A nonprofit’s board of directors is the governing body of the organization. Its primary role is to create policies and procedures that support good governance. The board builds and then fosters an organizational structure that allows individuals to efficiently and economically carry out the mission of the organization. It assigns roles and determines an operational flow with the goal of creating pockets of self-motivated, and accountable individuals that report to committees, that in turn report to the board. More than anything, the board of directors is tasked with taking the long view, and focusing on what the nonprofit will be and should be like in the future.
There is a ton of material on the interwebs describing what type of people should make up your board; their attributes and qualities, and much of it I’m sure you can come up with on your own. For example, you need people who share the mission of the nonprofit. It will get you nowhere to have even well meaning board members who do not share your passion. They should have experience with or at least an understanding of the principals of good business practices. They should be strategic thinkers, and above all possess a character of integrity.
The organization will thrive or die by the actions of the board, so it’s important that every board member demonstrate a high level of self accountability. Beyond just having the legal responsibility of the nonprofit, board members serve as role models for the entire organization, and how they conduct themselves will be mirrored by the committee members and volunteers that actually deliver the nonprofit’s mission.
All that aside, the focus of this article is to discuss the actual types of people every nonprofit needs on their board, based on the roles that are essential to fill. It may be surprising to hear, but overall it’s important to note that you’re not necessarily looking for good managers. As I mentioned earlier, the board’s primary concern is governance. Governance establishes the rules and structure, and management works on fulfilling the mission under the rules and structure of governance. The managers in a nonprofit are committee members and volunteers. The strategists make up the board. Here are 5 personas every nonprofit needs on their board:
Chief Executive Officer
The Chief Executive Officer, or CEO is the ultimate decision maker, and president of the board. The main goal of the CEO is to set strategy and vision. While the board is responsible for creating strategy for the organization, the CEO is tasked with board strategy; for instance, determining what roles on the board need to be filled, and creating a board culture that will attract quality board members. In business, a high percentage of CEOs come from the sales side of the organization; for good reason. The CEO must know how to create alliances, share vision and values, and speak on behalf of the organization. They are excellent with people, social, and engaging in front of an audience. The person in this role must have experience leading a group. When you elect your board president, make sure they have the qualities of a CEO.
Chief Financial Officer
The Chief Financial Officer or CFO in any organization is responsible for three things. The first is as the treasurer. Treasury duties include keeping an eye on the organization's present financial situation. The CFO presents the current financial picture to the board during every board meeting. The second is controllership duties, which is gathering and presenting historical financial data. This will be needed when it comes time to share financial data with the IRS and your community. And third is forecasting duties. The CFO is a strategist that helps plan the financial future of the nonprofit. The CFO looks at ways in which to make the nonprofit run more efficiently, and teams up with the fundraising committee to set fundraising goals. This is an essential role because without sound financial reporting, forecasting, and stewardship, a nonprofit will fail. The CFO is typically filled by a banker or accountant, but anyone who has experience with business credit documents, (cashflow statements, P&L, etc), accounting, and forecasting can do the job.
This is a critical role on your nonprofit board. I’ve mentioned in previous posts
that successful nonprofits are always fundraising. In fact, you must spend as much time fundraising as you do fulfilling your mission. The reason is without money your nonprofit is doomed to fail. Simple. And this is why the Marketing Director is so important. In order to inspire your community, you must craft a compelling message, and systematically share it, ever increasing your audience. And that is the kicker! It is not just a creative role with some fancy writing, though certainly that's plays a part.
It’s also an analytical role. The Marketing Director must figure out who the audience is, and how to target them with a message that will inspire. To make things more complicated, the audience is split into several personas as well. You have individual donors, company donors, volunteers, members, and the general community, each of them needing different messaging. The Marketing Director is a creative scientist, and a unique blend of analytical and creative.
The role of The Connector is as it sounds, to connect. Many times this role is filled by (without being derogatory) a figure head. This person could be a past or present political actor such as a mayor or senator, someone with fame, or even the head of a prominent company. The Connector has influential connections at their disposal; both business and social relationships they can call on to help support your cause. Often, this persona heads the fundraising committee, or at least contributes regularly, and many times accompanies the Marketing Director on fundraising asks.
The role of The Glue is a bit harder to qualify, but in most of the organizations I’ve been a part of there is at least one. The Glue is good at many things, and often does not have a specialty. They are rapid learners, and if assigned a task outside of their skill set, they will figure out how to get the job done. The Glue is an operational necessity because of their ability to sit in on any committee and contribute. If you’re looking for an executive committee position for this role, Secretary is a good fit.
There are other personas a nonprofit board can benefit from depending on their mission. For example, if the nonprofit is developing a space, it would be helpful to have a general contractor, real estate agent, or developer to head up the construction project. You also may have noticed I left out Lawyer as one of the personas, and that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a lawyer on your board. It’s just (contrary to recommendations I’ve seen) I don’t think you should go out of your way to add a lawyer. While you can sometimes benefit from the legal perspective, the lawyer could never provide services to the board, paid or pro bono, because representing a board they are currently sitting on is a conflict of interest.
That said, it's not necessarily important that your board members come from specific vocational backgrounds. What is important is their skill set. When cultivating your nonprofit's board of directors, keep in mind these five personas as essential to a high functioning, mission-driven group.