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9 Tips to Proper Nonprofit Board Leadership Training

As an executive director of a nonprofit board committee, you are surrounded by multi-talented individuals that are determined to shape the future. The future of your nonprofit is heavily reliant on successful board performance to carry over into the projects and Nonprofit Board Leadership Traininginitiatives the nonprofit is hoping to execute. Board members are undoubtedly leaders that employees within the organization respect for their experience and leadership qualities.

However, despite their established role within the nonprofit, leaders, or at least great leaders, are always looking for opportunities to learn and improve their skills. In order to set the nonprofit for long term success, having the proper leadership training is vital for the sustainability of your nonprofit and its goals.

In this article, we will provide you 9 tips on how to develop the leadership skills of your board members to ensure your nonprofit achieve its potential and commits to continuous self-improvement.

Listen to Your Staff

Actively listen to both the people working at the nonprofit, the board members, the donors, and the people your nonprofit serve. Nonprofit board leadership is about listening not talking and asking the right questions is the key to learning. Make it a priority to monthly go out and ask questions so you can learn and stay in touch with your nonprofits mission.

Have a suggestion box outside your office door that provides an opportunity for proactivity and anonymity to employees. Another effective way of listening to your employees is by creating surveys. These surveys ask specific questions addressing the issues prominent in the organization. Leave a text box at the end that allows staff to suggest what they believe needs to be fixed or who needs to work more efficiently to ensure the organization runs smoothly and promotes continuous self-improvement. Surveys should not take long to make or fill out, making it a very effective method of compiling useful information to help develop effective board leadership. Great and easy to use survey tools include SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, and HubSpot.

Everyone holds opinions of some sort about all types of individuals. If you feel there is a problem with the board or an employee,  actively listen. Professionally ask for genuine thoughts and concerns without making any comments. Don’t jump to any conclusions just gather information. Sometimes you can learn a lot just by listening about the leadership that is needed.

Additionally, free up time on your calendar any time a donor, new board member, or volunteer wants to voice concerns and suggestions to improve the organization. Encourage and thank your staff members that voice themselves, as it leaves a positive impact on these proactive employees to continue striving for ways to improve the leadership and efficiency of the organization.

Promote Constructive Conflict

Imagine you are calling a board meeting and the members take their seats and begin discussing ways to further improve your organization. After a 20-30 minute summary regarding the events of the past week and upcoming initiatives, everyone is in total agreement with one another and the board meeting ends before its scheduled time. Sounds like a great meeting right? No. Nonprofit board leadership is about getting a variety of different opinions and sometimes that involves conflicting ideas.

Tell your board that you want different ideas no matter how out there the idea is. Also, don’t pass judgment on those ideas just listen and make a list then later circle back to the ideas that are interesting. After brainstorming ask the person to expand in ideas you think sound interesting. Your board meeting should be idea factories.

If everyone is in constant agreement with the plans of the nonprofit, this means only one perspective is considered, leaving other options completely unexplored. All boards of directors must promote a culture of constructive conflict where decisions should be questioned and discussed before acting upon them. Yes, there will be longer meetings. Yes, the boardroom will have moments of tension. However, to create a strong board culture, there must be a consideration for different perspectives that leaders should always be open to exploring.

Leaders that are not afraid to challenge the status quo, deserve their board membership, but the passively silent board members are disrespecting the nonprofit and its attempts to create a better future. Thus, when training members and forming your leadership team, encourage board members to speak up during meetings to exchange critiques and suggestions with one another. True nonprofit leadership is when staff speak their minds and defend their perspectives for the betterment of the nonprofit. Let everyone on the nonprofit board know this.

Create Succession Plans

Board membership should always carry an understanding of the established succession plan and a blueprint of future qualified candidates. When filling board vacancies, it would be wise to compose a list of potential replacements prior to unexpected and premature departures. Consider staff in nonprofit management that know the insides of the organization in addition to having experience in important decision-making. Personal accolades and experience should be factored into the succession plan, but knowing if a candidate is willing to innovate themselves, allows for leadership development centered on the nonprofit’s needs.

Management and board governance are two different areas that require different leadership styles. Nonprofit managers handle the day to day operations and are assigned the role of delegating staff and volunteers. Their strong communication skills can be further developed into good governance skills necessary for the board’s success. As managers transition through board training, their mindset will be shifted to effective strategic planning, ensuring that they will contribute to board development.

Treat Everyone Equally

Executive directors of their respective organizations must treat all board members on the same level of support and critique to ensure harmony within the office. When board members are going above and beyond towards shaping the nonprofit, don’t forget to praise their work. If there are individuals within the organization that are key funders, make sure to privately thank them for their generous contributions, but never let it be the sole basis for future board membership.

Nonprofit board members represent and reflect the organization as a whole. Treating each member of the organization respectfully and equally, creates a professional and harmonious work environment needed to make your nonprofit organization lucrative to donors.

