What Makes An Effective Board Member?

Effetive non-profit board


The job of an effective board (with the CEO) is to set strategic direction and determine goals for the organisation. Their job is also to ensure that the organisation is run according to its constitution, complies with relevant law and is managed in a financially prudent way.


Big Picture Thinking


Think about your reason for becoming a board member. Many board members of not for profit organisations get onto the board because there is something about the work of the organisation that they want to influence. On arriving at the board table, they quickly find out that they need to take a wide strategic view and do not have a say in day to day operational matters. These board members can become frustrated by not being able to make operational changes and sometimes resort to clandestine ways to bring about the changes that they want.


TIP: If you have a single issue that you want to focus on as a board member, be prepared to take a wider focus on the strategic big picture.



The board needs to delegate operational responsibility to the CEO and not to do the work of the organisation themselves. However, in small organisations board members are sometimes also volunteer staff or on committees doing operational work. If you are both a board member and an active staff member note that the two hats that you wear are very different. With your ‘staff’ hat on you’re a worker and accountable to the CEO – you can make operational suggestions but the CEO does not have to accept your suggestions. With your ‘board’ hat on the CEO is accountable to you and the rest of the board on agreed outcomes.


TIP: Remember which hat you’re wearing – board member or staff member.


Collective Responsibility

The board is a collective and is collectively responsible. The board should speak with one voice. Working as part of an effective board means being willing to participate in a consensus based team.


TIP: Be prepared to work hard at consensus


Specialist Skills

If you bring specialist skills to a board like Accountancy, Marketing or Human Resources you need to apply those skills in particular ways. If you’re an accountant, for example, and your skills can help the board in its duties (e.g. financial overview) then your responsibility is to help the whole board participate in financial overview. It is tempting for a numerate board member to ‘take over’ responsibility for financial overview with the CEO while other board members zone out.


If you bring skills that are operationally useful like Marketing or Human Resources, use those skills to give operational support to the CEO / organisation. This should take place outside the context of a board meeting. In this situation you can offer your skills to the CEO in an ‘advisory’ capacity. It is the CEO who should have final say.


TIP: Offer your skills appropriately – help all board members take collective responsibility for governance even if you have specialist skills. If you bring operational skills – offer them outside the context of your board role.


First published in Exult, May 2011, issue 10. Reprinted with permission

Avatar About Damian D'Cruz

Damian’s strength as a designer and facilitator of adult learning is his unrelenting pursuit of creativity and innovation.

He has designed and facilitated adult learning since 1992. Starting his career as an outdoor instructor, Damian developed a solid foundation of facilitation skills with Project Adventure New Zealand. He went on to work for leading training companies specialising in people skills training design and facilitation.

Starting a Masters degree in 2001 in design management gave him the impetus to bring a creative approach to the design of learning in his own company MindSpring Limited.

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