E very board must ask, “How do we organize ourselves so that we can effectively and responsibly do the work that we envision?” I suggest several basic principles and practices, elements of an architecture of engagement to cultivate effective, leading boards. This architecture has many more elements than can be described briefly. However, it is an easily enacted framework. The community foundation board for which I worked, several years as the sole employee, led the organization from a startup with $88 banked to a regional philanthropy that has raised and distributed more than 10 million. A great board did it! How?The following are parts of that core of practice and culture. In money and power, be transparent. 1. Why? In my small rural community, in a 5-year period, volunteer leaders stole more than a million dollars from their respective nonprofits. Their boards trusted these leaders who hid behind unaudited financial statements and inadequate safeguards. To promote transparency, never allow control of the money to be in one person’s hands. Require annual audits.The board must receive accurate monthly financial statements and understand where the money comes from and where it goes. Further, every board member must be a donor, and the amounts given by each known by all. The actual amounts are
Encourage and promote a loyal 3. opposition. You want trustees who will stand-up and call things out that don’t make sense. The “rubber stamp board” that only fulfills a legal requirement does not lead. CEOs who insist on controlling their boards foreclose the board’s fiduciary trust. High performing trustees will quickly walk away from such governance arrangements. We need well trained members who are loyal to the organization, who will push back and ask tough questions on behalf of the owners when needed. A nonprofit’s owners are, of course,the community whose interests and well-being are entrusted to the board. These cornerstone principles will help lead a governing board to greater leadership by cultivating an engaged relationship built on trust, training, and empowerment between the executive and the board, and between board members. Andy Morikawa serves as IPG Fellow at the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance where he does consulting work, coordinates the Community Voices Program, and hosts a weekly radio talk show. Andy serves as Executive Director Emeritus of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley, trustee and officer on the boards of directors of Community Housing Partners, the New Mountain Climbers, SustainFloyd, and Via International.
not important. What matters most is that all board members give. What a powerful basic declaration when you can say 100% of your board members give and that you have annual, independent financial audits. Orientation and training are key. 2. Frequently, nonprofits orient new board members by taking them to lunch with the CEO and handing them a board notebook. Such preparation short circuits the governance process and suggests erroneously that there’s little needed from a trustee other than good hearted common sense. A comprehensive orientation lays out the organization’s values and principles,expectations of board members, systems, programs and structure, and its culture, practices, and traditions. This requires not only multiple sessions but also an extended experience based arc of personal trustee development. For example, requiring board members to first serve for a year in an advisory capacity on a committee provides great benefit to the organization. Every member of the board has a full year of orientation and training before joining the board; much more effective than lunch and a notebook.