An entrepreneurial friend recently asked me define what makes a great board member. The best boards require board members with a wide network in the field and have a thorough understanding of the particular problem or issue, and strong connections to the finance world. While these are all essential but the following qualities are often overlooked in the search for board members who are good enthusiasm for the cause, the ability to listen and speak with respect and a willingness to go the extra mile – are also critical to ensuring that a board operates at its peak.
A great nonprofit board is adamant about its mission and shows that passion in their actions. The board member is committed to helping the people they serve, whether that’s participating in fundraiser walks or volunteering at events, or lobbying city legislators. This is a trait that cannot be taught and can make or break an organization.
Good judgment is a requirement for serving on any board and is particularly crucial in the governance of nonprofits. A board that has had a bad track record (whether in the approval of strategies, hiring and firing, or M&A transactions) is doing the organization a disservice. Good judgment is the result of wisdom, which comes from making many difficult decisions, making mistakes and having a lot of knowledge.
The final characteristic that I believe is essential for successful board members is a keen understanding of the importance of cooperation. The most effective board members understand that their success is dependent on their ability to work in a team whether at the board meeting or at a fundraising event. They make the effort to build alliances among their fellow board members.