10 Secrets of Highly Effective Boards

Susan E Mangels Senior Vice President Consulting Services at AC Fitzgerald Author

Susan E. Mangels, Ph.D, Senior Vice President of Consulting Services

Do you ever wonder why some boards are a valued asset for the organization, while others are just a giant headache? I have been thinking about this a lot recently, and I thought I’d share some reflections on good and effective boards.

To begin, great board governance is a ‘team sport’. Effective boards work collegially. While listening to and considering minority opinions, the board finds a way to come to a decision together. When the board finally speaks, it is as a unified entity.

Yet for that unified entity to be truly effective, I find that there are some priorities its individual members must uphold. I see that – for the most effective boards – each member:

  1. Deeply understands the organization’s mission and vision, and can engagingly communicate the significance of that mission to constituents, community members, and supporters
  2. Builds and maintains a supportive, active relationship with the organization’s CEO
  3. Proactively (and early in each fiscal year) makes an annual donation and supports larger campaign projects
  4. Focuses on policy making, planning, and the long-term strategic needs of the organization and – while staying up to date on day-to-day details – does not meddle in operational work
  5. Has a learning mind-set, always seeking to know more about the organization’s programs, as well as current best practices in nonprofit governance
  6. Understands the financial position of the organization and works to obtain resources for the non-profit
  7. Welcomes new or contrary viewpoints and can evaluate them in light of the organization’s strategic plan and mission
  8. Ensures that the board make-up reflects the current needs of the organization
  9. Demonstrates and fosters legal and ethical integrity in collegial governance and in personal actions
  10. Knows when it’s time to step off of the board in order to make room for new members

Not everyone is suited for work as a non-profit board member. But for those who want to work on a mission-focused team, build strategy, and secure the future of an organization, board service can be both personally challenging and deeply rewarding.

And if you’re looking for ways to build a more effective board, I hope this list is inspiring. I’ll also direct you to a previous post on Building a Better Board.


Susan E. Mangels, Ph.D. serves as Senior Vice President of Consulting Services at AC Fitzgerald. She uses her expertise in fundraising, management, and leadership development to oversee our consulting efforts and deliver exceptional service to clients.

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