What Makes a Great Board Member?

Recently, an entrepreneur contacted me to outline the characteristics of a successful board. In a nutshell, great boards require members who have a large network within the field, extensive knowledge in a particular issue or problem, and strong connections in the financial community. These attributes are important but they’re not the only ones. A commitment to the cause, the ability to listen, speak with humility and the desire to go the additional mile are also crucial to ensure that a board functions at its best.

A good nonprofit board is adamant about its mission and shows this passion in their actions. It could be through taking part in fundraising walks or helping out at events or taking steps to lobby city legislators the board member is committed to helping those individuals they serve. This is a quality that cannot be taught and can make or break an organization.

It is essential to possess good judgment when you are on a board. This is particularly true for nonprofit governance. A board that has a history of poor judgment (whether in approving strategies, hiring and firing, or M&A transactions) is doing the organization a disservice. Good judgment is the result of wisdom, which is the result of making many tough decisions, making mistakes and displaying a lot of knowledge.

The last trait that I consider to be a must for the best board members is an understanding of the value of collaboration. The most effective board members are aware that their success depends on their ability to work together whether at an annual board meeting or a fundraising event. They spend the time to build alliances among their fellow board members.


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