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Downes Murray International News

10 Action Steps

How can a person who wants to contribute to a nonprofit as a board member make a difference?

Based on my own experience as both a consultant and a board member, and in conversations with people involved with nonprofits, I have identified 10 action steps that a concerned and committed board member could initiate to optimise the efforts of their board and organisation.

This decade is an especially challenging time for nonprofit organisations. They are being confronted with growing demands for new and innovative services. At the same time they are experiencing cut-backs in staff, resources and funds. There are actions board members can take which should not require money or, in the long run, more time. These actions focus on what board members can begin doing now to strengthen the board. Attention to one of these items for a period of 30-45 minutes at the board’s monthly meetings can produce positive results and encourage the board to respond creatively to current challenges.

10 Action steps

1. Identify community alliances
Identify the community your organisation serves, as well as the community it turns to for funding. It is within these communities that the board must develop its relationships, do its work and build its support. Be clear about these alliances and how to maintain them.

2. Craft and recraft your mission
Your mission statement is the guide for setting priorities, allocating resources, and evaluating efforts. Review and recraft the mission statement every four to six months to ensure that it is an integral part of the organisation’s fabric.

3. Organise the board around functions
Most boards have four major functions – money, mission, people and credibility. The board needs a clear fiscal plan for raising and managing money. It must agree to the mission of the organisation and to the plans for its implementation. The board also has a support function for a number of people. Credibility is gained through the way the board advocates for the community’s needs and informs the community about the organisation’s accomplishments. Organise the board into task groups around each function and then check periodically for results.

4. Recruit board members based on functions and diversity
Recruit board members based on their potential contribution to one or more functions. Regarding money, board members should have experience with fundraising and/or access to financial resources. For mission, board members should have valid information about, and experience with, the diverse communities the organisation serves and relies upon.

For people, the board needs members with skills and insights into management and human development, as well as access to a variety of potential volunteers and supporters. For credibility, the board needs members who understand community advocacy and education.

5. Create a vision for your own work as a board member
Board members want a personal sense of contribution, appreciation and reward for their hard work. At the beginning of their tenure, help board members clarify their own specific aspirations and the goals they have for themselves while on the board. Discuss ways of mutually supporting each other in achieving these personal visions and goals.

6. Focus on outcomes and contributions not problems
Too much emphasis on problems can be overwhelming. The community – the citizens, the funders, the full-time and volunteer staff – need to know about what is working. Make a list of what is being accomplished and keep your community alliances informed.

7. Develop credibility
Credibility is gained through the way the organisation presents itself to the community, through the contribution and integrity of its programmes, and through the reputations of its board members. Determine the areas in which the board’s credibility with its community alliances needs to be strengthened.

8. Commit to quality
Quality programmes build loyalty and respect from those who benefit from them as well as from the staff who provide them. It is better to do less and do it well, than to attempt too much and do any of it poorly. Periodically evaluate your programmes and interactions for quality.

9. Be more strategic
Nonprofits can no longer separate themselves from the course of global events. Take time to scan the larger environment for trends and social changes that may positively or negatively impact the organisation.

10. Focus on sustainability
Focus for the early 1990s should be on sustaining the organisation – its visions, its approaches, its people, and its contributions – over the long haul. Set realistic expectations, avoid staff burnout, and appreciate those you work with.

With acknowledgement to The Grassroots Fundraising Journal December 1991.

This article first appeared in Fundraising Forum: Issue 27, November 1993.

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