We understand that board services is one of the most challenging aspects of managing a nonprofit, both from the board perspective and for staff. For this reason, we’ve compiled a board toolkit. This toolkit includes articles and templates that can help your board to operate at its full potential.
Many people work in groups in which nobody is paid, everyone is part-time, and everyone can leave any time they want. This includes civic clubs, faith communities, auxiliaries and friends groups, professional societies, sports leagues, and so much more. The board is responsible for the group’s legal, financial and community obligations, and for managing the organizations day-to-day activities, leading other volunteers and getting the work done. If you are involved with one of these all volunteer groups, these two resources will be invaluable.
When Everyone’s a Volunteer: The Effective Functioning of All Volunteer Groups by Ivan H. Scheier. Available in the Impact Foundry library.
All Hands on Board: The Board of Directors in an All Volunteer Organization by Jan Masaoka available below in PDF format
Board of an All Volunteer Organization
Annotated Form of Bylaws for a California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation  from Public Counsel
Here’s an excellent article on what should be in your bylaws.
How to make your own bylaws cheat sheet.
And an answer to this question: What Can I Do If a Nonprofit Isn’t Following Its Bylaws?
Advisory boards or committees are made up of volunteers and are formed to give advice and recommendations to a nonprofit’s governing board or management staff.
Guidelines to Form an Advisory Group from the Free Management Library provides a broad overview on why and how to form an advisory committee.
What is an Advisory Board and Should We Have One? from Blue Avocado describes the four types of advisory groups and offers guidelines for having one.
Advisory Boards and Other Bodies. Are you really sure you want one? Simone P. Joyaux points out some important things for you to consider in this free download.
Nonprofit Conflict of Interest: A 3-Dimensional View an article by Jan Masaoka offers a nuanced view of conflict of interest issues and includes a sample conflict of interest policy.
Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Conflict of Interest Demands More Than Just a Policy. This excellent review from the Nonprofit Quarterly is based on the experience of real nonprofits. It offers a clear definition of conflict of interest, four tests to use to help in complicated situations, basic conflict of interest guidelines and tips on how to manage conflicts that do arise.
The debate on term limits has been waging for decades, if not centuries. So, there is no “settled” answer to this question. But my own answer is very firm: term limits—both for board members and officers—are a must. My reasons underlying this answer are simple, and take into account the arguments put forth by those on the side of no term limits…
1. If you are doing all the work you are supposed to be doing as a hard working board member—in other words, if you are truly assuming the full array of your board member responsibilities—you get tired. And after six or nine years of service, and two or three consecutive terms of two or three year terms seems to be the norm, you should be a very tired board member in need of a vacation. But unless we give board members permission to take that vacation, the hard working ones won’t, despite recognizing their own fatigue. (Guilt is a powerful emotion.)
2. Boards need new blood, energy and, perhaps most important, perspective and ideas if they want their organizations to flourish. Which means boards need new board members.
3. What an organization needs on its board in terms of expertise, connections, demographics, and intrinsic qualities is not static. The needs of an infant organization are very different from those of a mature one; what it needs during a growth spurt may not be what it needs during a period of stability. This requires that board members rotate off and new ones come on.
4. Just because a board member rotates off the board after serving one to the maximum number of terms allowed does not mean that you are throwing that board member away, saying good-bye and good riddance. Quite the contrary. Smart organizations have ways to keep those good, hard working board members engaged once their term limit is up. Folks can continue to serve on committees; they can be put on some kind of auxiliary board, such as a Friends Board or Advisory Board; they can become special ambassadors or mentors to future board leaders, and so much more. If people are committed enough to your mission to have served as a board member, they are committed enough to execute other roles that will support that mission. By changing roles within the organization we provide former board members the opportunity to gain a different perspective on the organization so that should they return to board service down the road they have a broader understanding.
5. Institutional memory should never reside in the memory of one or even several board members. Possessing the institutional memory is the worst reason for keeping someone on a board, as frequently that is all that person is able or willing to bring to the table. Institutional history should be documented and in a format that is easily shared with others. Do not mistake important institutional memories—times lines, milestones in an organization’s history, key leaders, etc—with the minutia that generally gets titled institutional memory. The kind of Institutional memory that too often resides in peoples’ minds is more often than not used to hold organization’s back, not propel them forward.
6. Boards must avoid the pitfall of dismissing ideas with “We’ve tried that before.” Trying something 10 years before is not the same as trying it today, when neither the organization nor the environment in which it is operating should be the same. Boards populated by individuals who have that institutional memory to remember what was tried—or dismissed without trying—10, 15, 40 years ago—hold organizations back.
7. All of what has been said above applies equally to board officers. They get tired, leaders need to be innovative, aware, calculated risk takers, etc. I’ve seen too many board presidents who have been in office for too long kill the enthusiasm of boards, hold organizations back, squash new ideas. Being a good board leader, particularly the president, requires hard work. Burn out can come quickly to a board president with vision, who wishes to accomplish things, who wants to move the board and the organization forward. What an organization needs in its key leadership positions varies depending upon its strategic priorities. A very different kind of board president is needed as an organization launches into a capital or endowment campaign than when the organization is recuperating from such a campaign.
Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director The Nonprofit Center at La Salle University
Software can bridge the distance and unite dispersed collaborators by making it easy to present, review, and comment on information. Some tools are designed for more general collaboration and can be tailored to meet the more specific needs of a board. Others are purpose-built for the board environment. A Few Good Tools: Board Portals and Other Ways to Collaborate from Idealware can help you sort it out.
Even though compensating board members is standard in the business world, only a small percentage of nonprofits compensate board members. Those nonprofits that do pay board members are usually large, complex organizations such as health care systems, large foundations or art institutions.
Nonprofit board members need to understand the regulatory environment in which their organizations operate. State attorneys general have the power to bring a nonprofit to justice if it is not in compliance with state laws. How can you avoid these top ten legal risks? BoardSource has compiled this resource to help you do just that.
Download your free copy of Top 10 Ways to Get Investigated by a State Regulator which outlines the top ten legal risks for nonprofit board members. It includes links to additional resources available on the BoardSource website — some are free community resources; others are restricted to BoardSource members or must be purchased.