Having a Board that throws its weight behind an organisation divides the NGO world into the haves and the have-nots. Organisations with Boards who support new initiatives or introduce new reforms are aware of how to channel the Board’s support. However those whose Boards are not as attuned to the value their role carries find it difficult to communicate as successfully with their Board Members.
Experienced Board members can offer support to organisation leaders, increase their professional knowledge and introduce them to new management techniques. Suresh recommended drawing out a relationship with one’s Board in order to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship. He also felt that conducting a needs and expertise mapping would be a valuable exercise. This is particularly true if one is looking to replace a member, or add a member to the team.
Suresh flagged off important and often unasked questions related to the Board’s contribution to an organisation:
- Are your Board members too comfortable with each other?
Organisations need to question if their Board members are really distinct from each other. Very often Board members tend to know each other for long periods of time and are very comfortable working with one another. This can block growth and learning for all members concerned, and often result in an organisation losing out on valuable learning.
Is your organisation falling behind the competition or facing the same challenges that it has over the years? This might be a sign that you need to bring in a new Board member with different suggestions on your work.
- What are your Board members bringing to the table?
Is that all you need? Existing Board members may have strong connections with organisation staff, but perhaps the organisation needs someone who is better connected with the donor community. Suresh added that organisations may need people who are good networkers and can provide tangible help such as growing the organisation’s corpus fund. Make sure members’ strengths are maximised to meet the organisation’s specific needs. If necessary, you could bring a new person in as well.
- Long-term perspective:
Ensure that your Board addresses the organisation’s current, short-term and long-term needs as well. The Board can step in to fill the gaps in the requirements you may have. It also helps the organisation as a whole to have clearly articulated ideas about its growth four years in the future, and ahead of that as well.
The HYNGO Knowledge Centre recently did some research on how NGOs engage with their Boards:
Donor relations: Abhivyakti Media for Development’s Board handles the organisation’s donor relations.
Funding support: Deval Sanghavi is currently a Board Member at Magic Bus, which received funding from Dasra, an organisation that Sanghavi co-founded.