More than perhaps any other stakeholders at a nonprofit, board members are expected to embody the ethos of the organization and to support its goals in any way they can. Members of the board raise funds, set policy, track progress, and step up to take on extra duties to help the nonprofit reach its goals. As senior members of the team, board members at nonprofits have to be ready for anything.
Ambassadors for the Organization
In theory, each board member represents the organization and can act as the public face of the nonprofit or even of the cause itself. It’s crucial that the people picked for the board have a working knowledge of what the organization does and how it works, as well as a strong sense of the cause as a thing worth doing. This attitude helps members carry out one of their chief responsibilities: raising funds. Donations are the lifeblood of any nonprofit, and it’s the directors’ job to go out and get them. This can be done online, with everything from donate buttons on the nonprofit’s website to high-profile internet campaigns and tie-ins with social media influencers and businesses. Negotiating these relationships is the crux of a director’s job, and every member of the board should be trained in how to do it ethically and effectively prior to joining the team.
Members’ Roles Within the Fund
Board members are usually just as busy managing the nonprofit as they are in trying to fund it. The board of directors writes and enforces the rules governing how the organization operates. As a group, the board monitors income and expenses, sets budgets, and plans for the future. The board tracks expenses and reports to both the government and the community as if they were stakeholders in a corporation. Ideally, every dollar that comes into the fund through donations can be tracked, and a reasonable accounting of how the money has been spent can be given on short notice. Keeping clear records helps the nonprofit comply with the laws governing how organizations are run and helps inspire trust (and future donations) from the community. The board members need to keep all of this straight. To get this done, the board has to attract members with a variety of talents. People with accounting and finance backgrounds are of course ideal, but experience with management and human relations, logistics and planning, law, and taxation are equally valuable for board members. An effective board usually has all of these skills represented among its members. Members’ backgrounds can, in themselves, become a fundraising tool. Potential donors usually want to know that their donations are effective in support of the cause, and that the money is being handled honestly and efficiently. Stacking the board with experts in managing money, experts in the nonprofit’s particular field, and even an ethicist or members of the clergy shows the gift-giving public that the board is serious about getting the most out of donated funds, which helps to inspire trust and make the flow of money into the nonprofit larger and more stable.
A Little of Everything
While specialists bring a certain gravitas to the board, the wide range of duties and the sometimes unexpected demands that board members have to deal with practically forces members to act outside of their normal experience. Miscellaneous duties can include meeting with celebrities and dignitaries, organizing events, making phone calls, and sometimes sitting down to write personalized thank-you notes to patrons. While not strictly fundraising activities, when done well, these impromptu jobs have the effect of bringing in more revenue for the nonprofit over the long term. Encouraging a culture where everybody, even the senior members of the board, is expected to roll up their sleeves and tackle the challenge of the day helps smooth out rough patches in how the organization operates and gives the all-important impression of efficiency and competence that keeps donations coming in. This is where the board members’ authority within the organization comes in handy. Board members can cut through red tape and clear up the inevitable logjams every nonprofit has to overcome. If, for example, a potential donor cancels a scheduled meeting in Ottawa at the last minute because he’s been called away on business to Toronto, a board member with sufficient authority can save the day by skipping the usual procedures and buying his own plane ticket to the city where his prospect plans to be, thus keeping his appointment and possibly negotiating a substantial donation from what would otherwise be a missed connection. This hypothetical is one of many ways that a motivated, flexible board of directors can boost the fortunes of the nonprofit organization it serves. Board members are the brains, hearts, and sometimes hands of their organizations. By reaching out to donors, running a tight ship, and personally managing all the little emergencies that can come with the job, good board members are possibly the most important element in keeping a nonprofit funded at the level it needs.