What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Do, and Avoid

What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Do, and Avoid

Andy Robinson

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What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Do, and Avoid
A 1-Hour Guide

by Andy Robinson, 119 pp.

Andy Robinson is one of America’s preeminent authorities on boards, having spent two decades steering, advising, and coaxing hundreds of organizations of all stripes and size.

He has guided these boards in virtually every facet of governance, including fundraising, board development, financial oversight, recruitment, strategic planning, and marketing.

He has distilled this wealth of experience into a focused book that will help any board govern up to its potential.

What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Do, and Avoid takes just an hour to read. But in that brief span of time, your board members will develop a sure-handed grip and a workable understanding of each of their important responsibilities.

About the Author

Andy Robinson has been raising money for social change since 1980. As a trainer and consultant, he has assisted nonprofits in 40 states and Canada, leading workshops on fundraising, grantseeking, board development, strategic planning, marketing, leadership development, and earned income strategies.

He specializes in the needs of organizations promoting human rights, social justice, and environmental conservation. In addition to hundreds of local and regional groups, his clients include the American Friends Service Committee, National Wildlife Federation, Neighborhood Reinvestment, National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the New England Grassroots Environment Fund, where he served as training and outreach director.

You can reach Andy at andyfund@earthlink.net.

Table of Contents

1.  Your Best Board

2.  The Evolving Board: How Governance Changes As Organizations Change

3.  Board and Staff: The Separation of Powers

4.  “Why Did They Ask Me?”

5.  “Can I See a Job Description?”

6.  Reciprocal Board Agreements: What You Give, What You Receive in Return

7.  The Gift of Time: How Much Is Enough?

8.  Designing Your Best Board

9. Where Do Board Members Come From?

10. “How do we ask them to join our board?”

11. Board Renewal: Good Work That Never Ends

12. Five Options for Board Orientation

13. Ensuring Future Leadership: Succession Planning

14. Encouraging Turnover: The Value of Term Limits

15. How to Create a Great Agenda (and Then Cancel the Meeting)

16. Building Consensus

17. Deliberation vs. Action

18. Committees: Don’t Overdo It

19. Financial Oversight 101: What Every Board Member Should Know

20. You, The Ambassador

21. Give Generously—People Are Paying Attention

22. Why Board Members Can’t (Or Won’t) Raise Money

23. One Solution: The Board Fundraising Menu

24. Board Fundraising Agreements

25. How to Fix It: Poor Attendance at Meetings

26. How to Fix It: Poor Follow-Through On Commitments

27. How to Fix It: Micro-Management and Confusion about Roles

28. How To Fix It: Personal Agendas and Conflicts of Interest

29. How to Fix It: Inactive Board Members Who Really Need to Leave

30. Evaluate Your Board, Evaluate Yourself

31. If It’s Not Fun, It’s Not Worth It


This article is excerpted from Andy Robinson's book, What Every Board Member Must Know, Do, and Avoid, ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, call 508-359-0019 or email us.

You, the Ambassador

Who’s talking about your organization . . . right now? If the answer is “nobody,” you have a problem.

Every nonprofit needs some buzz. Yes, you can create cute videos and organize publicity events, but the best strategy is the oldest strategy: people talking to people.

Those who initiate these conversations are your ambassadors. As a board member, one of your most important titles is “ambassador,” and you may need training to fully embrace it.

A client recently recruited me to lead a board fundraising workshop, with the caveat that most of her trustees didn’t believe they needed to learn about fundraising. We invited the board chair to help plan the event and discussed different ways to focus the content.

When I suggested we treat this as an ambassador training, the chair jumped in. “We really need that,” he said. “We’re not very good at talking about our organization.” So we built the agenda to help develop the nonprofit’s message, improve listening skills, and engage in meaningful conversations—a great way to identify and cultivate potential donors, volunteers, and allies.

Here’s a simple tool you can use to encourage ambassador outreach. Create personalized business cards for board members, with their names and the organization’s contact

information. On the back, include the mission statement or perhaps a few bullets describing the impact of your work.

These business cards are great conversation starters. When a friend asks, “What have you been doing?” pull one out, hand it over, and say, “Well, I’m on the board of….”

How about you? As a board member, do you make an effort to talk about your organization? Do you bring up your nonprofit in conversations with friends, colleagues, and co-workers? How comfortable are you describing its programs or asking engaging questions that relate to your mission?

Most trustees can greatly benefit from some sort of ambassador training—for example, developing and practicing an “elevator pitch”—so include this topic in your board development calendar.