Nonprofit Boards: Where to Start?

Nonprofit Boards: Where to Start?

Starting a nonprofit ignites a passion inside us all. We have a chance to put a mission to work; to put ideas into practice; to make a difference in the life of someone or something in this world. 

At the get-go, the process of establishing a nonprofit often gets romanticized. Quickly, however, we realize that there is a lot of nitty gritty and day-to-day maintenance that eats away our time. 

Arguably, one of the most stressful and time consuming aspects of running a nonprofit is creating and managing a board of directors. Like it or not, a board plays a central role in the organization, and thus the CEO and staff must make the most of it. 

To get ourselves oriented, let’s play the who what where when why game. 

First things first, Why

Why do we have a board anyways? 

While it may seem like extra work, a board of directors plays a critical role in the management and balance of any nonprofit. The way we see it, a nonprofit board plays three core roles: 

  1. Brings added value to the organization and its staff
  2. Is an effective force for good governance (as explained by the National Council for Nonprofits
  3. Manages the financial stability of the nonprofit & fundraises


Who do we call to be part of the team? 

Gathering the right board members can be an exhaustive process. We don’t want someone who will take the subject matter lightly and not be truly involved. We can’t have board members who are family members or business associates. What are we looking for in a board member?

  • We are looking for individuals with a variety of perspectives and opinions on the subject matter  
  • We need people who understand and believe in the mission. Just because they’ve got a good standing or reputation in the community does not mean they are the right fit. 
  • We want professionals who have the time and passion to be involved, not just show up with their checkbook 


What does the board need to do to be effective and successful? 

We will dig into this topic much more in this series, but at the core of what we need is the following question: 

What does the nonprofit need to push its mission forward?

As we will continue to learn, there are some functions of the board that cannot be overridden. Some of those basic duties, as Propel for Nonprofits explains, include: 

  1. Provide strategic leadership, 
  2. Manage financial stability, 
  3. Serve as an ambassador for the organization, 
  4. Support and supervise the executive director or CEO, and 
  5. Ensure healthy governance. 

On top of those core duties, a board of directors must help the organization grow.  

Let’s focus on this last one for a second. In order to help the organization grow, we will want to consider what the nonprofit needs to push its mission forward. Does it need a volunteer program? A marketing strategy? Legal advice? Grant writers or event planners? 

The extra activities that are performed by board members should align with what the organization needs to push its mission forward and the individual strengths of the board members. 

It’s a lot to think about, but don’t worry — we will work on this one step at a time. 

When & Where

Lastly, what do we need to know about the when and where of board gatherings? 

This all depends on the type of board you have — is it a governing board that oversees staff, or a working board that does the bulk of the nonprofit’s work? Governing boards should meet at least two times per year, but be in contact much more frequently in the meantime. Working boards will meet much more frequently and maybe even in focus groups to work on particular goals. Meetings can take place wherever you’d like, and online meeting options can be considered depending on members’ locations around the world. 

Where do we go from here? 

In upcoming posts, we will review the following topics to explore more about nonprofit boards: 

  • Roles & Responsibilities
  • Getting Legal: Policies to Consider 
  • Board versus Management: Who Does What
  • Meeting Effectiveness: Let’s Not Waste Our Time 
  • Why Join a Board: What’s in it for Me?

Have any questions? Looking to start your own nonprofit? We’d be happy to help, contact us today.