Be clear on how to use your board

Challenging times like those we’re living through require us to do our work differently and that includes the ways in which our boards of directors function.

Now more than ever, we must clarify priorities and tasks for board members and be strategic and thoughtful about how best to use their talents and brains.

Serving as ambassadors for the nonprofits they represent is a critical responsibility of all boards.

All nonprofits have a diverse set of stakeholders – constituents and clients, funders, regulators, volunteers, staff, and the media, to name a few.

Because each individual on your board travels in such different circles, it’s essential to have them represent your nonprofit in their many networks.

They may be speaking to their local Rotary Club about their own work, but weave in their affiliation with your nonprofit and a little about it.

Or they might be responsible for getting one of your staff to serve as a presenter at meetings of networks they’re involved in.

All of this outreach is important under the best of circumstances — and even more so when you’re trying to ensure that your nonprofit stays on the radar screen of John or Mary Q. Public.

Useful tools are business cards that can proudly show their affiliation with your organization, and talking points about your organization. And have board members articulate why they’re passionate about your mission.

The more they have in their toolbox, the better job they’ll do for you.

At the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, where I serve as treasurer, we use an “ambassador chart” that summarizes board members’ individual activities and reinforces the good things they’re doing in ambassadorship and fundraising.

It also holds everyone accountable to what they say they’ll do.

The importance of investing time in the relationship between the board as a whole, but especially the chair, and the executive director/CEO oftentimes makes the difference in how effective this board-staff partnership will be ultimately.

A board has a responsibility to support the executive director/CEO.

Be mindful that when the stress level is high because of declining donations and greater needs, the top executive individual needs even more from board members.

That may be frequent telephone check-ins with the chair, or contingency planning with the full board.

Tapping the best in people generally brings out the best, and boards of directors are no exception.

~ Orginally published on  February 9, 2009 at

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