Fairmount InSights

Successful nonprofit leadership depends on a high functioning, clearly defined board/staff partnership. While this has always been the case, it has become more so in the age of purpose-driven boards. To address current needs, organizations have invested substantial time and resources to ensure their board members have a diversity of backgrounds, expertise, and lived experience to be able to make informed and effective decisions for the organization, the community, and the population they serve.

Across our work in organizational strategy, fundraising, board development, structure, and governance, Fairmount observes that too few organizations are taking advantage of this diversity and expertise. Too often, our review of board meeting agendas demonstrates a focus on reviewing committee reports and providing oral updates. If your agenda resembles this, you’re not making the most of your board meetings – or the expertise and experience of your board members. This can result in poor decision-making, avoiding key strategic conversations, and a lack of board engagement. It can also impede the ability of the board to fulfill their roles and responsibilities, or to exercise duty of care, loyalty, and obedience.

What’s a leader to do? Take these three steps to make your board meetings more meaningful to your organization and your members.

1. Consent Agendas.

Use a consent agenda to consider and approve all reports provided to the board in advance of the meeting. Certain reports can be isolated for further discussion as needed. Build a culture where board members come to meetings ready for discussion by reading board papers as preparation. If you restate to the board what is in a written report, they are not incentivized to read anything in advance.

2. Key Strategic Questions.

Every organization faces unique challenges and opportunities, both long-standing and emergent. Use board meetings to explore these strategic questions. For example, what’s the best service mix to advance your mission and serve your clients; what could (and should) the organization stop doing to invest in more effective strategy; or what are the best options to scale impact over the next three to five years? Provide a background paper in advance to the board to ensure they can have informed discussions. 

3. Education and Training.

Take time annually to provide your board members with the education and training they need to support their ability to work strategically. This could include topics such as interpreting audits and 990s, understanding the budget as a strategic document, training on the board’s role in fundraising, or new information about the mission that could influence board decisions and thinking.  

Support your board to become more strategic by aligning these recommendations as part of your strategic planning cycle. As the board evaluates the plan’s progress, what strategic questions arise? What must the organization address in the next year to remain successful? What training will the board need to navigate new challenges or opportunities? Each of these questions can be explored through the board’s annual self-assessment of their own performance. (The board is reviewing their performance each year, right?)
Contact lblair@fairmountinc.com to explore how we can help you to improve your governance and board performance.

Have you heard?

Fairmount provides outsourced project management, partner facilitation, and grantwriting support to position transformational local, state, and federal applications for success. We’re celebrating these recent client wins:

  • A $156 Million Solar For All grant to provide jobs and clean energy solutions for low to moderate income communities across Pennsylvania.
  • $1.2 Million in PA Dept. of Education 21st Century Community Learning Center grants, funding out-of-school-time supports for multiple charter school and OST provider clients.
  • A $450K planning grant for Philadelphia from the US Department of Justice to develop a new Continuum of Care hub to support families and divert youth from further involvement with the justice system.
Out & About

Rae Pagliarulo facilitated a February 2024 Coffee Conversation about prospecting strategy for the Greater Philly chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Look for more workshops co-hosted with AFP-GPC, coming soon!

Aimée Miller was a panelist at the University of Pennsylvania’s March 2024 Penn It Forward event, sharing her insights on everyday philanthropy and giving back to an engaged audience of students, staff, and alumni. She’ll also present on fundraising culture to the Independent Research Libraries Association at its annual conference in Delaware, in May.

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