Giving Boards A Helping Hand

Continuing The Conversation: February 2014

Board Education Daniel StolleI’ve been addressing board issues and needs in my recent blogs. It’s not that the board is the only entity that matters in an organization. But board performance is pivotal and can make or undermine an organization. As I’ve also disclosed before, I’m a board member of a Hudson Valley nonprofit, and from that perspective I understand the responsibilities and challenges for board members.

Take, for example, the question of what board members should know to be effective. How do they get that information? How do they stay current on requirements of nonprofit governance and conversant on their organization’s programs? From what I observe, those questions aren’t asked nearly enough.

Mistaken Assumptions

The concept that a board needs to be educated is missing in many organizations. I see two common reasons, both related to how board members are recruited. When board candidates have a long association with a nonprofit, say as a donor and volunteer, there’s often an assumption that the person knows the organization’s inner workings. That may be accurate to a degree, but it likely doesn’t extend to vital board roles such as governance. That’s not usually a donor’s domain.

The other is about convincing would-be members to join a board. Emphasizing that there’s a volume of information to be learned contradicts the fiction that serving on a board is not a real commitment. It is – and all the more reason why board members need to be educated, as well as cultivated, oriented and celebrated.

I’m not saying every organization operates from these assumptions. But every organization knows how it brings on board members and how those board members are – or are not – trained in their roles.

Honesty and Transparency

Board education promotes honesty and transparency. It encourages board members not to hide their questions or confusion. It underscores that board membership requires informed judgment – and deserves acknowledgement and respect. It confirms the importance of an organization’s mission and programs by clarifying the details and data that can help board members make sound decisions and develop committed donors.

For example, our board is introducing the use of what we’re calling “Palm Cards” to give board members a literal helping hand with program information. Each card – created as a simple PDF – describes a program, whom it serves, key goals and data that quantifies results. The intent is to ensure every member works from accurate information and consistent talking points in overseeing the organizational mission and making our case for support. It’s an idea that any organization can use and a resource that can benefit every board.

Many T’s to Training

Moving forward, I’m increasing my professional focus on board development. Coming soon to my website are enhanced board education services. Training is not a one-size-fits-all prospect. It’s training with a small, medium or big “T.” Single sessions, workshop series, comprehensive reviews and board assessments – there are many ways to make board training fit an organization. But nothing can be effective without first recognizing that board education is essential.

Interested in exploring options for education and training of your board? Let’s talk.