Every board of directors has a different need in its skillset. Some need lawyers, bankers, community activists, and fund raisers. Some need religious leaders, elected officials, social workers, or parents. The skillset your organization needs is based on what your organization does, where and how it does it, and where your organizational plan is taking you.
Many years ago, I joined the board of our local Association for Retarded Citizens here in Springfield, IL. At the time the board was comprised nearly totally of relatives of people with disabilities that the organization served. This was not unusual, nor a bad thing for an organization that was more an advocacy group than anything else.
Over the next 8 years, we went through huge changes, growing from a $450,000 annual budget to over $4,000,000. We added over 15 residences for people with disabilities, a sheltered workshop and new office space. Our board needs changed as well. We needed bankers, lawyers, builders, architects. So the makeup of our board evolved.
As I left the board, we began to take part in the community integration movement, and needed more community leaders, activists and the like. The board changed again to meet this new challenge.
The story serves to illustrate the changing needs of most organizations and how your board skillset should change with them. But there is another part to the story. Even though we added new skills, we never reduced our component of advocates (usually family members) lower than 40-50% of board membership. Why? We wanted to keep mission always foremost.
And that leads me to the reason for this post. Your board needs two kinds of board members: ADVOCATES for what you do, and BUSINESSPEOPLE. The two need to be in a reasonable balance. The ADVOCATES keep you honest to the first rule of nonprofits: "Mission, mission, mission!" The BUSINESSPEOPLE keep you honest to the second rule of nonprofits: "No Money, No Mission!"
I see far too many boards that are all advocate, or all business. Mission and money have to reach a balance in a nonprofit, and the place to start with that is at the board. After you achieve that kind of balance, you can begin to talk about board roles and responsibilities.