Every nonprofit needs the support of a healthy Board to achieve its mission and reach a state of sustainability. So how do you know if your Board is healthy?
It’s a great question. And one many nonprofit professionals struggle with. Just Google “Is my nonprofit board healthy” (You’ve got to include “nonprofit” in there. Otherwise, all the top results have to do with the health of your charcuterie board – also important but not what we’re looking for today.) and you’ll get pages of articles that list different markers of Board health. It’s actually quite overwhelming (especially now that all you can think about is charcuterie).
After years of strategic planning and Board development engagements, we have found that a Board’s health can be measured easily and quickly with just three indicators: attendance, philanthropy, and fundraising.
Let’s dig into each a little more:
What it Is: This looks at the average attendance rate of each Board member over the past year. Make sure you consider new members’ start dates when calculating their averages!
Why it is Important: A Board’s three legal duties are the duty of care, loyalty, and obedience. A Board member must regularly attend meetings to satisfy these legal duties on an individual level. And a Board must have most of its members at each Board meeting to satisfy these legal duties as a whole. So, a Board with poor attendance is not only clearly an unengaged Board, but is also at risk of not meeting these legal duties.
Best Practice: Board members should attend at least 75% of meetings, whether in person or virtually. Anything less than that is a warning sign that your Board, and its members, are at risk of not fulfilling their three legal duties.
What it Is: This looks at the total dollar amount of financial contributions each Board member personally made over the past year. Many organizations refer to this as a “give.”
Why it is Important: Making a personal donation to the nonprofit whose Board you sit on shows that you are a team player. It’s literally putting your money where your mouth is. And a lot of grantors look for organizations who have a Board of team players. In fact, there are many funding opportunities your nonprofit will be ineligible for if you do not achieve 100% Board giving. And if that doesn’t convince you, most nonprofit Boards expect members to participate in fundraising (see the third indicator!); your ask is a lot more powerful when you have already contributed yourself.
Best Practice: Each Board member should make a personal financial contribution every year. The dollar amount is up to each Board – we’ve worked with nonprofits who have a minimum of $1 while others ask for significantly more.
What it Is: This looks at the total dollar amount of contributions each Board member has connected the organization to over the past year. These may include individual donations from friends, event sponsorships from local businesses, or in-kind donations such as backpacks for your organization’s back-to-school drive, etc. Many organizations refer to this as a “get.”
Why it is Important: While it is not a legal requirement, most nonprofit Boards expect its members to support its fundraising efforts, especially if it is a small nonprofit without a dedicated Development team. Board members have a unique and powerful position as decision makers when approaching potential supporters, and they should definitely leverage that. Not to mention making sure your organization has the necessary resources is part of your Duty of Care!
Best Practice: Many organizations include this fundraising expectation as part of a “give / get” and ask their Boards to bring in a minimum amount each year between their personal donations and fundraising efforts. While we personally believe give /gets should start at $1,000 per member per year, we’ve seen organizations set their give / get as low as $100 per year and others as high as $20,000 per year.
Why I’m Writing About This
It’s important for Boards to regularly check in on their health. But self-assessments can get expensive and time demanding. These three indicators are relatively easy (and cheap!) to track and report on. Not to mention they are fact-based – so no one can argue with the results! A lot of nonprofits we work with elect to create a score card for the Governance committee to help regularly monitor these indicators. You can download a score card template from our previous blog post, Help Your Board Members Meet Expectations.
You can also check out our Upcoming Webinars page to see when our next Board development webinar is coming up!
Additionally, check out the following Successful Nonprofits® resources if this post was helpful:
Blog: Help Your Board Members Meet Expectations
Blog: How to Fire a Difficult Board Member
Podcast: Your 3 Legal Duties as a Nonprofit Board Member with Bruce Hopkins
Podcast: Finding Your Next Great Board Member with Rob Acton