Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What are the critical characteristics a board of directors needs to succeed?

For a nonprofit board of directors to succeed, the number one key ingredient is: Involvement. Boards fail (and, in turn, organizations fail) when board members become disengaged from either the mission of the organization or their role in the governance of the organization.

An engaged board does more than simply show up for scheduled meetings and vote to approve minutes and budgets. Engaged boards partake in vigorous discussions that help shape the vision and future direction of their organization. Engaged boards ask questions of staff and read journals to become educated on the issues their organization is involved in. Engaged boards read and understand monthly financial statements and accept their responsibility for fundraising activities that will ensure the organization's short-term stability and long-term sustainability.

Meetings of involved boards are not boring. They do not consist of only one or two people reading reports. Reports are sent out ahead of time, and members have read them before the meeting. Meetings are reserved for discussion of the reports, and decision making by the entire team. The Chair of an involved board does not dictate what the decisions will be, but rather facilitates the discussion and makes certain that all viewpoints are heard before a vote is taken.

All of this requires that many viewpoints, and many areas of expertise, are represented on the board. Do not recruit all of your board members from the same source, or you're likely to build a chorus of "yes-men" and stagnate under a lack of creativity. Be certain to have board members skilled in finance, marketing, law, and fundraising. Don't be afraid of adding people who will disagree with some of your ideas.

An active and involved board requires a leader who is strong enough to keep discussions on topic and within set time limits, but is also willing and able to put their own ego aside to hear opposing views and new ideas. An active and involved board builds the leadership skills of all its members through assignments on committees and special projects.

The involved board is a successful board. Involved boards never have to cancel meetings because they don't have a quorum. Involved boards lead successful nonprofit organizations.

This question came from, where I have just signed up as a writer. You can find this article on the Helium site at:

1 comment:

  1. I relate this to Jim Collins' "Right People" concept in "Good to Great." Get the right people on board, and you don't have to motivate them. Sorta Zen-like: get board members whose inner nature dictates that they be involved leaders, and you rid yourself of the problem of how to motivate people.