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7 Essentials for Working Effectively with Your Board

by: Christine Swartzendruber, Chief Technology Officer

  1. Set a clear vision and establish guidelines from the beginning.
    Don’t wait until there’s a problem to set clear guidelines. If you have the opportunity to be involved with structuring the board and selecting members, make sure you include anything and everything that could be a potential issue in a written document or charter. Select board members who share your vison and have common values. Look for people who aren’t afraid to be in opposition when necessary, but aren’t unnecessarily negative and divisive. Balance is key when choosing a cohesive group of people to steer an organization in the right direction. Focus on every detail right from the beginning, and avoid major issues in the future.

  2. Have a clear agenda typed out and ready before every board meeting.
    Typically it’s a good idea to have a very clear agenda to follow. Provide an agenda to every member of the board prior to the meeting, so they can review discussion points and be prepared. Your board members most likely have other commitments and their time is valuable. Don’t waste their time and yours by winging it. Choose the most important items needing discussion. List questions that need answering, and leave a little time for brain-storming. This format will keep your meetings on time and running smoothly.

  3. Keep the lines of communication open.
    Be available for comments and suggestions and keep an open mind. Let your board know you’re flexible when it comes to different ways to tackle goals and meet objectives. Make yourself available to discuss options, planning and action items. If a board member offers to help, use the opportunity to understand their perspective on your mission, and share your thoughts with them. Board members were selected based on their skills and experience. Take the time to learn from them, you might be surprised how much they have to offer.

  4. Ask for feedback from individual board members before presenting to everyone.
    You have a great idea and you can’t wait to take it to the board, get their unanimous approval and move forward. It’s great to have this type of enthusiasm, but remember not everyone sees things the exact way you do. A great way to vet an idea before presenting it, is to ask a few board members individually for their thoughts and feedback. This can help you test the waters before throwing it out there in front of everyone at once.

  5. If you have to bring a problem to the boards attention have a proposed solution ready too.
    Problems are part of running a non-profit organization, they can’t be avoided. If the problem is big enough that you must share it with the board, think it through. Come up with one or two solid solutions before you even bring it to their attention. They’ll be grateful you have some ideas for them, and impressed with your problem-solving skills.

  6. Delegate tasks and planning to the board.
    You have a board because it’s impossible for you to do everything yourself. Effective planning and implementation are critical to completing tasks and soliciting outside contributions. Board members have a network of friends and associates. Ask them to make introductions for you, so you can expand your own constituent base. Enlist your board members for events, fund-raising and volunteer recruitment. Having support from your board is fundamental to your success.

  7. Remember you and the board are members of the same team. You all share the same mission.
    For you and the board to work effectively together, you’ll have to operate as a team. Remember as an executive director, or non-profit manager you’re an important part of that team. Be honest with your board. Resolve personal issues quickly. Individuals should trust one another and have professional relationships that support the mission of the organization.


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