide the opportunity for members to see it in action. Let members hear from someone who has benefited from your organization’s programs, and arrange for the board to see a sneak preview of an upcoming exhibit or performance. These kinds of experiences bring your organization’s case statement to life and help members maintain their emotional connections to the organization.

Resolve to provide opportunities for your board to develop its leadership abilities and grow as a team. If you haven’t already done so, schedule an annual retreat. Retreats provide boards the opportunity to examine goals and work plans, have deeper discussions about challenging organizational issues and explore new ideas. The retreat schedule should also provide the time and space for board members to get to know one another a little better and to form closer connections as a working group.

Working on the annual plan helps bring board members together around the organization’s mission and its goals, and can serve as a valuable team-building exercise. Naturally, annual goals are tied to your organization’s strategic plan. If you don’t have a strategic plan, make 2015 your year to develop one.

Consider holding more executive sessions – board meetings with limited or no staff members in attendance – to provide opportunities for the board to discuss sensitive topics, such as executive compensation, succession planning or board performance issues in an open and frank way. While boards are accustomed to holding executive sessions to review the organization’s financial audit or for the chief executive’s performance review, such sessions are not often used to address other organizational issues, particularly board performance. Resolve to look at some best practices around using executive sessions and include these on your board’s to-do list for this year.

Develop an assessment that encourages the board to examine its work and processes. Often it’s the little things that burn out board members: meetings that start late and run long, meetings that don’t follow the agenda, not receiving meeting materials in an efficient or timely fashion, or seeing a lack of follow-through on board decisions. Having the board set goals around how well it does its work can bring problems to light and motivate improvement in problem areas. Once the board has discussed the items it would like to improve, it can develop brief assessment measures to track its progress.

Resolve to make it a good year for your organization. Take time to review the successes, the failures and the missed opportunities of 2014. Learn from them and use those lessons to set your goals for 2015. Determine what your organization needs to succeed in the upcoming year and resolve, as a board, to address those needs.

Here’s wishing you and your organization a successful 2015!