Building a Better Board

By Sarah Lange - Principal & Founder, Legacy Consulting

Publication Date: 
April 1, 2009

In today's competitive and complex environment, running a vibrant organization requires that members of the board and management work in partnership toward realizing the agency's mission. In order to accomplish this, we must invest in our board's development on a year-round basis so that they function with maximum efficiency and effectiveness. You can work toward this by implementing the following strategies:

  • Recruitment: members of your board should be selected from the pool of people already familiar with and involved in your agency. Their passion for your mission will more than make up for any skill deficit they may have. Also consider the skill set needed on the board and recruit people who can bring missing skills to the table. Diversity - in the broadest sense of the word - is also important, as a variety of perspectives will help you develop more creative approaches to your work. Be explicit with potential recruits about the amount of time and types of commitments you expect them to make as a board member.
  • Orientation: most non-profit board members do not fully understand their roles and responsibilities, let alone the legal implications of saying "yes" to becoming a board member. Be sure that every new board member receives an orientation. It's also helpful to pair up veteran board members to with new recruits so mentoring can occur. This also helps break down the "old guard, new guard" dynamic.
  • Development: each year, your board should be assessing its performance and charting goals for improvement. Sometimes, this requires training in a specific area, such as finance or program evaluation. Other times, it means changing the way that meetings are run to garner more participation. An inexpensive way to build your skill set is to network with other non-profit boards to see what they do well, then work out a skills exchange.
  • Retention: at least once each year, a one-on-one conversation needs to be held with each board member to assess their level of involvement and satisfaction. Make changes as needed. Doing this ensures that your board maintains a high level of participation and dedication, which helps the organization maintain its momentum.
  • Meetings: we tend to bore our boards. We ask them to come to our office every month, usually after a full day at work, then make them listen to a series of reports. By the time these are done and we move on to new business, the energy level in the room is almost non-existent. One way to free up the energy and creativity of our board is to move to a Summary Agenda. This is a framework that moves all the business off the table in one vote and leaves the rest of the meeting for your board to be the visionaries you need them to be!

Sarah Lange, MSW

A seasoned educator and counsel to numerous organizations and their leaders, Sarah is the Principal and Founder of Legacy Consulting, where she has worked extensively with organizations to fine-tune their organizational development and human service management systems. In addition to her work with Legacy, Sarah is an Adjunct Professor at Clark University and has served as an Adjunct Associate Professor at Boston University School of Social Work, a Lecturer at Assumption College and an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Sarah is a frequent presenter on management, leadership, strategic planning, organizational theory and development. Her extensive experience also fuels frequent requests for her services as a trainer.

Sarah is well known and respected for both her depth and breadth of expertise in the areas of organizational management and leadership. As a result, she has been sought out by small, medium and large organizations. Sarah works at all levels to orchestrate change management. In the end, her clients have better systems in place to increase efficiency and effectiveness, are better organized, have a well-defined course of action and well-developed strategies in order to implement it. Sarah helps organizations evaluate sources and allocation of funds as well as evaluate financial management systems. She has successfully raised millions of dollars in foundation and corporate grants as well as from state contracts and individual sources.

Prior to creating Legacy consulting, Sarah directed and grew the Oak Hill Community Development Corporation. Her early career includes numerous roles in higher education, community service and non-profit management. She earned her Masters Degree from Boston University School of Social Work and her B.A. is from Colgate University.

She may be reached at: (508) 753-5224 or legacyconsultone@aol.com