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Best Practices in Board Performance


Debra Thompson

If you’re passionate about board service, you’ve probably wondered how your organization can ensure a high performing board.

The Standards for Excellence:® An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector helps board members like yourself understand best practices in board performance so that you can identify and implement strategies to ensure a high performing board.

In our experience, we’ve seen that it’s hard to achieve something if no one’s responsible for it. So, an organization that wants a high performing board must establish a Governance Committee to take ownership of achieving that outcome.

What exactly does a Governance Committee do?

1. Help Create Board Roles and Responsibilities

The Governance Committee will lead the board in regularly reviewing and updating the board’s descriptions of its roles and what is expected of individual board members. They will assist in clarifying primary areas of focus for the board and help shape the board’s agenda of work based on the strategic plan.

2. Pay Attention to Board Composition

Maintaining a board composition that has the necessary knowledge, attributes, skills, abilities and influence to accomplish the work of the board is incredibly important. The Governance Committee should develop a profile of the board as it evolves over time.

In addition, they should identify potential board member candidates who reflect the diversity of the people served by the nonprofit. This includes demographic characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity and geographical location.

3. Encourage Board Development

The Governance Committee is responsible for providing candidates with information about expectations, participation and performance prior to election to the board. They will also design and oversee a process of board orientation including:

  • Board Manual. It is the Executive Director’s responsibility to put this together. It should include items such as mission statement, board member job description, overview of agency programs, etc.

  • Board Mentors. Mentors should be long-standing board members. They should support new members in discussing committee assignment preferences, significant board decisions and events, board culture and expectations, etc.

  • Board Engagement. Ongoing program of board information, education and team building to ensure board effectiveness.

4. Assess Board Effectiveness

It’s important that the Governance Committee initiate assessment of the board’s performance at least once every two years. These assessments can be done in the form of Board Evaluation Surveys that rate diversity, operational oversight, board goals and more.

The Governance Committee should also provide ongoing counsel to the Board Chair and other board leaders on steps they might take to enhance board effectiveness.

5. Prepare Board Leadership

The Governance Committee is responsible for leading succession planning, taking steps to recruit and preparing for future board leadership. They will also nominate board members for election to the board.

6. Periodically Review and Update Bylaws

Bylaws are a set of rules regarding board participation. They address attendance, participation, removal and non-compliance. A board’s bylaws should be reviewed and updated at least once every three years to ensure that the agency stays in compliance with its operating guidelines.

Hallmarks of an effective board

Now that you know a board’s Governance Committee plays a key role in maximizing board effectiveness, you’re on your way to demonstrating the hallmarks of an effective board.

You’ll have clarity about roles and responsibilities, focused time and attention on important issues, and more!


If you feel like you need some help in achieving a high performing board, Strategy Solutions is here. With more than 25 years of experience, Debra Thompson and Jacqui Catrabone are licensed consultants, trainers and peer reviewers for the The Standards for Excellence:® An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector.

Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions. We look forward to seeing your board succeed!

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