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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Profile of an Effective Nonprofit Board Member - Kevin

In regards to the charitable sector, one thing is for certain, a classically modeled nonprofit board will inevitably have instances of instability with the organizations executive director. What makes nonprofit boards so susceptible to crisis? One would think that the legal restrictions forbidding the disbursement of profits would fare well in weeding out those volunteers who would be perceived as “trouble makers.” Instead, this is the very mechanism for which much contention is embedded into the organization. Reid and Turbide divulge that:

“Not-for-profit board members are volunteers, unpaid and avocational, often chosen more for their boundary-spanning abilities than for their professional knowledge of the field. In this sector, lack of expertise in the organization’s field of business makes board monitoring difficult.” (Reid and Turbide, 2011, p. 3)

There exist many intrinsic characteristics of a dysfunctional board member that impairs his credibility and ability to indulge in good governance practices. Recruitment committees who conduct selection processes for board recruits must be able to identify such characteristics. A lack of dependency, failure to understand the organization’s mission, a lack of passion for the organization’s mission, and the inability to be trusted with sensitive information are but a few of the disqualifiers. It is these characteristics which must be reckoned during the recruitment of new board members. Rather than merely accepting a board volunteers solely on their perceived abilities to span social and financial boundaries, selection processes for new members should encompass consideration of personal characteristics and qualities that align with the organization. The Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals provide that board member possess the following fundamental characteristics:

  • Vision and Leadership: members must be able to strategize through policy to enable the nonprofit organization achieve its mission.
  • Advocacy, Stewardship and Integrity: members must have the ability to serve and promote the interests and goals of the organization while at the same time remembering the interests of the public and the organization's intended beneficiaries.
  • Knowledge: members must have the willingness to become thoroughly familiar with the mission and how the organization actually carries out the mission day-to-day through its organizational structure and operations.
  • Personal Commitment and Diligence: members must be willing to put in the necessary time and make the necessary effort to fulfill board responsibilities, including understanding strategic, financial and operational issues facing the organization, asking questions and following up as needed, engaging personally with the organization, whether through financial support, advocacy, networking, personal service, or other personal support activities, and staying current on sound governance principles and working to apply them to the organization.
  • Collegiality: members must have the ability to work well with others and must also be respectful of the ideas of other board members. (2008, p. 15)

So does this happen? Maybe so, in some far off utopian place. However for the most part, nonprofits, especially the smaller ones, must take what they can get. Often, recruiting board members resembles a P.E. class picking kickball teams. Those with the most desirable skills are picked first and those with little or no skills; well you know what happens to them. Recruiting board members with the expectation that they will possess all of the desirable characteristics while concomitantly possessing some area of expertise, ties to financial resources, and certain demographics is a rather ambitious goal, and one that is very unlikely to be met. Certainly there will be disagreements among existing board members during the recruitment and selection of new members. When disagreements arise, board members must accommodate opposing views in order to find a balance between desirable characteristics, areas of expertise, and demographics.


Reid, Wendy and Johanne Turbide. (2011) “Board/Staff Relationships in a Growth Crisis: Implications for Nonprofit Governance”, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 1-18.Web.

Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals. (2008) Governance for Nonprofits: From Little Leagues to Big Universities. Web.

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