By Adrianna Lazarte
Board composition is broad challenge felt across the nonprofit sector and overarching literature points to a myriad of “must haves” for successful nonprofit organization (NPO) boards. Among these key elements is diversity and loyalty to the organization’s mission. Constructing a board that is both diverse in skill and loyal to an organization’s mission to ensure highly effective leadership is a challenge that most NPOs face.
The kind of diversity that a nonprofit prioritizes will depend heavily on its mission; women’s reproductive groups may not need a great male representation and instead may focus on diversifying experts and professionals. While race, gender, age, educational background, and mission-relation are all important to diversify within a board, the practical and technical skills that a member can contribute will truly determine logistical and tangible success. Board Source emphasizes that it is important “to think about holistic and multi-faceted leadership profiles that value diversity within the context of other stated leadership needs,” and to consider board candidates that can fill those needs. Having members who can fulfill professional obligations minimizes the burden to hire any additional staff members. The National Council of Nonprofits supports this theory and recommends that boards “start with asking what does [the] nonprofit need to advance its mission right now and in the future.” Although it would be nice for everyone who has unending passion to sit on a board, the organization needs a tangible skillset that will allow functionality and advance success.
Board members’ loyalty to the mission, or “buy in” is the second piece to an effective board. Mission loyalty keeps the organization centered on its intended and stated purpose. If the board (and, likely as a result, the organization) begins to experience mission drift there is a risk of losing funding, public support, and even board members. When a board member is loyal to the mission, they are likely to stay encouraged and continue to serve. These members are intrinsically motivated by the mission, rather than driven by program numbers and output. Board members with mission loyalty are also likely to influence decisions to stay close to the organization’s purpose. In a social-centric sector where the idea is to serve people rather than to return dividends, remembering that success is complex is crucial to leading a successful NPO.
An NPO can recruit board members that are passionate about its mission by utilizing existing social networks; whether it be through current board members, volunteers, or donors, chances are that someone who is already connected to the organization at least agrees with its mission.
In general, there are many boxes that a successful NPO board must check, and it true and widespread diversity that will make it effective. However as a struggling, new, or shifting nonprofit looks to improve its board quickly; professional skill diversity and mission loyalty are the two elements that will spark change swiftly. The balance between professional board members who can contribute technical skills and mission-loyal members who will be intrinsically driven to see satisfactory outcomes for an NPOs constituents will ultimately lead to organizational success.