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5 Tips to Help Your Board Help You

March 7, 2016 by Rima Zabian0


The role of a board in governing any organization cannot be overestimated. How the members of your board perform can make all the difference.  In my experience, one of the most important components in creating and sustaining a healthy well-run co-work space is not only that board members understand what is expected of them in relation to the governance of the organization, but that they are also fully prepared to embrace their role.

The suggestions below will ensure that your board members are able to support the goals of the organization and help you thrive! Here are five tips to set you on the right path.

Tip 1 – Complete a board matrix! Understand the people around the table and what they are able to contribute to the team. This helps you in two key ways. First, you will identify and see gaps in the skills that are most-needed. Second, some funding sources will pass over an organization that does not reflect its community.  Don’t let demographics be the only factor you take into consideration when aiming for diversity on your board. Above all, you want your board members to be leadership material!

Tip 2 – After completing the matrix, assess the skills of the board you currently have. I’ve worked with non-profits and charities in both Canada and the US.  The healthiest boards tend to include the following skill sets: legal expertise, financial management or accounting experience, marketing experience, fundraising experience, effective communication skills, individuals with a good network of community and organizational contacts, as well as political expertise, and those who have experience working with the media.

Tip 3 – Outreach – my favourite! The best-case scenario is one where you are able to develop personal contacts with potential board members and maintain a list of candidates throughout the year. Doing this allows you to easily draw on this list when it is the right time to make an approach. Be sure you keep track of key skills, abilities, interests and capacity as you create your list that way, when you do reach out, you are making an approach that leads to a good fit for the potential board members and your organization.  When a board position comes up, let your candidate know about it at least 4 – 6 weeks in advance. The first and most effective place I usually go is to existing board members, staff and volunteers.  Let them know what you are looking for and ask them to spread the word through their networks, including family, friends, colleagues and associates, and neighbours. Many community newspapers offer organizations complimentary space to advertise for this purpose.  Many community newspapers will often have a section that will allow you to advertise free for this purpose.  There are also many online resources I’ve used over the years, including community volunteer organizations. They can help you to find candidates through an online matching program.

Tip 4 – Training new board members and identify the kind of board you have.  There are nine formal “types” of boards and tasks are dependent upon the type of board you have. Appropriate training is a key component and I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough.  Always try to complete this task soon after your Annual General Meeting.  I’ve given governance training to a number of organizations over the years, and it’s surprising how common it is for boards to have never received any guidance on how to do this very important job or indeed, what is expected of them in terms of their role.

Even if your new board members have previous board experience, every organization is different and you need to make sure that all of your team members are on the same page from day one.  So, if you don’t already have a board orientation manual, make it a priority! It will help people to understand their role and it will increase board members’ confidence in the organization. The manual will also show them that you take their position and time seriously. Another great way to help board members feel valued is to give them an opportunity to shadow other board members, or even staff. Mentoring is also an effective tool.  Having the resources and knowledge to be able to engage in the organization is essential for board members.

Tip 5 – Evaluation. While most boards recognize that one of their responsibilities is to complete an annual performance review of the Executive Director, CEO or President, they will often overlook evaluating their own performance. In my experience, either the Executive Committee or the Governance Committee always completes this. This could be a blog in itself!  It is most effective when each board member evaluates themselves, as well as their peers, and then the functioning of the board as a whole! There are many sites that discuss these kinds of reviews. One I have used and enjoy is Please share others you have found to be useful.

People who are passionate about the organization’s mission and who have knowledge and understanding of what’s expected of them are always more effective board members! By putting just a few measures in place you can begin to attract and engage great people who can take your organization to the next level.


About Our Blogger:

Rima Zabian

Rima Zabian is a successful business and community leader dedicated to building relationships, strengthening our community fabric and boosting the bottom line. Rima’s diverse career has led to her current position as an independent consultant working with non-profits, charities, and entrepreneurs in various capacities both in Canada and the United States.  Rima was introduced to the NCN through her work as the executive Director of 25OneCommunity, a not-for-profit organization that provides co-working and meeting space for creative nonprofits, freelancers, consultants and entrepreneurs. As Executive Director, Rima oversaw the operations, finance and programming hat helped to ensure a stable, inclusive and sustainable alternative for groups and individuals looking to connect, collaborate and innovate in response to pressing social challenges and precious resources.

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