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Many non-profit organizations tussle with the best way to build a great board of directors. How do you create a better non-profit board of directors?

My community radio work has been with Pacifica, well known for its internal conflicts. In Houston, my station, KPFT, has cultivated the best local board of directors in the network. Though our board struggles at times, largely it is effective and gets things done. KPFT’s board of directors created a strategic plan, did fundraising and helped the station on several fronts.

If a Pacifica radio station can create an effective board, anyone can. What makes for a better board?

This article explores how to build an effective board using basic tools and consistency of communication.

It is important to see effective boards to be the responsibility of staff and management to cultivate and help grow. Managers and staff cannot just wash their hands of bad boards and rogue board members. Dysfunctional organizations are credited to top people. Making an institutional change in board effectiveness requires managers and staff to be top of their game.

Setting proper boundaries is key to defining a good board. Knowing those boundaries means understanding roles as board and staff. Managers in turn model what you need.

A good general manager/board chair relationship is key; their effectiveness in working as a team to present as a united front helps build confidence in the staff-board interaction. I once heard the united front idea called (not in relation to the KPFT board) ‘no fighting in front of kids’ or board members must find ways to support the station and staff, and work together in spite of differences.

Have a plan and vision. Board members who are busy with and are included in vision don’t get involved in nitpicking. Healthy boards are busy boards. Managers and staff must take time to engage board members in new tasks. Board members must have something interesting to do.

Better boards of directors are within reach. Give it your time, positive energy and professionalism, and good boards are possible.

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