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Managing Board Expectations: A Two-Way Street

Boards come in all shapes and sizes. Some with a cast of seemingly thousands of members and others with as few as six. Some with many committees and others with only an Executive Committee calling the shots. Some have a terrific composition and others could use some diversification. Regardless, all nonprofits (for the most part) are governed by Boards of Directors and rely on their voluntary expertise.

In our vast experience working with Boards, the most effective were those where there was absolute clarity in terms of expectations: of Board members by the organization and of the organization by Board members. Without such clarity, things can result in less than great outcomes.

Here are Byrne Pelofsky’s “Top Ten” list of organizational expectations of Board members:

  1. Take attendance at Board and committee meetings seriously. In other words, “SHOW UP!”
  2. Become fully informed about the organization and commit to its mission.
  3. Help ensure effective planning.
  4. See that the organization’s resources are managed effectively.
  5. Enhance the organization’s public image: speak well of it and speak often.
  6. Serve as an enthusiastic ambassador for the organization within the community.
  7. Utilize your personal and professional skills for the betterment of the organization.
  8. Give to the best of your ability and assist in the identification, cultivation and solicitation of prospective donors.
  9. Self-assess your personal performance as a Board member. Are you doing all you can?
  10. Assist in recruiting new members to the Board.

Here are our “Top Ten” list of Board member expectations of the organization:

  1. A clear and all-encompassing job description.
  2. Frequent communication about the organization’s programs, developments and potentially negative issues.
  3. Provide meaningful opportunities to serve.
  4. Use Board members’ time appropriately, not wastefully.
  5. Provide ongoing education and training.
  6. Serve as a responsible steward of the organization’s resources.
  7. Staff leadership will be active participants with the Board in raising funds.
  8. Ensure that Board meetings are substantive and that Board members are given every opportunity for meaningful input/participation.
  9. Assign adequate staff to assist Board members in their responsibilities.
  10. Actively participate with Board members in the recruitment and orientation of new Board members.

The #1 expectation is a clear and all-encompassing job description and we mean it! How many times have our consultants asked the question “Do your Board members have a job description?” and been told too often something like “Well, kinda, but it’s pretty old” or “We don’t really need one – everyone knows what they are supposed to do.”

Any prospective new Board member who is worth his/her salt is invariably going to ask the question “What am I supposed to do? Is there a job description I can review?” To respond in the manner quoted above will most likely result in a polite “Thanks, but no thanks…” response.

If you currently don’t possess a job description or have been thinking about revising your current one, consider the following:

  1. Become fully-informed about the programs and services of the organization and committed to its Mission.
  2. Be as personally generous a donor to the organization as possible and lead the organization to others who have the capacity to be financially supportive.
  3. Serve as an ambassador for the organization within the community, utilizing your connections to access community resources and volunteers and enhance the image of the organization.
  4. Identify those within the community who have influence and affluence and be a leader in recruiting them to the Board.
  5. Attend Board meetings on a consistent basis and actively participate.
  6. Serve on at least one Board committee, attend those meetings on a regular basis and actively participate.
  7. Be willing to utilize your professional expertise and the expertise of those you are associated with for the betterment of the organization.
  8. Be willing to perform a self-assessment of your performance as a Board member and make improvements.

Byrne Pelofsky has been engaged with a great many organizations in strengthening the effectiveness of Boards of Directors. To discuss how we can be of further assistance to you in this regard, call 816.237.1999 or email us at


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