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A Consultant’s Advice to Non-Profit Boards

A Consultant’s Advice to Non-Profit Boards

My wife and I are veterans of a dozen arts and charity boards, and herein some free advice from a world-class consultant:

1. Do not allow people to serve on the board who simply want the position on their résumé. Members need to meet three conditions: a) they have the expertise and intellectual capital (e.g., marketing or strategy) needed; b) they bring the capacity to donate and/or raise funds from others personally; c) they are capable and willing to attend all meetings and appropriate events.
2. Boards should stick to strategy and funding and evaluation of staff, but must leave daily operations to the executive director, managing director, artistic director, and so on. Most board time is wasted on how much to charge for a poster or what meal to serve at a fund raiser.
3. It is unethical for board members to do business with and to profit from their position on the board and relationship with the organization. (And when executive directors receive $400,000 to run blood banks, for example, there is something desperately wrong.)
4. Boards should be relatively small, have elected officers, and run according to Robert’s Rules of Order. Minutes should be maintained and distributed within 48 hours.
5. Board members should be evaluated annually and term limits should be in place. (You’re a board member, not a potted plant.)
6. Boards should meet quarterly, not monthly. Executive committees and subcommittees should meet more often.
7. Understand that the future funding potential is in individual contributions, not corporate and not government. Consequently, professional development people are invaluable.
8. Unless the recipients of the art or charity or service are improved, the effort isn’t effective. Merely perpetuating the organization is insufficient.
9. There should not be a cozy relationship among the chair and staff. The relationship should be cordial, but it’s the chair’s job to provide guidance and critique and evaluation, which is tough to do for a good friend.
10. It’s better for board members to argue and debate than to mindlessly listen to reports and rubberstamp what’s placed in front of them.

Non-profits have been failing at an alarming rate. That’s not the economy’s fault, it’s the board’s fault.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

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