Thoughts About the Board

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.

Empty Boardroom

  • 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.

See more ways in which Indian NGOs engage their Board members!

Retention Challenges

How do non-profits handle retention? Employee retention receives a lot of attention in the for-profit world. However, non-profit leaders often find themselves fully immersed in solving field-related issues, leaving them with little or no time to work on staff satisfaction initiatives. This is only compounded by the fact that non-profits can’t offer the same levels of monetary ROUND TABLE MEETcompensation or benefits provided by corporate or government organisations.

US-based organisation Non-Profit HR’s 2014 survey on Non-Profit Employment Practices found that 1 out 5 non-profits indicated that turnover was “the biggest employment challenge at their organisation.[1]” 32% of respondents said that “the inability to pay competitively” was a strong reason for people leaving.


Insights from Nonprofit HR’s NonProfit Employment Practices Survey:
-Entry and mid-level professionals are the hardest to retain
-Only 17% of organisations have formal retention strategies for 2014

How do non-profits deal with employee satisfaction, retention or attrition rates in a resource effective way? Our Round Table Meet, led by Suresh Raina of Hunt Partners, deliberated this question at length. Suresh had several insights to offer the organisations, some of which are shared here:



  • Screening talent: A critical aspect to be considered as part of the hiring process – how does an organisation ensure it hires people who are likely to remain committed to the non-profit? Suresh felt that organisations need to bear in mind that working in the non-profit space does not suit every individual. A key takeaway was to ensure that the candidate’s personality and motivation fit the requirements of the profile and that candidates were aware of the demands of non-profit work.
  • Psychometric Assessments at joining interviews: Suresh drew participants’ attention to psychometric testing as a method of investigating candidates’ strengths and interest levels. While these tests are not conclusive, they give you a good idea of the individual and whether s/he is a good fit for the work your organisation does.
  • Internships: Internships are another effective method of assessing potential candidates and the roles they can play in your organisation. Several participants felt that a lack of knowledge about the existence of the sector kept people away from joining it. A short-term internship can introduce potential employees to the demands of the role and the organisational culture. (Read our piece on Internships as a source of talent for NGOs here).



[1] Staffing Challenges, NonProfit Employment Practices Survey, NonProfit HR, 2014

Sources of talent for NGOs

ROUND TABLE MEETThe non-profit sector attracts a large number of motivated and passionate people, but their numbers are not sufficient to meet the staffing needs of NGOs. In the section on performance at our Round Table Meet, talent acquisition was a closely discussed topic.
Internships turned out to be one of the most popular and cost-effective sources of talent. A few attendees mentioned that their organisations stumbled on this idea, while others have developed a strategic plan to source talent through internship programmes. Interns were sourced from undergraduate and post-graduate programmes in addition to professional degree programmes like a Master’s in Business Administration.

Using interns provides a simple solution to the temporary shortage of hands occasionally experienced, at a low cost. Interns are able to easily perform tasks (say technology updates or fund raising presentations) that may not be the strengths of field staff. It seems like a win-win situation for all concerned. However, Suresh pointed out that if handled badly, internships can show the intern the “worst face” of the organisation and sector. He provided a few tips on managing interns during their tenure:

  1. Set up a clearly structured internship programme where the contribution of the intern is well defined for the duration of the internship.
  2. Make sure the intern has a point of contact within the organisation who they will report to and liaise with
  3. The intern should be given a good impression of the organisation. Interns become stakeholders of the organisation as well


Create a pool of interns

  1.  School students: School students are often required to undertake social work as part of their course requirements. Suresh felt that an ideal way to tap this pool of talent is by signing up with schools that offer the Indian Certificate for Secondary Education (I.C.S.E.) or International Baccalaureate programmes.
  2.  Undergraduate students: Many undergraduate students are also mandated to do some social work activity as part of their coursework. St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, offers academic credit to who complete a fixed number of hours of social work. Several NGOs at the Round Table found that internship programmes introduced students to a career option they were not aware about earlier.
  3. Post- graduate/MBA students: While these students are more skilled and can contribute to your organisation at a deeper level, many NGOs felt that it might be difficult to get a long-term commitment from them.