Hold Members Accountable

Whether it’s the committee chairs, new board members, or the nonprofit executives, no individual should receive special treatment when it comes to enforcing accountability. If board members are consistently late and fail to practice what they preach, leaders of the nonprofit must let them know. Confronting board members can be uncomfortable, but it ensures to the rest of the board that no one in the organization has a higher status over the standards set by the organization.

Organizations in the nonprofit sector are looked upon as one of the most admired institutions in society due to the selflessness and high ethical morality demonstrated by its members. No matter if it is a volunteer or an executive, individuals that demonstrate a weak code of ethics can incite bad publicity upon the organization, ultimately pushing donors to support a different organization.

Board member training should be centered on the foundation that there must be a focus on accountability in the organization. Just like any group of members, the board is only as strong as its weakest link. True leaders know how to sharpen their peers, which can be achieved by holding them accountable to a high standard of excellence and ethical behavior.

Provide Educational Resources

As mentioned before, what separates great leaders from leaders, is their dedication to learning more. When developing your board members’ leadership skills, emphasize the need to learn more. Board members have a variety of key roles within the organization that require specific knowledge to their respective approaches to problem-solving. However, there are several universal lessons in leadership that can be applied to any board position.

Take time to research useful articles or social media posts that can provide valuable insight to your board members. If there is a post/article that would resonate with a certain individual, then make the effort to reach out and suggest it to them personally. Not only will it build a sense of camaraderie between members of the board, but it will inspire members to join into the growth-mindset most nonprofit organizations act on. Furthermore, there are several educational organizations that aim to further improve the leadership qualities in nonprofits across the US. Boardsource.org is a very useful resource that provides educational opportunities such as board assessments, books, and downloadable articles that can further develop your current board to improve upon their weaknesses.

Try to send out applicable content to your board every week that provides grounds for interesting discussions and critical thinking opportunities. By exposing your nonprofit’s leaders to thought-provoking topics, it ensures the commitment to educating one another and sharpening each other’s minds.

Prepare for Board Vacancies

No one could have predicted the devastation that the COVID-19 pandemic would incite upon the US economy. People are developing more conservative spending and donating habits, thus financially straining organizations in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Board meetings might have transitioned to Zoom calls. Maybe some board members had to be laid off or taken temporary leave. All of these changes occurred so quickly that no amount of preparation could have perfectly positioned your organization for success. However, whatever obstacles your board has faced these past couple of months, your leadership training should now account for externalities your organization could face in the future.

Your organization could turn to board service openings when vacancies occur in times of financial difficulties. Having a network of board volunteers to continue the nonprofit’s mission, even during downtimes, is vital to an organization’s longevity. When training temporary board members, provide the same knowledge and effort to develop their leadership skills as you would provide to long-term members. Not only do board volunteers bring unique perspectives to board meetings, but they receive an outsider’s perspective of the current board, allowing them to highlight the weaknesses of the boardroom without bias.

Lead By Example

The amount of dedication an executive director demonstrates when leading their nonprofit speaks volumes to the rest of the members. Humans are drawn to the characteristics leaders inhibit. Attributes of charisma, perseverance, passion, and powerful rhetoric, inspire people to follow. The misconception that “leaders are born” must be abandoned when empowering the next wave of future leaders. Some people are born with stronger leadership qualities than others, but effective leaders are made. The same experience and leadership training that landed you in this position to lead others to an important cause, should be instilled in your board members.

There is no better way of developing the skills of your organization’s leaders than by practicing what you preach. Effective leaders are able to inspire others to reach their level of productivity when they complete what they set out to do. Whether it is devoting extra hours into upcoming projects or taking time to mentor members of the organization, the extra steps that executives display make an everlasting impact on their subordinates.

The efficiency of a nonprofit board is ultimately based upon the diligence of the executive director. The more time you spend in developing and selecting the right candidates for board membership, the higher return on investment your nonprofit will achieve.

Encourage Improvement

In the life of a nonprofit organization, the commitment to supporting or reaching a certain goal will take years to achieve. It is the small wins that pile up day after day that leads to ultimate success for a nonprofit. In order to ensure the longevity of a strong boardroom culture, there must be an emphasis on everlasting self-improvement. As mentioned earlier, true leaders know that skills must be continuously honed and knowledge consistently grown.

As an executive director, training board members can never be the priority for your nonprofit. However, this should not undermine the significance of strong leadership development. Encouraging board members to go above and beyond in their work and continuously sharpen their leadership qualities can positively impact everyone within the organization. The tone set by previous board members must be consistently followed or improved upon by every new board member that takes a position on your board. Provide the tools and mentoring needed to jumpstart the great leadership every board member is capable of generating.

The future of our society rests on our leaders.

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” – Albert Pike

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