High-Functioning Boards, Part 1: Asking the Right Questions

One of the strengths of RMA’s consulting work with nonprofit clients is that we can quickly and efficiently become familiar with the unique issues confronting each organization. Doing this kind of research typically involves making onsite visits, observing board and staff meetings, conducting individual personal and small group interviews, and designing electronic surveys.

Have you ever considered conducting a mini-SWOT of your board–that is, specifically focused on the board as a governing body? It can be very effective in helping boards see where their focus in recruitment should be and their energies directed during meetings. We have also found that using an electronic survey tool, and in addition to the usual strengths/weaknesses conversation, opens up the opportunity for important dialogue that might not otherwise take place.

In your case, questions such as these should be part of the ongoing conversations that an executive director and/or board chair have with each director throughout the year. Over coffee or lunch, consider the following:

  1. What specific skills and contributions do you bring to the Board and the organization?
  2. What sorts of skills/talents are missing from the Board and should be recruited, in your opinion?
  3. How involved have you been in Board member recruitment, and are you prepared to actively pursue new Board members to build [organization]’s outreach and fundraising capacity?
  4. Please describe the groups or associations you are affiliated with (i.e., Rotary, university alumni, business or professional groups, churches).
  5. What kinds of fundraising successes have you had with other organizations, and which strategies are you most comfortable with?
  6. Do you believe the responsibilities of a board member are well defined?
  7. What do you believe are likely to be the most fruitful fundraising tactics for [organization] in the next year?
  8. How do you feel about your own success as a Board member in supporting fundraising for [organization]?
  9. How do you feel about other Board members’ success in supporting fundraising for [organization]?
  10. What materials or training would help Board members be more successful in supporting fundraising, in your opinion?

It is also true that “housekeeping” issues–including the time, location, duration, preparation for, participation in, and overall conduct of meetings–can be critical to your board’s success. We’ll look next week at these seemingly minor issues and how your board can evolve to a much higher functioning body.

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