Organizational capacity is comprised of several elements that, if maintained at optimum levels, enable an organization to deliver against its purpose, mission and promise and achieve its goals efficiently.
However, one powerful element of capacity is often overlooked. If leveraged well, this single element can drive progress exponentially and become an organization’s secret weapon for rising to the top of the competitive heap.
That capacity-building element is the board. Board members bring necessary expertise, networks and funding that benefit every type of organization (private, public, nonprofits, foundations) beyond what internal resources can provide. They also increase capacity at a lower cost than most other capacity-related resources such as employees, equipment and facilities. The cost of capacity resources includes time, and board members bring their own.
During the 2020 pandemic, most boards stopped meeting in person, and some organizations stopped investing in and nurturing their boards because leadership was focused on more pressing issues.
Post-pandemic, these factors have come home to roost as organizations are feeling the effects of a board that is less engaged and, in some cases, not performing as well as it once did.
As a result, many of my clients are seeking new ways to engage their boards and want a refresher course on governance.
But pandemic or not, when boards need to enhance performance and become effective governing bodies, there’s no training for that. What’s needed is development, not merely a workshop or two.
Here are three keys to leading a successful board development effort:
Review Your Board’s Structure
If you haven’t formalized board governance structures like committees, officer succession, nominating and term limits, this is the time to do so.
Governance structures provide guidelines that define how a board should operate which generally improves performance. These structures are interrelated and interdependent with each structure bringing another to the forefront.
For example, meaningful committee work reveals what skills are needed on the board, and understanding the terms of board members and officers allows the board to develop a succession plan and nominating process to accomplish those goals.
Review Your Board’s Practices
Governance structures are necessary for realizing the full capacity of a board, but they’re only as strong as the board’s practices.
Governance practices help ensure accountability for decisions, actions and performance. They contribute to a high-performing board and board culture. It’s important to define these practices and expectations so that a strong board culture develops.
Clearly state expectations for attendance, committee participation and fundraising. Doing so will make it easier for board members to show up and step up.
Focus On Board Engagement
It’s hard to reap the benefits of enhanced board structures and practices without also focusing on board engagement. Engagement doesn’t just happen spontaneously, it must be cultivated and nurtured by leadership. That’s why a board that intentionally works on increasing engagement will have a higher degree of success.
Figure out the rhythm and format for board and committee meetings. Develop creative ways for members to participate, interact and strategize. Build in social events and time for networking. Rally the board around supporting organizational leadership and track board work against the organization’s strategic plan.
These are all important board member responsibilities and ensure the board stays focused on those topics and activities that are most critical to your organization’s success.
Remember that board members who feel connected will be better at supporting the organization and, ultimately, increasing organizational capacity in the ways only a board can.
Author: Ann Quinn