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Nonprofit Board | How to Form an Effective Board

The board is usually that component that many new organizations struggle to set up. And when they have formed one, they have no idea what to do with it. The law requires that organizations have boards and maybe you are setting one up to fulfil the requirements of the law and then be done with it. What most people fail to realise is that an effective board can give you the boost you need to succeed faster.

But what is a Board?

A board is an organ of an organization that provides guidance and oversight functions. It ordinarily should have people who are experienced in the organization’s field of work or interests. The board embodies the vision and mission of your organization and should steer the management towards achieving their goals. Hence, they are an important part of your organization and an asset.

Some Common Problems with forming a board

There are many problems that could emerge with forming a board. In this section, let us quickly cover a few of them.

1. A Board in conflict with the Mission and Vision of the organization

There may be a mismatch between the interests of the board and those of the organization. Founders may find persons who may be interested in their organizations but may secretly have other ideas that conflict with those of the organization. There may be perpetual conflicts as the board is too busy trying to change the organization rather than support the actualization of the founder’s goal.

2. A clueless Board

The board exists but in oblivion of what the organization works for. They are unable to connect with the organization beyond being on the formal documentation of the organization. The board rarely meets. Organizations like this, operate as if there was no board. The management usurps the roles of the board and never consults them.

3. Incorporating family members into the Board

This is a common practice that may often prove to be a mistake. Board members may let more personal issues and interests spill into board business. Don’t get me wrong, spouses and family members can make fantastic contributions to a board, but because the conflict of interest is a thing, it is often better to leave them off. An exception here would be if the organization is a family foundation and there is an intention to keep family members on the board. However, a good practice is to have professionals run the board.

4. Making up the numbers

Sometimes, a certain number of members is desired for a board but the founder is unable to make up the desired numbers. In such circumstances, convenience takes over and founders would coopt just anyone who is available and willing into the board. It is important to mention that there are opportunists who just want to identify as board members in new organizations even without having an understanding of what the board is all about. Founders must beware of these kinds of people because they have a vote and their interests may not align with those of the organization.

5. Desperation for big wigs and big names

I have observed in my course of work that founders often appear desperate to have big names on their boards. It is a common practice to have professors, successful entrepreneurs, politicians and other notable personalities on a board. The only reason they are on the board is for legitimacy; to appear credible before prospective funders.

An ideal Board

  • is interested in the founder’s motivations and goals.
  • is available and accessible to the organization.
  • is gender sensitive.
  • is committed to supporting the organization’s work.
  • believes in the organization’s vision and mission.
  • attends organization’s engagements.
  • makes contributions: intellectual, financial and others to the organization.
  • considers itself the true owners of the organizations.

In my final analysis, I believe a board does not need to be necessarily large. It may have a few persons who are genuinely interested in the organization’s work. The more they can contribute to the organization, the better for the founder. The board is a potent force for your organization, they can become a great resource for you or a problem.

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