Recently I had the pleasure to speak with Michael Hoban of the Baltimore Business Journal about the five essential traits for great directors. Here are highlights from our conversation:

  • They have a passion for the organization’s mission. It is easier for board members to spend time doing board work when they are working on issues that are important to them.
  • They fully understand their roles, responsibilities and obligations. Oftentimes board members will say, “I didn’t know I was expected to do this.”  I don’t think you can prevent this from happening but a strong board recruitment process will minimize this problem.
  • They know how their time and talents will be used to support the board and the organization. Individual board member agreements or contracts help members think about the best ways to balance their obligations for board meeting attendance, committee participation, fundraising, and other responsibilities with their desire to support specific activities.
  • They understand the decisions made by the board and the decisions made by executive staff.  Lack of clarity about decision-making leads to micromanagement and accountability gaps.
  • They spend most of their board meeting time discussing strategic and operational issues important to the organization’s sustainability.  Members are wasting time if the majority of board meeting time is spent on presenting reports.

Every nonprofit wants its board members to bring energy and innovation towards achieving the organization’s vision. These five elements are the basic blueprint for achieving that goal. What other elements might be needed for a board member to be effective? We’d love to hear your thoughts.