BoardSource introduced something new at the 2017 BoardSource Leadership Forum called Quick Talks — entertaining and rapid-fire mini-sessions presented by conference participants for their peers. It turned into an informative and fun event. June Miller was one of those participants who gave a presentation, which she encapsulates here.
Hundreds of factors can impact the success of a nonprofit organization. Or is it thousands? Once we start listing everything that can make the difference between nonprofit success and failure, it is hard to know where to stop.
Instead, let’s look at four factors that we know exist, 100 percent of the time, in every successful nonprofit organization. If you can establish the following four factors within your organization, your potential for success is immense.
1. A well-informed, passionate, engaged board
Is every one of your board members well informed and knowledgeable about the following?
- The role that the nonprofit sector plays in the well-being of our communities.
- The role that the board of directors plays in the success of the organization AND the roles and responsibilities of the individual board members.
- The mission of the organization and the need that exists in your community.
- Why, as an individual, he or she decided to become a board member.
Your board members may have to be trained in some of these areas. They may not come to your organization fully informed, but you must have a plan in place to raise the level of knowledge for every member.
Passionate, of course, means that the board member genuinely cares for the organization, its mission, and the constituents it is charged with serving. The mission of the organization should rank in the top two or three personal priorities of the board member.
Engagement is evident when the board member shows up for meetings well prepared, participates in the discussion, ask questions, and holds everyone, including him or herself, accountable. Engaged board members participate in events and activities and advocate for the organization.
2. A relationship built on respect, candor, and open communication between board members
Trust is the key to open and honest communication between board members. Members must be able to express their opinion and share their knowledge without fear of retribution from other board members on a personal or professional basis. This open communication will improve the results of the board’s work and speed the process.
3. A knowledgeable, dedicated lead staff person
The board and lead staff person must work together as a team to accomplish the mission of the organization. Therefore, the board must take the time to strategically select the very best candidate for the job and then work to support him or her. With both a well-informed, passionate, engaged board and a strong staff person, the organization can move forward with great effectiveness.
4. A relationship built on respect, candor, and open communication between the lead staff person and all board members
The same trust that exists between board members must exist between the board and the lead staff person. That trust will lead to open communication regarding key issues that will propel the organization forward. The lead staff person should be comfortable starting conversations with board members with the phrase “This is what is keeping me up at night…” and expect a meaningful discussion, without fear of judgement or reprisal.
Most organizations must work to create these four critical success factors; they are not typically realized without a plan for achieving them. With an understanding of the importance of each and a desire by the board and lead staff person to achieve them, the organization will be successful.