Nonprofit Strategies

Staying informed a critical duty of nonprofit board members

San Luis Obispo - The TribuneMarch 6, 2013 

Board members of nonprofits make many decisions, and have a duty to be informed before making them. How can they fulfill this duty? The most important way is to learn as much as possible about the organization.

This means attending board and committee meetings as well as functions and special events. Events and activities are the gatherings of the constituents and clients and getting to know their stories is enlightening. Too often board members only attend the required activities and miss expanding their connections throughout the organizations.

Making an informed decision also means reading briefing materials before meetings and asking questions about items that are unclear. It may mean voting against approving an item if the questions are not satisfactorily answered. It is cause for concern if board members open up the briefing materials for the first time at the beginning of a meeting and immediately begin voting on agenda items. When this happens, the entire board is at risk for making a bad decision.

Board members are to be both physically and mentally present during meetings. One way to enable this is to turn off cell phones and prohibit checking email and texts until adjournment.

Because nonprofits are community based, many groups of people are involved in the organizations’ work. It takes longer to implement ideas and create new programs. Much of this work is done by committees and serving on one or more committees is vital.

Staying abreast of developments in the organization’s field gives important perspective to work of the board. Each field has professional associations and websites that share best practices. Rarely does one organization face a situation not yet encountered by another.

An unintended benefit of being informed is that others will notice it and be attracted to the organization. Recruiting new board members becomes easier.

Barry VanderKelen's Nonprofit Strategies column is special to The Tribune. He is executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation. Reach him at

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