Some questions for a nonprofit board to consider (even before you hire a consultant)

October 12, 2011

As I work with non-profit boards, these are some of the questions I usually raise.  But you can use these on your own.  I’d welcome feedback about which are most important, which need to be changed, and what should have been included but was not.

Mission / Vision:  Does the organization have a clear mission statement, and a vision of what it seeks to achieve? At what point in time might the mission be accomplished? When has the board last revisited mission and vision? Are staff, board, and executive aligned on mission and vision?  Are mission and vision statements referenced when program ideas, and internal policies are being considered?  Does the board notice when stated mission and actual function are different, and can it take constructive action?

Stakeholders:  Who are the stakeholders, or potential stakeholders? How does the board connect with or represent the stakeholders? If some stakeholders are not in some way represented on the board, how does the organization maintain ties with them? To what groups does the organization feel itself accountable?

Board membership:  How are Board members chosen? Does the board include people with experience to evaluate and clarify the organization’s need for legal services, accounting, publicity, marketing, program development, fundraising human resources, etc.? Is the board primarily a policy-making body, or does it seek is it a “working board” (providing some of these services)? Are there term limits for board members? How does the board identify and cultivate new members with the right skills, experience connections, and commitment?  Is there a training protocol for new board members, and a regular check in with continuing board members as they get re-appointed?

Board  meetings:  Are board meetings well attended lively events, that engage the board and that result in useful dialog and decisions?  Do board members come away excited and involved? Is there a clear agenda, with board questions presented in enough detail and accompanied with enough background material?  Are meetings run in a manner that encourage candid sharing, creative problem solving, and the generation of consensus whenever possible?  Is the board able to listen carefully to minority views, to see how these might provide helpful insights and guidance?  Are minutes taken carefully, and then reviewed by the board?

Board fundraising involvement:  Is the board united and consistent in its financial support of the organization, with all board members contributing as they can? Are board members able to help identify and contact potential donors, interpret program to them, and assist in the actual solicitation process?

A culture of giving and support:  Does the organization regularly seek general program support, distinct from any capital campaign or other special fundraising?  Is there a newsletter or other form of reporting to the giving community?  Do contributors feel they are stakeholders, and yet recognize that program decisions need to be made within the organization (and not by contributors)?

Finances:  Does the board receive regular financial reports that they can understand?  Is the board able to use these reports for planning, for spotting potential problems, and for assessing the financial health of the organization?  Are there adequate checks and balances, with multiple people involved in authorizing disbursements, writing checks, recording contributions, etc.?  Are audits or financial reviews done with appropriate frequency.

Conflicts:  Are differences of opinion, and stronger conflicts among board and staff, acknowledged and addressed in a creative affirming process?  Is outside help brought in as needed to help deal with specific conflict situations, and to offer training in effective communication?  In what ways does the board review the work of the Executive Director?

Evaluation:  Does the board have regular evaluation sessions, to review its structure and function — both as seen from within, and as experienced by staff, the executive director, and other stakeholders?  Does these evaluation sessions become a creative opportunity for growth and change?

General:  Does the board ask regularly, “What are we trying to do? What’s our goal? How does our mission statement guide us?  How will we know that we’ve succeeded (or not)? what is the appropriate role for the board, and for staff,  in this organization?

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One Response to “Some questions for a nonprofit board to consider (even before you hire a consultant)”

  1. This is a wonderful outline! But I always bristle at the term “engage the board” – as if they are outsiders who must be entertained by the insiders. (And in fact, so many board meetings are dog and pony shows where the board sits and passively listens.) But if a board is actively involved, if they take responsibility and are seen and acknowledged as having that responsibility, the organization will be ever stronger. And then this clear outline will be of so much use.

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