Sometimes in small to mid-sized Civil-Society-Organizations (CSOs), my experience is that the Board only nominally exists. A cause might be that members were talked into joining the Board without real determination (“somebody has to do this”). Or salaried employees form the Board. The latter may lead to conflict of interest, since the Board as governing body should set the strategic course for the CSO as well as guide and control management, not act as spokesperson for the staff, at least not in the first place.
Good Boards in my experience are made up of commited (often older) people, who bring expertise as well as experience from a long (work) life. They are loyal to the organization’s mission and don’t have to fear loss of income should your CSO go into crisis. All this, in the best case, enables these people to think strategically and out of the box in the interest of the organization.
No doubt setting up your Board will cause considerable additional work (and headaches) initially: However, I suggest that you consider the following questions in order to choose the right people.
- Who can give good advice for our work without placing their own interests first?
- Who is willing to take on responsibility and invest time for a number of years?
- Who will be an integrating factor with respect to Board, staff and management, creating collaboration rather than conflict
- Who has essential skills and qualifications that you otherwise will have to pay for, e.g. as a lawyer or MBA?
- Who can open doors to donors, government agencies and other organizations that are important for you?
- Who can generate trust and sometimes be the face of the organization?
- Who will increase diversity by being able to share experiences and insights that are otherwise lacking in your team and organization?
- Who has the standing and skills to mediate when there are conflicts in the team or between team and management? And, if you feel that an ombudsperson for staff would be beneficial, who could act as such?