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  • Pat Libby

I Heart Nonprofit Boards

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

I love nonprofit Boards.

That is, I love nonprofit Boards that work synergistically with staff to advance an organization.

The crazy thing is that many nonprofit leaders:

  • don’t know how to make good use of their Boards

  • see their Board members as people to be managed, rather than talents to be leveraged

  • look at Board meetings as chores

  • allow their Board members to be Board members in name only

  • don’t know how to select good Board members

I come across SO MANY TALENTED people who are eager to join a nonprofit Board.

These are often people who love their day jobs and want to do something else that is meaningful.

The problem is that many nonprofit leaders don’t know how to make the best use of their Boards.

They don’t understand how a truly effective board can operate

And they don’t know how to recruit great Board members.

So let’s start with the idea of effective Boards.

Really great Boards work in partnership with a nonprofit’s senior staff to accomplish fiduciary and strategic functions.

The fiduciary piece means they ensure the trains are running on time -- that the financial statements are accurate, that enough money is available to fulfill the mission of that nonprofit (and is spent wisely), that programs are aligned with the mission and are being assessed for their effectiveness, that the nonprofit is in compliance with its bylaws and the laws of the land, and that Board members understand and are actively fulfilling their duties!

It’s a long list of housekeeping duties and like any clean house, it’s a much harder task if you don’t keep up the work on a regular basis.

The strategic functions involve the Board working with the staff leadership to assess opportunities that will move the needle for that nonprofit whether those are opportunities for fundraising, marketing, new programs, a new business model or new Board leadership.

The key to making this work is:

  • Ensuring Board members understand what their legal duties are as well as their duties to the corporation

  • Structuring the work so that Board members are able to add value without themselves or the staff feeling overwhelmed

  • Having an oversight mechanism – the Board Chair or Executive Committee – who can make sure that the structure is working and that individual Board members are fulfilling their commitments.

  • And perhaps, most important, changing the mindset of nonprofit CEOs who look at their Boards as “more work” rather than as precious resources.

Recruitment then becomes easy: you look for people who care about your nonprofit’s cause and have specific talents in the fiduciary or strategic realm.

The talent and willingness to volunteer is out there – it’s just a matter of knowing how to put people to work in a way that works for your nonprofit.


Pat Libby is a San Diego based management consultant to nonprofits and philanthropies. She has helped numerous organizations reimagine their Boards.

Get in touch if you have any questions! You can also read more about Pat Libby's consulting services.

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