6 tips to becoming a better board member

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We have the best board in town!” I hear this said more often than not. And yet, our phone rings and our inbox fills up with “Can you help me with the board?” This paradox has me asking the simple, but maybe loaded question, “How do you know you have an effective board?”

Today, I want to explore how we can show up individually as board members in a way that supports the organization’s health, vitality, and resiliency. Think of this as a checklist you can use to assess your own level of engagement and that of your colleagues.

And for CEOs, this can serve as a barometer of what to look for and encourage to support healthy, functional governance.

6 principles for becoming a more effective board member

  1. Be a sense-maker. At its core, the board as a whole is responsible for setting strategic direction, mission clarity, and wise policies. As an individual, you can strengthen that strategic work by helping the organization’s leaders make sense of the world by being deeply engaged in understanding the current situation and its history in order to better forecast the future.
  2. Don’t be a conversation dominator. And respect the diversity of voices by listening to understand. We often say there is wisdom in every chair. As an active, high-performing board member, your questions, as well as your capacity to listen to others, enhance decision-making.
  3. Be an opportunity optimizer. Leave your personal agenda at home. When you say yes to serving on a board, you’re saying yes to SERVE, not to manage. There is no place for individual tempermentalism at the board table. Instead, bring complex, big-picture questions and opportunities to the organization.
  4. Be a curious anthropologist. By now, it should be clear that one of the chief characteristics of a high-performing board member is CURIOSITY. Because good governance is about providing critical capital (intellect, reputation, resources, and access) to strengthen the organization and, in turn, the community it serves, you must be a thoughtful and engaged leader, not a competent but passive steward. (Thanks to Cathy A. Trower, PhD for these wise words!
  5. Be the link. As board members, we work as a bridge to connect the community to the organization we serve and vice versa. Often referred to as ambassadorship, I find it helpful to be a bit more pragmatic and specific: Actively stand for the organization’s mission by speaking about the work and impact, showing up at events with nametag on and an open hand of welcome, and saying yes to advocacy whether at the city, county, state, or federal level. Your voice speaks volumes of credibility and carries influence beyond measure. And invite your network to connect with the mission so they can decide if this is something they can get behind.
  6. Have fun! High-performing boards have social time together, enjoy each other’s company, and encourage and support leadership to make the board meetings the central place where governance happens.

For continued learning, download this PDF resource from BoardSource.

Why it matters

Think back on your own motivation for becoming a board member. Was it to make a difference? Give back? Build skills and credibility? Whatever your motivation, nonprofit governance plays a critical role in civil society by promoting accountability, transparency, trust, mission alignment, sustainability, compliance, stakeholder engagement, and organizational effectiveness.

As a board member, you empower your organization to fulfill its mission, advance social change, and make meaningful contributions to the well-being of your community.

Now what? Taking action

Join me in elevating nonprofit governance to a more effective and engaged practice by committing to improving your personal effectiveness as a board member this year. Choose one of these six practices as a starting place and put your attention on building that particular muscle month over month by just 1 or 2%.

Remember, small steps go a long way in the long run!


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Hey there, I'm Kimberley

Welcome! I believe our social sector organizations are at the forefront of making here better. With more than 33 years of diversified fundraising and nonprofit experience, I partner with courageous organizations committed to building clarity and confidence. Let’s connect and chart your nonprofit’s path to thriving. 

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