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How to Foster Healthy Dynamics in Your Non-Profit Board of Directors

Today, I want to examine what makes a board healthy. Yes, I said healthy.

Healthy Board Dynamics
Fostering Healthy Dynamics on Your Non-Profit Board of Directors

A healthy Non-Profit Board of Directors is dependent on two things: 1) knowing the responsibilities of the board and delivering on them, as discussed in Board Success Blueprint: Know your Responsibilities, and 2) the maintenance of constructive and collaborative communication alongside a focus on strategic decision-making.

Board dynamics are as fluid as the folks who sit around the table. While board culture is defined in the bylaws, constitutions, and governing documents, sometimes this culture gets buried by strong personalities or competing priorities.

So, what makes a healthy board?

Healthy boards:

  • Encourage constructive dialogue and diverse perspectives.

  • Enable everyone’s voice to be heard.

  • Look at scenarios from multiple perspectives.

  • Organize and run board meetings that start and end on time and are well-run.

  • Focus the agenda on the strategic priorities.

  • Establish clear lines of division between Board and Executive Director activities.

  • Have a trust-based relationship with the Executive Director.

From the perspective of individual Board Members, healthy boards:

  • Empower members to contribute to discussions and get involved in committees.

  • Grow their leadership on the Board and in the community.

  • Represent the non-profit in the community at events and celebrations.

  • Work together to identify and recruit new Board Members.

  • Have open, honest and transparent conversations.

Ten Characteristics of a Healthy Board

As you can tell from the lists above, healthy boards demonstrate ten shared characteristics:

  1. Diversity and Inclusivity: By encouraging different perspectives and population segments (diversity), and ensuring that everyone is welcomed, valued, and respected (inclusivity), your Board positions itself to explore the broader and deeper factors influencing situations and make informed decisions.

  2. Clear Roles & Strong Governance: A Board that understands the division between strategy and operations knows where its work starts and ends. Combined with a commitment to governance best practices and adherence to bylaws, constitution, and policies, the Board can focus on what it needs to do and leave the staff to manage the operations.

  3. Commitment to Communication: Communication is a critical factor in Board success. When a Board is committed to open, honest, transparent communication and holds itself accountable to deliver on what it has said it will do, Board dynamics will be positive.

  4. Strategic Leadership & Planning: The Board sets a long-term strategic plan (direction/goals) and ensures alignment of this plan with the existing Vision, Mission, Values and Policy. Working with the Executive Director, who manages operations, the Board leads the review and adaptation of the strategic plan to ensure that the organization can adapt to changes in the marketplace.

  5. Financial Stewardship: One of the critical responsibilities of the Board is to ensure financial resources are managed well. This means asking hard financial questions, committing to learning how to read financial statements, and making decisions that reflect the non-profit’s needs and priorities. It’s about financial transparency and accountability.

  6. Compliance and Legal Oversight: The Board is responsible for ensuring that systems are in place to monitor and ensure all legal and regulatory requirements are adhered to. This is a crucial responsibility of the Board and one they must prioritize when directing the Executive Director.

  7. Commitment to Continuous Board Improvement: A Board is only as good as the people who sit at the table and the knowledge/expertise that they hold. To thrive, a commitment and desire to continuously learn about best practices for Board governance, financial management, human resources, etc., is required.

  8. Active Board Participation: An active and engaged Board is one where every member is committed to being prepared, learning what they need to learn, sharing their voice and ideas, and representing the organization in the community. Strong, active Board Members commit to attend Board Meetings, get involved in Committees, and share the non-profit’s story in the community to raise awareness.

  9. Community and Stakeholder Engagement: Board Members representing the non-profit in the community as organizational “Champions” are extremely valuable. Champions are often involved in multiple community initiatives, connecting their various groups, and finding opportunities for building new relationships/partnerships.

  10. Passion and Commitment to the Vision and Mission: Board members passionate about the organizational mission and vision raise the intensity of the Board’s conversations and engagement. People with passion are enthusiastic, eager to act, and committed to making change. When an individual Board member’s passion aligns with the non-profit's collective efforts and broader goals, magic happens.

A healthy non-profit Board is dynamic, adaptable, and responsive to the needs of the organization and the communities it serves. Regular assessments, open communication, and a commitment to continuous improvement are essential to maintaining a strong and effective Board of Directors.

How does your Board fair when considering these ten characteristics of successful Board culture? Where could improvements be made? What are you excelling at as a Board? Share you thoughts below.

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