While most New Year’s resolutions die an untimely death by mid-February, they do serve an important role in allowing us a moment of self-reflection and the opportunity to identify areas in our lives that need attention.  Organizations can use this same technique to assess their own efforts.  So, what resolutions should nonprofit boards and directors be making in 2024?

We offered this question to our online community and got several interesting responses.  We also constructed resolutions based on several of our recent blog posts.  Whether or not your board or executive committee makes 2024 resolutions, the conversation might be enlightening.  (See Resolution 2.)  

New Year’s Resolutions for Nonprofit Boards

1. In 2024, we will work on making the board packet smaller and more user-friendly.  (Gene, Pennsylvania)

That is a great idea.  Nobody joins a board with aspirations of reading 150-page board books. Take a hard look at what you are sending out, remove overly technical documents and substitute readable summaries.  Use my blog on the subject for a start.  https://NAGovernance.com/what-is-a-board-pack/

2. Start asking the board what they think.

It’s hard to believe, but some organizations can go through multiple meetings without ever asking directors for their opinions.  Well-trained directors should have comments, thoughts, and ideas on the major topics the board is discussing.  Unfortunately, they are too often never encouraged to engage in discussions.  Several times in each meeting, they should be asked their thoughts about the topics under discussion.  At the end of the meeting, they should be asked their opinion about how the meeting was conducted.  Many boards circulate a post-meeting survey.

3. Discuss the future more and the past less. 

The Bard taught us, “What is past is prologue” (Shakespeare, “The Tempest”), but when boards convene, most of the discussion focuses on the past.  Results are important, but as we are reminded by stock analysts, past performance is no guarantee of future results.  Nevertheless, boards spend an excessive amount of time looking at interim financial performance.  For boards, “What we are doing now” can be helpful to answer the question “What are we doing next.”  But why are discussions about the future so rare?  Financial results are quantifiable and answer a seemingly important question: are we performing according to the budget?  Talking about the future is intellectually more difficult; it requires speculation, suspending belief, and attempts to know the unknown.

4. “In 2024, the board should start trusting the CEO more.”  (Anonymous, from undisclosed)

Ouch.  Although not indicated, I assume that this question comes from a CEO.  One of the most challenging situations in nonprofit governance is when the board and the CEO lose trust in each other. Repairing the rift will be difficult, but it is often a better situation than terminating the relationship.  One thing is clear: repairing the relationship requires effort from all sides and outside assistance. 

5. “We should spend more time on quality and compliance.”  (Elizabeth, Pennsylvania)

Most boards use a standard agenda that places financial reports and operational updates early in the meeting.  Conversations can sometimes wander, and agenda items take more time than expected.  Topics at the bottom of the agenda are often given short shrift as the allotted time runs out.  The solution can be as simple as changing the agenda order or agreeing that some topics will be “questions only,” operating on the assumption that directors have read the related material in advance.  Yes, Elizabeth, compliance and quality are at the core of the board’s fiduciary obligations.

6. Create one new project with community impact. 

In 2023, the Nonprofit Governance Blog’s most popular post focused on making your nonprofit a true Community Benefit Organization by becoming more involved in addressing the broader needs of your community.  See that blog at https://NAGovernance.com/becoming-a-community-benefit-organization/. Will 2024 be the year you identify a community project that your agency can support?

7. Address the “George” Problem.

Not every board has a problem director, but if you do, you know exactly what I am talking about.  “George” can be chronically late; he can ask irrelevant questions or take the conversation off-topic.  Or he can be angry, untrusting or uncompromising.  A toxic board member can drive good directors off the board or represent your agency poorly in the community.  Yes, his behavior must be addressed in 2024.  Review your bylaws, talk among yourselves and then ACT.  It is not a problem that will fix itself.

8. “Get the board reading this blog.”  (Bob, New Jersey)

Thanks, Bob.  Subscribing to the Nonprofit Governance Blog is an excellent way for directors to get ongoing education to help them become better board members.  For a FREE subscription, email admin@NAGovernance.com with “Subscribe” in the subject line.

New Year’s Resolutions for Directors

Even though nonprofit organizations act through the formal decisions of their boards, individual directors can resolve to improve their own performance.  Here are four things that directors can do on their own to be better board members in 2024.

1.I will show my support with my physical presence, attending facility events, and advocacy opportunities.

Being a great director is more than having a good attendance record at board meetings.  Directors are leaders who show their support through their physical presence.  With the growth of remote meetings, some directors will never set foot in their organization.  As a leader, their presence is also appreciated at the regular events held throughout the year for employees and beneficiaries – employee recognition events, holiday parties, charity walks, and fundraising events. Directors can also deliver a powerful endorsement of their agency’s agenda when they participate in governmental advocacy with elected officials.

2. I will commit to a plan of ongoing education.

Director education is essential, but it will only work when directors give the time and attention to learn from what is offered.

3. I will spend more time preparing for board meetings.

To be effective, directors must come to the board meeting prepared.  That means spending time reviewing the board book in advance of the meeting.

4. I will remind myself why I do this work.

I want to serve others, I believe in our mission, I want to help my community, and through this service, I can make the world a little better.

In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville, in his seminal work Of Democracy in America, concluded that one reason for the success of democracy in America was the existence of a large number of civil associations.   Unlike in Europe, where charities were often created by monarchs, in America, they were the product of ordinary citizens coming together to create hospitals, schools, fire companies, and numerous other forms of charities.  Today’s volunteer board members carry on that unique American tradition – serving others, building a stronger sense of community and proving that Americans can still work together for the common good.

Thank you for your service. Happy New Year, and here’s to making your nonprofit board better in 2024!

Bob Leamer

Northampton Advisors