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Nonprofit Governance: The Why, What, and How of Nonprofit Boardship

August 28, 2009


Serving on a well-focused nonprofit board can be immensely rewarding; serving on a disorganized one can feel like cruel and unusual punishment. Nonprofit Governance: The Why, What, and How of Nonprofit Boardship (Corby Books) gives nonprofit executives and board members a practical guide. The authors are Thomas J. Harvey, director of Mendoza’s Master of Nonprofit Administration program, and John Tropman of the University of Michigan.

Here are insights from Tom Harvey: 

What makes a successful board meeting?

Start with the right people—ones who care about the mission and who can bring something to the table, whether talent or treasure. Have everyone commit to a planning retreat once a year where the mission is re-addressed. When you have new members or leaders, this builds community and helps people work through authority problems.

It is important to streamline the board meeting. For boards that meet regularly, no one wants to meet longer than one and a half hours. Start with the perfunctory items, then the serious business to pass resolutions. The last part of the meeting is the time to do strategic thinking—an open-ended discussion of what is going on in the community and how your group may be involved.

How can you avoid meetings were people arrive late or don't show up?

With a good, authoritative chair and by following rules of order, absenteeism and tardiness will drop—

Our book’s appendix has a streamlined Robert’s Rules of Order. If you let mavericks get control, you lose good board members because they get burned out. And keep your focus: At the end of every meeting of the best board I was ever on, we reviewed our seven stated values and discussed how we addressed them today.