Board Management Best Practices Part II - The People 

September 2022

Every two years BoardSource, the leading expert on nonprofit board management, publishes the Leading With Intent report, which documents their recommended best  practices for managing boards. The report dissects survey results from a national  group of hundreds of board members and chief executives to provide a rounded  picture of the way boards function and whether they live up to these recommended  practices. In this blog post, I explore the 2021 Leading With Intent report for its  recommendations related to "The People" aspect of boards: their recruitment,  personnel policies and engagement with the CEO. Here are four things your  organization's board of directors can do to improve their composition and  relationships: 

1. Recruit members who excel at both the internal and external functions of the  board. 

BoardSource recommends recruiting board members who add value to both the internal and external activities of the board, which is easier said than done given  the board's vast number of responsibilities. CEOs overwhelmingly report having members who perform well on internal functions like strategic planning and  financial oversight, while the executives are far less confident in their board  members on external matters like fundraising and lobbying. This concurs with the  lower ratings that CEOs gave to the board than board chairs did on several external  functions such as "Monitoring Legislative and Regulatory Issues" and "Leveraging  Board Connections and Networks To Influence Public Policy Decisions." However,  many external activities received lower rankings than internal tasks from both sets  of respondents, so the problem clearly cannot be reduced to perceptual differences  between CEOs and board chairs.  

2. Target your recruitment for diversity, skills and community connections. 

Despite some racial progress among nonprofits over the past few years, diversity  among board members remains fairly paltry. While 78% of board members are  white, that figure increases among the more senior positions: 83% of board chairs  and 87% of chief executives. Clearly, boards must dramatically improve when it  comes to recruiting for diversity. Additionally, the report found that boards that  plan out the diversity, skills and community connections they want on the board  find overall recruitment to be easier for them than those that do not. While recruiting for diversity is a necessary goal on its own terms, it is also key to  improving the ease of overall recruitment.  

3. Enforce term lengths and term limits for committee members. 

BoardSource recommends enforcing term limits and term lengths for all committee  members, however, boards have a significant amount of ground to gain in this  area. Only 54% of boards follow both of these practices, while 24% have no term limits. Almost all boards have term lengths between 2-3 years, while most boards  limit committee membership to 2 or 3 terms. Nonprofits need to enforce these  limits to refresh the talent and engagement of board members, as well as ensure  that a diverse group of individuals can participate on these committees.  

4. Conduct an executive session at each meeting, with or without the CEO present. 

BoardSource also recommends that boards evaluate their CEOs at each meeting,  regardless of whether the executive is present. This regular scrutiny is vital to  holding the CEO accountable to performance goals, as well as maintaining a  constructive dialogue with them. However, only 26% of respondents reported  holding these sessions every meeting, while a frustrating 9% reported never  holding these sessions. It is perhaps unsurprising that CEOs only gave a C+ rating to  their board's performance of "Evaluating The Chief Executive Performance Against  Goals." Encouragingly, however, among those boards that do hold executive sessions, 64% of them hold the sessions whether the CEO is present or not. Boards  must maintain this two-way communication with the CEO to ensure that organizational goals are being met and critical attention is paid to the CEO's work. 

Nonprofit boards certainly have room for improvement when it comes to their  diversity and accountability for themselves and their CEOs. With these best  practices, however, boards can evolve past outdated and ineffectual habits and  create a more productive environment for the entire organization.  

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series where I explore BoardSource's findings on "The  Culture" and "The Impact" that boards seek to create in their work.


About PMA Nonprofit Leadership 

As a firm, PMA Nonprofit Leadership is constantly developing content and programs to help you in three distinct ways.  The first way is to help you be a thought leader in the nonprofit sector by producing weekly content through our podcast Your Path to Nonprofit Leadership. The second way is through individual coaching, training and our unique Mastermind Nonprofit Leadership program. The third way is to help your nonprofit organization through support of its strategic planning, board & staff development, and fundraising. Through our exclusive partnership with the Institute for Philanthropic Leadership, we also  guide aspiring nonprofit leaders through the virtual New Development Professionals cohort training program, as well as the annuaLeadership Gift School, now entering its 10th cohort season.  Let us know how we can help you! Join our community by signing up for our free resources here, and schedule a call if you'd like to learn more about ways we can help you on your journey to nonprofit leadership.