7 Tips for Choosing the Right Board for Your Community-Based Organization

by Ruby Maddox

Community-based organizations, like many small nonprofits, can suffer from a crisis of leadership. Unlike large nonprofit organizations which may have a senior leadership team, the strength of the CBO may rest on one very charismatic and energetic leader. This leader directs the organization, raises funds, writes grants, gives speeches, and generates a budget for the board (and that’s just before lunch).

The ED can be the heart of the organization and in some cases they may even be the founder of the organization; running on pure passion and steam; seeming to make miracles (grants) appear out of thin air,  focused and committed to the survival of the organization. While we admire and cheer on these nonprofit warriors, such organizational dynamics are highly unsustainable and can have dire consequences for the organization without the support of a vibrant and active Board of Directors.

Whether your board of directors is a formal board, working group, project committee, or impassioned group of volunteers, a CBO’s board can be the organization’s best asset or the makings of its undoing. Joan Garry recently posted an article on Stories of Bad Board Behavior that included everything from disengaged board members to board members extremely out of touch with the needs of the organization .

But choosing or building a board for your CBO can and must be done effectively for the sake of your organization and its stakeholders. After all, boards carry an ethical (and many times legal) responsibility to the organization and its community.

So how do you take steps to ensure your CBO’s board is responsive, engaged, and reflects the values of the organization?

1) Look for Diversity of Among your Members.
This includes race, class, age, gender etc. In essence don’t recruit all bankers and don’t recruit all homemakers. The more diverse your organization, the more nimble and responsive it will be.

2) Look for Folks Who Will Work.
Board contribution should go beyond monetary means. There should be a clear understanding among all members of your board that active participation is not only expected, it’s required. Which brings me to #3…

3) Draft A Board Contract/Agreement. screen shot board contract
Even a board with by-laws should possess a board contract. Board contracts are an excerpt of the board job description. Unlike the description, the contract is a signed acknowledgement of an agreement between the board member and the organization on what is expected from both parties. You can find several examples of board contracts and agreements from Blue Avocado, Nonprofit Resource Center, and CompassPoint. Determine which is right for your board.

4) Draw up Your Organizational Values.
The organization’s values should be derived from the mission statement but should expand on them. These values should be non-negotiable, clearly articulated, and guide the nomination and recruitment process. A board member who does not recognize or understand the values of the organization is not qualified to make decisions on behalf of the organization or its stakeholders.

5) Be Strategic.
If the organization has a vision and a plan of how they would like to grow and/or expand their capacity (if they don’t then they should) , they must choose board members equipped with the skills to assist the organization in reaching those goals.

6) Audition Board Members.
Board committees are usually made up of a few board members and a few community members. These committees tackle projects too large for the board’s capacity alone. Committee can be the perfect recruiting ground in which to see a potential board member in action before nomination.

7) Have a Nomination and Recruitment Plan in Place.
The board should develop a predetermined method for nominating, screening, and recruiting board members.

Roles and Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards
Roles and Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards

Additional Resources


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