Boards that Work - Lessons from a Webinar

Barbara O’Reilly, CFRE, Principal of Windmill Hill Consulting recently hosted a webinar titled “How to Leverage the Critical Roles of Your Nonprofit’s Board.”  Her message is important for any charitable organization. If you don’t have time to view the free webinar, here is a summary of key points. Barbara and I are both proud to be members of the Association of Philanthropic Counsel.

A strong board with a clear vision of the organization’s mission is critical to the growth and sustainability of any nonprofit. In this webinar, my friend Barbara O’Reilly explored the various aspects of building and maintaining a strong board specifically for nonprofit organizations.

She outlined four tips for success in a nonprofit board:



It’s critical to get the right people on the board, and not just to fill seats. To get the right people, the organization (CEO, etc.) should look at the current board, and evaluate for gaps in skills and networks that need to be filled. Is there an untapped market for the nonprofit? If so, seek to fill a board seat with someone with knowledge and contacts in that market. O’Reilly suggests creating a grid to map out coverage - both current and desired - to identify gaps for more strategic recruitment.

Additionally, O’Reilly highlighted the point that board recruitment is like hiring: it’s critical to have a clear job description, outline expectations, and have multiple candidates for each board seat.

O’Reilly suggests that finding new board members should be the job of all staff and current board members, looking at current donors, committee members and tapping into personal networks.

Of note, O’Reilly reports that only 36% of nonprofit CEOs say that they have right board to effectively govern their organizations. Recruitment is key.


A great board is set up for success from the beginning, which involves a process of setting and aligning expectations on an ongoing basis.

O’Reilly stated that board members should be provided with the organization’s mission, vision, financial statements and/or strategic plan. As O’Reilly stated, “They should see your work in action and meet your program leaders.”

As fundraising is a large part of being on a nonprofit board, members should be given a clear roadmap in terms of fundraising goals, personal expectations and networking.

Empowering Your Board

An effective board knows its mission, has clear expectations of its performance and feels empowered to be a part of delivering on the mission of the organization.

O’Reilly outlined the importance of utilizing your board as additional branches of the nonprofit, allowing them to help deliver the mission of the organization. By keeping board members active, informed and involved, it will empower them to be ambassadors for the nonprofit in the community.


Any organization needs to use metrics to measure its performance, and a nonprofit board is no different. O’Reilly suggests using a “Board Report Card” to evaluate its performance. This includes both evaluation of the board as a whole, as well as board members’ self-evaluations.

Going back to orientation, having clear expectations (both measurable and subjective) will allow your board the ability to measure its performance. Aspects of this report card could include attendance, fundraising, financial oversight, support of chief executive, strategic thinking, community building and more.

O’Reilly states that when thinking of fundraising for a nonprofit, it’s about creating a culture of giving. And in this culture, boards are right at the center, focusing on hospitality, integrity, community and gratitude.

Fundraising is much more than transactional: there are people contributing to those numbers. Therefore, board members’ actions in regards to fundraising should “inspire and engage and celebrate those who are supporting you.”

In fundraising, board members play many different roles, including ambassador, closer, donor, cultivator and/or steward.

Overall, creating effective, powerful boards is critical to the growth and sustainability of any nonprofit. O’Reilly outlined some key factors for success in this informative webinar.

To find out more, contact Barbara O’Reilly at Windmill Hill Consulting.