What Kind of a Non-Profit Board Do You Have?
By Chris Morris
There are several kinds of non-profit boards. It is good to know what kind of board you are joining or are on and what the expectations are of directors. Many people are recruited to boards of directors without a clear understanding of what kind of board they have joined and what the expectations are. This leads to good people having unfulfilled expectations, or not doing the job the organization needs. Here are some examples of the types of boards of directors:
The Working Board. My first non-profit board was a Little League. Everyone had a job and there was a job description for each job. When you had a meeting, everyone reported on their area of responsibility. All of the directors were directly involved in the operation of the league.
On most weeknights and Saturdays you could always find the board members at the field since they were in charge of divisions, maintenance, the snack shack etc. Meetings were casual in the off season, but every two weeks once baseball started. If something broke, a board member usually fixed it!
A Fundraising Board. When my friend Brother Korte recruited a new prospective member to the board of directors for the Blind Center he would always ask them if they knew about the three R’s. That would be reading, riting and rithmitic. He would next explain the three G’s to them. On a fundraising board the three G’s are you give, you get or you go. When you know what kind of board you are looking at up front you can decide if that type of a board is one for you.
One of my friends was recruited to the board of a community opera company. Nobody explained to him when he was recruited that there was an expectation that you would fundraise or donate $15,000 a year. When his three year term was over, he was gone.
Organizations with Fundraising Boards are usually run by an Executive Director. The job of a fundraising board is not to direct the ED. Usually there is an Executive Board that supervises the ED, does the reviews and handles the salary if there is one. The job of a fundraising board is to fundraise. Usually, the board’s option if they do not like the job the Executive Director is doing is to replace the ED.
A Governing Board. Some non-profit boards have governing boards what meet regularly, receive reports from the Executive Director and other staff, then give direction as to how to deal with issue and set the policy of the organization. Governing boards often do things like approve individual expenditures, programs and actions. They need to meet regularly in order to do these activities.
How do you tell what kind of a board you have? Look at your activities your schedule of meetings and what you are asked to do. If you meet at longer intervals and report on each member’s activities you are probably a working board. If you meet monthly or more often and you approve individual actions of the entity you must be a governing board. If your meeting focus on fundraisers and donations and is run by a strong ED, you are probably on a fundraising board. Of course there are some hybrid forms of boards. Some do have more than one function.
Have you seen board with conflicts? Many times these are caused by directors who do not understand what kind of board they have and who do not understand their role in the organization. Someone who goes on a working board, starts criticizing the management and does not work will usually be shown the door or just not asked back. The same goes for a director of a fundraising board who does not raise funds.
You do not have to be rich to be on a fundraising board. Lots of people with talents work with non-profits and give of their time and talents rather than their treasury. Several of the directors in organizations I know work on their major fundraisers, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars by hard work or getting donations of money, gifts and services from others.
Governing boards usually get their directors by election or a very selective process similar to a for profit board. Since these boards meet more often, they require a commitment and level of knowledge beyond that of some other types of board. They often are looking for members with specific talents i.e. lawyers, accountants, marketing etc.
Working boards are the easiest to join. Most of our working boards are always looking for new folks to lend a hand. The good boards look at their members, what they are doing and evaluate the activity level of their directors. Non working members of working boards are often dropped at the end of their term, thanked for their work and replaced with someone who will work harder. Most non-profit boards do not fire volunteers, they just replace them.
If you are asked to join a non-profit board, ask what kind of board it is and what their expectations are for directors. It will make for a better experience and relationship for everyone involved.
(Chris Morris is the 3rd Vice President of Lions in Sight and has served on several nonprofit and for profit boards over the last twenty-five years.)