Raybin — A Marts & Lundy Company

We're excited to be joining the Marts & Lundy Team!

Across the Board—Serving, not Sitting

The Board of Trustees is a highly visible element contributing to the success or failure of any organization, whether non-profit or "profit." Today's Boards are challenged to provide leadership and ensure financial integrity under a microscope. So, when considering adding Board members, you owe it to them as much as to your organization, to let them know up front.

Trusteeship is about serving on a Board, not sitting on one!

It's all about information and communication. So, we thought we'd take this space to review some of the basics that help a Board function well.


bulletBefore you elect new Trustees, clarify what you are going to expect of them.

How much time?

  • How often are the meetings?
  • How long are the meetings?
  • On how many committees does a Trustee serve?
  • How many events is a Trustee expected to attend?
  • What kind of time does the Trustee need to devote to fund-raising?

What kind of financial support?

  • Annual Giving?
  • Capital campaign?
  • Bequest intention/Planned Gift?
  • Annual Gala(s)?
  • Auction?
  • Other?

Are they comfortable with fund-raising responsibilities?


bulletSelect new members specifically based on your needs and their skills.

Select the members of the Board based on their commitment to your mission, the attributes and skills your organization needs at this point in time and their willingness to be advocates/ambassadors and donors.

Design a Board Profile Grid, identifying such characteristics as age, gender, ethnicity, profession, expertise, wealth, networking. This should help you to analyze your Board talent, showing you what you have, what you lack, and what you may need to replace in Board talent.

Don't elect just because it's on the agenda. If no one meets your essential criteria at election time, save the spot(s) until the right people are available. And, by the way, if current Trustees are not living up to their commitment, it's okay to say good-bye – and thank you.


bulletDesign a thoughtful and comprehensive Orientation.

The best Orientations are visual and oral, as well as written. Consider walking your new Trustees though your organization's history with a timeline, highlighting how your programs have changed in response to external events.

For example:

  • What is happening with your volunteer pool – and the relative size of your administrative staff?
  • How has technology changed your organization recently?
  • What are you doing regarding current concerns with safety and security?
  • What are the issues you may be called upon to address in the near future and what resources will you need?

It is this kind of work that makes Trusteeship come alive.


bulletNever stop educating the Board.

Trustees need to know what is required to carry out their major functions, which include:

  • Setting the organization's goals based on mission and vision
  • Appointing the Chief Executive Officer
  • Annually evaluating against mission and goals, the institution's performance, the Chief Executive performance, and the Board members' performance
  • Taking appropriate action based on what has been learned in that evaluation
  • Ensuring the fiscal and financial integrity of the organization.

Trustees need information on which to base their decisions.

Prepare specific documents. Trustees may often need information in addition to what administrators and other staff provide, so that they can make their own independent judgments. This information should be designed for the special needs of the Trustees, not simply copies of what is internally distributed.

Allow senior staff to report directly to the Board at meetings. Too often of late, we have heard stories of the Executive Director being the only staff person present. This approach denies the Board the opportunity to hear first-hand from those immediately charged with financial management, fund raising, admissions, etc. Good staff bring knowledge, wisdom and breadth of experience in their fields. Use it.

Institute a buddy system, so there's someone ready and willing to answer questions. So often Trustees are given profiles of newcomers to the Board, but newcomers don't receive profiles of those already serving.

Keep it coming. Ask recently elected Trustees what was missing from their Orientation – and ask that question every year so that you can always upgrade your program.


bulletAnd two final, critical reminders:

1. Always keep the vision and mission foremost in your deliberations.

Remember the mission!
By using the mission as the context for all discussion and the standard against which all decisions are made, Trustees can avoid straying from policy and bogging down in details which more properly fall within the administrators' purview.

Remember the budget!
Even, or especially, the budget needs to be considered within the context of mission. Often a Finance Committee will really set the direction of an organization, because of their recommended allocation of funds.

Make conscious investment decisions!
It is no longer necessary to choose between principles and investments. It is possible to earn a competitive return while investing in stocks or funds aligned with your mission. Re-evaluate your portfolio; support companies that are trying to make a difference, as you are.

2. Review your needs and expectations regularly.

As you look to electing new Board members, you should continually review and modify your needs and expectations.

For example, review your committee structure on an ongoing basis. If your new facility is already built and in use, do you still need a Construction Oversight Committee? If you've grown from one employee to ten or twelve, perhaps you should consider creating a Personnel or Human Resources Committee? Board Committees are not necessarily mirror-images of administrative functions.

And, to state the obvious, these committees present a great opportunity to involve non-Trustees who may be good future candidates for Board membership!

Serving on a non-profit Board is an increasingly stressful commitment which requires finding time, dealing with increasingly complex issues, responsibility and accountability. So choose your Trustees carefully, keep them informed, and give them every opportunity to do an outstanding job. It makes all the difference.