By Karla Bonne & Renee Waage, Consultants at Venture Acceleration

This article walks you through the process of transitioning from a founding board to a structured board, detailing the advantages and challenges along the way. Many of the principles shared can also apply to transitioning from an unhealthy board, or even a family business transitioning from the founding generation to the next.

Founding Boards: The Basics

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A founding board is often assembled by someone who has the initial vision for an organization and gathers their friends or colleagues in support of a unified effort. While their supporters sometimes share the same passion and vision for the organization’s mission, they often follow along primarily to support their friend or family member. Founding board members may initially be committed, providing the seed funding, connections, and the moral support needed to get the organization off the ground, but this enthusiasm and funding may fade over a relatively short period of time.

the weakness of a founding board is that the management team (which were all volunteers) felt that it had to do everything, because they did not want to burden the luminaries.  MUC raised $1 million dollars in 6 months, but this put a lot of stress on the management team, which led to health issues and infighting
— Fred Sullivan, Co-founder of the Man Up Campaign

Why Shift to a Structured Board?

In most cases a structured board is needed in order to bring the organization to a sustainable future. The organization requires more systemic fundraising, organizational structure, and long-term strategy.  Focus needs to be put on recruiting the right type of individuals to be put in board positions and/or be active in the organization. 

The type of personalities and skills (expertise) needed:

o   Individuals with capital

o   Connectors (individuals who have connections to funding or talent)

o   Financial skills

o   Fundraising skills

o   Public relations and marketing experience

o   Programmatic (generally the easiest to recruit because these individuals are often already working in the social impact arena)

o   ‘Doers’ depending on the board size

How to Get to a Structured Board

In preparation for transition to a structured board, the first step is to conduct a skills gap analysis.  This is where the organization takes inventory of the skills and expertise present with the current board, compared to what is needed to successfully make the transition.  It is also at this point that bylaws should be written, if they do not already exist. 

The bylaws should contain, at a minimum, the mission of the organization, board expectations as a whole (monetary and other), board terms, descriptions of executive board position and committees.  Note, the bylaws included are limited in scope, including only those pertinent to this discussion.

It is imperative to have board members that collectively bring funding and connections--positioning the organization with connectors to bring in dollars and the talent pool to staff board committees, as needed. 

The Challenges of Transitioning

Transitioning can pose sensitive challenges such as transitioning out stagnant board members and aligning missions.  After board member expectations are made clear, those not adhering to expectations can be moved on to an honorary board in a dignified manner.  After all, they should be recognized for their contributions in getting the organization off the ground.

Board Positions

At a minimum the key board positions listed below are needed and would make up the Executive Board.  Keep in mind that, with exception of the Board Chair, these functions can be filled by a person or a committee.  Our preference is that there be committees in order to ensure knowledgeable succession.  Depending on the size of the board, some board members may wear several hats, especially if the organization does not have staff positions.

●      Board Chair

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●      Fundraising/Development Chair

●      Finance and Audit Chair

●      Nominating and Governance Chair

●      PR and Marketing Chair

●      Programmatic Chair

●      Other as identified by the organization (i.e. investment, volunteer outreach, gala etc.)

Recruiting and Onboarding New Board Members

Recruiting new board members requires finding people who connect with and share the organization’s mission.  A good place to start is having the founding board members share the opportunities within their networks, handpicking a few connections that they believe would add value or balance to the board.  Other viable options include advertising on LinkedIn, Indeed, and other job boards commonly utilized for posting paid job opportunities. 

Upon selection of board members for the needed positions, it is important to enter into a contract that explicitly outlines job expectations and any monetary expectations. 

An onboarding program and manual are highly recommended as a means of onboarding the new board members in a structured manner.  The investment up front in transparency and clarity can go a long way in setting the stage for the best results. 

If your organization is seeking individuals who have already received board training (albeit more general in nature than specific organizational onboarding), the United Way is a sound resource as they routinely provide training to individuals seeking board positions.

Good luck and have fun!