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How to Assemble a Board of Trustees?

Posted on 17 October, 2020 at 08:38

By Epaphras Chinyakuza 

Board members play a critical role in the development and success of non-profit organisations. Sometimes referred to as a Board of Trustees, these volunteers act as guardians for your organisation who protect and maintain the core values and purposes of the organisation

As a collective body, the trustees hold the authority and responsibility to ensure the fulfilment of an organisation’s mission. They are ultimately responsible for the fiscal health of the institution. The board of trustees governing role is typically limited to selection of the president and policy approval, with the daily operations and management of the institution operated by staff and volunteers.

Finding the right composition of your Board of Trustees could be one of the most important projects that you ever take on. A well established and committed board with the right skills can provide a solid platform that will enable your NGO to blossom in the years to come.

Board members with essential skills can reduce the burden on your organisation’s paid staff and volunteers that will liberate them and enable them to achieve more. They can also reduce costs to outside contractors and agencies by allowing you to conduct certain operations such as accounting, fundraising and legal matters in house. Organisations that benefit from active, well informed and responsible trustees are often the best placed to fulfil their missions.

Typically, the President of the Board of Trustees is responsible for establishing the agenda for the board that would span across all areas of the organisation’s function. Other roles that feature on many boards are secretary and treasurer whilst it is also common to have a number of subcommittees that are responsible for specific areas of the organisation’s work.

The board’s main responsibilities include establishing and supporting the institutions vision and mission, acting as the legal owners of the organisation, ensuring the organisation is sustainable, evaluating performance, supporting staff and reviewing and creating policies. Often boards operate subcommittees to support different areas of the organisation meaning they may be involved in fundraising, strategic planning, human resources and communications. Trustees are typically expected to act as ambassadors for the institution in the community.

A board of trustees is made up of a number of different representatives and often number between five and twelve people, sometimes more, sometimes less. An organisation’s founding document normally dictates the size of the board of trustees, although this number can be amended as your organisation’s needs change. Trustees are normally elected or appointed to the board at an Annual General Meeting, normally for a specific period of time.

Your non-profit should aim to establish a well-balanced board that collectively shares the qualities you need to responsibly manage your organisation. Many NGOs actively work to assemble diverse representations of leaders in their community that can serve to broaden support for the organisation. Some of the skills and qualities that your NGO should be looking for in a board of trustees are:

•         A passion for your cause

·         Knowledge of either your cause, non-profit management, business knowledge or some other relevant professional experience

•         Commitment and reliability

·         A beneficiary of your organisation’s services or someone with direct experience of the issue you are working to resolve

Each organisation will require different skills to run their board effectively. Organisations working with human rights issues for example may benefit from individuals with legal experience whereas non-profits working with people with a disability should try to ensure they have people on their board who can represent the disabled community effectively.

As well as suitable experience and knowledge, many NGOs target individuals who can bring specific skills to their board of trustees that can help them to develop. If your organisation would benefit from having a better understanding of your finances and how you can achieve or maintain sustainability it would be wise to recruit someone with a financial background as your Treasurer. Perhaps your organisation needs a leader who can act as a spokesperson who can make inspiring speeches and persuade others to support your cause? If this is the case you will need to search for someone with well-developed public speaking and people skills.

Becoming a representative on a non-profit organisation’s board of trustees is a substantial investment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Nor should you take unnecessary risks with bringing people you are unsure of on to your organisation’s board either. You should try to be as methodical and strategic in the development of your board as possible. Once you have highlighted the skills you are looking for you can begin the task of recruiting additional board members.

To give your NGO the best opportunity to recruit the right board members you should form a recruitment panel amongst existing staff or members of your existing board. This group is responsible for formalizing the opportunity internally, promoting the role to the wider community and managing and delivering the application and interview process. By involving a number of individuals rather than just one you will be able to get a better perspective or your prospective candidates which should lead to more informed decision making.

Board members can be drawn from all sectors of your community. We have put together a short list of initiatives that your NGOs recruitment panel can undertake to source new board members:

•         Invite long term or regular donors to your cause

•         Suggest the opportunity to people in positions of power, influence or wealth

•         Recommend joining your board to individuals recommended to you by colleagues and peers

•         Welcome existing volunteers of your organisation to your board of trustees

•         Promote the opportunity through any communications outlets you own such as newsletters, websites, posters and social media as well as releasing information about it to the local press

•         Post the role to a volunteer recruitment website 

Upon receiving applications to join your organisation’s board of trustees the recruitment subcommittee should interview the candidate, either formally or informally, before making recommendations to the president of the board. When trustees have been appointed they will need to be supported to understand all aspects of your organisation to enable them to do the best job that they can.

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