Developing Successors

ROUND TABLE MEETLeadership is the trickiest question of them all! It’s common to see founder-driven NGOs being closely managed by one or two stalwarts resulting in an impediment in the growth of leadership within the organisation. Moreover, candidates with potential to lead, sooner or later, tend to move to organisations with greater opportunities for self-development. Consequently, when the founder is ready to step away from direct management of the NGO, the organisation struggles with succession. In the U.S., 2 out of 3 organisations surveyed continued to “operate without formal succession plans”, while only 14% of those without, said they would create one in the future[1].

Members of the ten non-profits who attended our Round Table Meet uniformly stated that leadership and transition were areas of importance. Session moderator Suresh Raina (Senior Partner, Hunt Partners) pointed out that founder-led organisations or those with ‘superstar CEOs’ often face a stumbling block in development of good second-tier leaders. The presence of an individual who dominates all decision-making leads to stagnation at mid and lower management levels. Concerns about maintaining enduring relationships with external stakeholders can lead to the entire organisation being dependent on one individual’s relationship management skills.

What should leaders do to counter this issue? A few points emerged from our discussion:

  • chess figurinesDelegate: Participants at the session were in agreement that the organisation should outlast the leader. Delegation and building teams play a big part in achieving this result. There is a noticeable tendency among non-profit leaders to be deeply involved in every aspect of the operation. The leader should identify a few less critical tasks and disengage from them even if he believes the subordinate would not be able to perform at the same level.
  • Leaders. Let go!: Every leader has a distinctive style of execution and may find it difficult to allow another to achieve results with a different approach. However, it is important to take a step back and manage rather than execute tasks
  • Operations can be ‘addictive’: Suresh pointed out that the high intensity of running operations provides instant gratification, an addictive process. However, execution should be the responsibility of others in the team. A leader must judge his effectiveness by his/her ability to train people to perform these tasks in his/her absence.
  • Make a succession plan: It’s unsurprising that most non-profit organisations lack succession plans, given the pressing demands of the field. To maintain organisation longevity, it is imperative that the leader develops a succession plan, even if it is on a back burner.
  • Groom more than one successor: Attrition is one of the largest challenges faced by corporate organisations as well. A plan which has identified only one successor-in-waiting can be ineffective if that person chooses to leave the organisation. Ensure that you have a larger pool of candidates to choose from by grooming multiple candidates across departments.
  • Professionalise the organisation: Ensure that organisational practices are streamlined. Increasingly, the NGO sector is being professionalised, so that organisations can plan their outcomes in advance.


[1] Staffing Challenges, 2014 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey,, accessed on 27th June 2014

No Board Games Here!

A strong Board can take an organisation from strength to strength, while a Board divided can be a millstone around your neck. Board management might not seem like a priority area for NGOs, but if managed well, can ensure that your organisation benefits from the experience and insights of your Board members. This piece, sourced from Sanjay Patra’s* series on ‘Tools for Identifying, recruiting and developing a Board’ will give you an idea of the value of Board orientation, and the impact it can have for your organisation.

Read More


Board orientation is a process to thoughtfully provide new Board members with the precise information they need on their role in the organization. It also serves to build a working relationship among Board members and helps to recognize the various skills available within the Board.

New Board members need to feel like they are an integral part of the Board as soon as possible. Providing information about the organization and roles/responsibilities will help them to feel at ease.


There are steps you can take to move this process along. Conducting an orientation session of the entire Board shortly after the election is essential. It should occur well before the first Board meeting and can be as short as 2 to 4 hours or as long as a two-day special retreat which could be linked with a planning session.

To know all the steps you need for a successful Board orientation, log on to

Coming Soon:

The next part of our article will give you data on how Indian NGOs engage with their Boards. This data is taken from NGOs own reportage in their Annual Reports, and will give you a good idea of how organisations engage with their Boards in practice.

*Sanjay Patra is Executive Director of the Financial Management Service Foundation (FMSF). Other publications from FMSF include:

Finance & Legal Handbook for NPOs 4th Edition

About the Book:

A comprehensive handbook that gives a detailed overview on various Finance, Legal, and Governance aspect of NPOs. This is a well-researched book of more than 600 pages and written in a layman’s language. This 4th edition provides insights into many new areas that require more attention in the fast changing scenario for voluntary organizations.

To order the above book mail to or log on to

To read more books by Sanjay Patra email