Dani Robbins

Building the Board of Directors

In Non Profit Boards on September 20, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Everything flows from a strong Board of Directors. That strength is developed by the Board Development Committee and the CEO.  The Board Development Committee perpetuates, educates and evaluates the Board, and is the most powerful committee of the Board. It is the only committee that you (should) have to be invited to join.

The most important thing a Board does is hire a visionary and talented nonprofit leader. I believe you need that talented nonprofit leader to (among many other things) build the board, and you need the board to (among other things) hire, support and evaluate the leader. It’s a bit like two sides of the same coin.

Strong CEOs build strong boards. As discussed in greater detail in the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives “the CEO’s role in board development is to understand the work of the board and its processes, and support the implementation of each. CEOs play a primary role in building the board. As such, they have the opportunity to assemble a board that can take the organization to new heights.’ ‘The CEO assists in building the board to which she will ultimately report and also makes recommendations, staffs board committees, and supports the board’s success. CEOs do not have the authority to add board members.

In the case of board development, CEOs should also:

  • Support the recruitment of potential board members; arrange and attend meetings with prospective board members and the board or committee chair, share the agency’s vision, mission, and board processes, including time, giving and getting expectations, and assess the capacity of the prospective member to fit on the team;
  • Manage the board development process, including spreadsheet of terms of office;
  • Ensure board training and evaluation.”

I didn’t understand that building the board was my job when I was hired to lead my first agency. I thought that since I reported to the Board, I should stay out of it. Boy, was I wrong! In addition to giving up the power to influence who would become the future leaders of my organizations, and as such, my future bosses, I also passed on the chance to educate my board about their governance responsibilities. I failed to use my position to strengthen the board and through them to strengthen my agency.

When I finally clued in (later in my career and leading a different agency) and began to participate in Board Development efforts, my agency benefited in spades;  we created a vision that improved services to children, and the number of children receiving those services, we merged with another organization, did a capital campaign, built a new building, and renovated two more buildings. And the board of directors became the board of choice in the community.

Now that I am a consultant, I field calls from CEOs and Board members alike looking for board governance assistance and using words like “under-engaged, overstepping, self-serving, and in-fighting.” The solution is board development. Board development is an intentional process that includes strategic prospecting, recruiting, and orienting for new board members and educating, evaluating and recognizing our current board members, coupled with a strategic plan (that is being followed) and the introduction of generative discussions.

CEO’s get a lot done by sheer will. They can, have and will continue to move mountains with limited resources, less staff than they need and unprecedented numbers of service requests. But…and it’s big but….if they also work to build the boards our agencies need, we could do more – much more.

Strong boards coupled with strong leadership can impact a community in a way the neither could do alone; and that impacts the issue, moves the needle and changes the world. Isn’t that why we all do this work…to change the world?

What’s been your experience? How have you built your Board and what impact have you seen because of it?

  1. Really nice post. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with the community!


  2. Thanks for another great post, Dani. I agree with your observation about the importance of that Board Development Committee and the role that the CEO plays in supporting their work. One thing I would add is how important it is to have diversity around that committee table.

    Board Development Committees create prospect lists from their networks.If you have all the same people from the same network sitting around the the table brainstorming who should be on the board, then you will get a lot of group-think and very little diversity.

    And I don’t just mean demographic diversity. I also mean diversity in social networks, which will have a HUGE impact on the board’s ability to fundraise.

    Just my two cents. Keep up the inspirational work!

    Erik Anderson


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