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A 2015 Stanford study on boards of directors in nonprofit organizations found that “over two thirds (69 percent) of nonprofit directors say their organization has faced one or more serious governance related problems in the past 10 years.” In fact, according to management consultant Peter Drucker, “Boards of nonprofit organizations malfunction as often as they function effectively.”
So how does an organization improve effectiveness and increase board performance? Earlier research focused more on improvements of procedural documents, structures, policies and bylaws. As one author put it, “earlier works examined how the governance game was organized; we concentrated on how it was actually played.” Most current recommendations can be boiled down to the three P’s of board performance: People, Process and Planning.
Author and consultant Jim Collins calls this the who, then the what: Getting the right people on the bus first, and then figuring out what they are going to do. The right people can mean those with competencies that can help advance the mission of your organization, but it can also mean people who will actively participate and try to be a part of the “team” rather than just sitting on a board for the title. It also means getting rid of the wrong people.
People also refers to the concept of developing meaningful relationships with board members, executives and committee members. This “interpersonal dimension” is key to creating a sense of inclusiveness among trustees and cultivating leadership within the board.
The most important part of any nonprofits process should be adherence to its mission. Once the organizational mission is determined, every step of every process should serve to further that mission. Are you selecting new board members? How do they help advance the mission? Updating your bylaws? Are they further advancing the mission? By interpreting every action of the organization through the lens of mission, you can help keep the organization on track and increase its effectiveness. Process also includes clearly defining roles and responsibilities, expectations and anticipated outcomes. Developing a training program for new board members? Creating a new committee? How does it further the mission?
Next to mission, strategic planning is seen as the most important tool for creating effective boards. High-performing boards should not be focused on the day-to-day activities of your nonprofit but should be looking one year, three years and five years down the road. Long-term planning is the process of determining how you get from where you are to where you want to be. It includes developing performance metrics to help you measure success. This involves analyzing how you are doing things, what is working and what isn’t. Creating a five-year plan for your organization? As Peter Drucker says, “A clear mission translates into operational goals.” So how do those goals tie into your mission?
Bo Buchanan is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. Buchanan has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from the University of New Mexico, sits on the Arizona CURESMA Board of Directors and is the President of the George Roskruge & S. Barry Casey Masonic Memorial Library & Museum of Arizona.