How Healthy is Your Board of Directors?

Laura Pierce
August 17, 2022

We hear from members regularly that their boards are inactive, under-performing, or focusing on the wrong things. Yet, we know almost all board members are committed volunteers who desire to add value and advance their organization’s mission. How do we avoid problematic or outdated board practices and retain community accountability and support?

Whether you are staff member or a board member at a nonprofit where the board is not making an optimal contribution, we know it’s tough. We encourage you to take action to improve your board’s functioning, and we have two pathways for you to consider.

Boards in Gear is our flagship, nationally-recognized governance training. We offer this training as a webinar three times a year, and we’ll also be taking the workshop on the road again this coming year. Some organizations use this free, accessible training to on-board all their board members. Others periodically encourage board members to attend and report back to their peers. 2022-2023 is a great year to encourage your board members to participate as we have just completed a refresh of the curriculum—it’s up-to-date and more fun than ever.

We’ve also designed a special event to get you and your board out of the rut you are in and considering innovative ways to improve board performance and board/staff relations. On Tuesday, January 27, join us to take a deep dive into board governance at the Nonprofit Innovation Summit: Reinventing Boards. Attendees will learn what legal standards boards must meet in Washington State; how to reflect on and then shift your board’s culture; and how others are experimenting with alternative decision-making structures and distribution of leadership roles makes in ways that make sense for their work.

We will be joined by Erin Kang and Linda Mollenhauer, leaders of the Reimagining Governance Project (RGP) of the Ontario Nonprofit Network. For the past two years, RGP has been convening the Ontario nonprofit community to explore how to evolve nonprofit boards. They will share insights from this dialogue and tools you can use with your board to assess and set goals for improvement. Following Erin and Linda’s presentation, a panel of board and staff leaders from local nonprofits, including RVC Seattle and the Whidbey Institute, will discuss how their boards have evolved and experimented with new, alternative ways of doing their work.

Our Nonprofit Innovation Summit series supports you to evolve your organizational structure and practices to be more effective and more equitable. Let’s come together as a community to ask “what if?” I look forward to this conversation.

What legal requirements are boards required to follow? How creative can we be in how we structure our board of directors?

NAWA and Communities Rise are pleased to announce that we have created a new resource to help you understand what your board must do and separate that out from what you may have been told you should do. Board Standards in Washington State is a new resource that explains what your board needs to do to comply with state regulations, inclusive of new requirements in the Washington Nonprofit Corporation Act passed in 2021. We are currently working on a companion document focused on board standards in federal law. Together, we hope these documents help nonprofits comply with legal requirements and also empower nonprofits to shape their boards to best serve their mission and make board service more appealing and more impactful for your organization. 

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