7 Signs You're a Great Board Member

December 15, 2008

Posted in Management.

The Board of Directors does a lot of really important things: raising money, giving money, providing leadership, and generally guiding the organization.

But some board members are better than others. They’re the ones that push the non-profit forward, help accomplish great things, and take the organization to the next level.

1. Generous

Board members must give financially to the organization. This is key to the organization for two reasons. Obviously, the organization needs funds to continue, but they also need support they can point to. When your fundraising people are asking for money, it means a lot when the board has 100% giving rates. They lead by example. After all, if the board members are willing to invest (knowing what they know) then it says the investment is a good one.

2. Connected

Great board members also help bring in new volunteers, prospective board members, and of, course, donors. Well-connected board members will bring more of their same generosity and attitude. Regularly ask your board members to identify prospects.

3. Entrepreneurial

Non-profits have to do a lot with little. Entrepreneurs think of innovative ways to do just this. They stretch a dollar, find a solution to a problem, or create something new. Most importantly, they challenge the status quo and want to make things better. Every board needs at least a couple of entrepreneurs.

4. Patient

Life in a non-profit is tough. Sometimes there are a hundred fires and you have to pick the ones to put out. And it can take a long time to gain momentum and see progress. The growing demands of time and money are a constant cause of board burnout. Even if you’ve recruited fantastic board members into the organization, it’s no good if they resign after a couple of months.

5. Decisive

When it comes down to getting things done, it’s critical that your board members are able to make a decision. Otherwise, you’ll end up with hours of meetings discussing instead of doing. It helps to have agendas and people who know how to stick to them.

6. Visionary

A favorite quote from 1899: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” (Charles Duell, Commissioner of US Patent Office)

The board must be visionary enough to see change ahead and help adapt before it’s critical. Economic factors, social changes, funding shifts, etc. all have an effect on your organization.

7. Invested in the mission

Most importantly, your board members must be invested in the mission of your organization or they’ll have nothing to sustain them through the rough spots. The mission is the point of the organization, and everyone needs to understand and support it. This is the difference between good and great; believing in a mission is why people make heroic efforts and accomplish the impossible. Don’t underestimate the power of your mission.

Where do you find these people?

I wish I could point to a single place and say, “this is where you find great board members.” We’ve been fortunate to have one of these board members take over our board development committee, and he’s recruited a good number of other great board members. We’ve pulled in folks from our volunteer base, our business networks, volunteer sites on the web, etc. We’re self-employed independent contractors and they’re business managers. We’re partners at big firms and they’re retired. We’re 20-somethings to 70-somethings.

So the answer, in short, is to look everywhere. Great board members can come from anywhere.

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