Early in a nonprofit organization’s existence, the board is in the grassroots stage. These boards are small, homogenous, informal, very hands-on – generally board members actually provide the services of the organization, and, typically, without staff. As the organization grows and new demands are placed on the organization, the board has to make a transition to the next stage.
An operational board is larger, with a more diverse membership – gathering directors from many skills and occupations that support the organization’s mission. Committees are formed and much of the board’s “work” is delegated to those committees. Staff is hired and the board is responsible for policy and monitoring services and finances, but, because the staff is generally stretched too thin, board members still provide some essential services to the organization.
As the organization continues to grow and mature, the institutional/governance board becomes increasingly professionalized, staff has expanded to allow the “work” of the organization to be done by staff (rather than board members), and the financial needs of the organization dominate the board’s agenda. Fundraising needs demand that board recruitment focus on wealthy and influential people and serving on the board is prestigious. Committees – especially the Executive Committee – are strong and do most of the work formerly done by the board at large.
As you look for board members, you should recruit members who will fit with your board’s life stage. Asking folks who want to be very hands-on in providing services to join an institutional board, or asking the rich and famous to serve on a grassroots board, as examples, will guarantee frustration for board, staff, clients, and stakeholders. All boards need time, talent and treasure, but the most important need varies with your life stage. Grassroots boards ask for the most time. Operational boards ask for the most talent. And institutional boards ask for the most treasure.
Special thanks to BCNP consultant Diane Henderson for her insight on board growth and development.