The Expert Board

Does your nonprofit board govern your nonprofit like a group of experts?

Board members acquire expertise through learning and practice. As they learn, an evolution from novice to expert takes place. Have you thought about where each of your board members are on that evolutionary continuum?

The novice starts by trying to understand what the task requires and avoiding making mistakes. This explains why new board members often say nothing for the first few meetings. They are learning by watching. Does your board model the behavior and expertise you want new members to learn?

The journeyman is able to perform the needed tasks without thinking through the basics thereby becoming more confident. As proficiency increases, the response to the tasks becomes automatic. Unfortunately, this is where the evolution of most board members ends. In additions, decisions become reactions to information rather than thought filled choices.

When a board member reaches journeyman level there is the risk that they will disengage because they find the meetings routine. Since they are limiting engagement with the discussion, their expertise (the reason you invited them to join the board) is rarely applied.

The expert is the board member who moves beyond journeyman by forcing himself or herself to be mindful of the big picture, think strategically, and put the mission into the context of the community. This requires a deliberate effort. Realization that thinking about the big picture, strategy, and community context is important seldom happens without a gentle nudge.

The gentle nudges necessary to encourage board members to strive for expert status are the agenda, the way topics are introduced to the board, the actions of the board chair, committee reports, and the information shared by the executive. Without nudges, members will resist stepping up because they sense that trying to talk about the big picture, strategy, or context is unimportant.

Next Step:

Assess the level of each of your board members (novice, journeyman, or expert)

Develop an intentional process for moving board members across the continuum of board member expertise

Ensure each of the key elements of the board meeting provide the nudge necessary to increase board member expertise (the agenda, the way topics are introduced to the board, the actions of the board chair, committee reports, and the information shared by the executive)

Our constantly evolving society means everyone’s expertise must be constantly evolving. Ensure your nudges are obvious enough to be notices by all board members. Board members will benefit from a periodic reminder that the mission, the clients, and the sustainability of the mission require constantly growing expertise.

As each board member’s expertise increases board member engagement, your nonprofit’s reputation, and donor, volunteer, and community support will increase.

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