Board of Directors

8 Essentials of Effective Board Governance

A cohesive governance plan is essential for a new board of directors to be effective in their goals. Here are a few tips to implement for success.
Alex Hay
Written by Alex Hay

People and passion draw people to serve on a board. Establishing clear and actionable best practices early will help them fulfill that role well.

As eager as most board members are to get started, their first meeting can present new challenges and questions they had not anticipated. While new board directors have a responsibility to serve according to an organization’s mission, the organization in turn has a responsibility to prepare them with training for the intended job.

New board directors will surely get a lot out of governance training, and existing members can provide valuable experience and perspective. Regular participation in governance training will optimize the impact of all board directors, increase board engagement, and enhance their overall experience of serving on the board.

Being a board director is a leadership position that carries many responsibilities, which may include substantial legal, financial and ethical dilemmas. Because of this, it is vital for members to know all that their responsibilities entail.

Developing a cohesive board governance plan is a key part of a board’s work. It’s an activity that can build or improve board dynamics and help boards to operate on the same page, as it forces boards to spend quality time together. 

Here are some best practices for establishing an effective board governance plan:

Put each members' job description in writing

Just like any other job, board members should get their job descriptions in writing. Governance training will help you to understand the role of nonprofit board directors and what information to include in board job descriptions and board service agreements.

Provide an orientation session for new board members

Every new board director should have the benefit of a thorough board orientation. Veteran directors make good board buddies or mentors for new members to answer their questions and get them engaged.


Outline the mission of the board

Your board directors are valued ambassadors and part of their job is to spread the word and promote your organization. It’s helpful for board directors to learn how to explain the organization’s work in a few minutes such as developing an elevator speech.

 

Conduct all business by an agreed-upon set of rules

Most nonprofit boards use Robert’s Rules of Order as the parliamentary procedure for facilitating board meetings. It’s crucial for board directors to understand the proper rules and order for motions. Due to the complexity of the rules, it’s also important for board members to learn how to locate parliamentary rules for every situation they encounter on the board.

Practice self-evaluations

Boards commonly conduct an annual evaluation of the executive director. Best practices also encourage board directors to evaluate their individual performances, as well as the collective performance of the board. Board self-evaluations provide an opportunity to take a deeper dive into issues like the frequency and length of board meetings, quality of meeting facilitation, board director skills, board recruiting, board member preparation, whether board directors are forward-thinking, have good attendance, and more. Written or online surveys are a couple of common ways of conducting board self-evaluations.

Facilitate networking opportunities

In certain instances, your organization may have to recruit professionals like lawyers, bankers, accountants, and insurance professionals to serve as consultants based on their area of expertise. The penalties for legal mistakes will cost your organization money and impact your reputation. Board members should be trained on how to identify the type of expertise they need and how to go about finding affordable or free sources of professional assistance.

Developing effective agendas

Your board directors may need training in how to develop a clear agenda that states clear goals, priorities, and timelines. To be fully prepared, board directors need to get their agendas and know what’s included in a consent agenda in advance. They also need to be familiar with how to write board meeting minutes and properly approve them.

Meeting facilitation

Good facilitation paves the way, keeps the agenda moving along, and engages all board directors. Poorly run meetings will leave members of the board checking their emails during meetings. Without good meeting facilitation, board members may have poor attendance and lose their sense of passion for serving on the board. Well-run meetings allow the board to accomplish their goals and that will be reflected in the work they do.


Good governance will be evident in all that a board accomplishes. Fundraising for nonprofits is highly competitive and your donors and grantors will reward you with more grants and larger grants for actively pursuing good governance practices. Finally, your board directors will benefit greatly from the knowledge and experience that they receive as a member of your nonprofit board.Your blog post content here…

Originally published Jun 3, 2021, updated June 3, 2021

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