Board Leadership-Look for Doers!

by Matthew Haas, President and Chief Executive Officer

It’s amazing how the dynamics of a Board can change with the addition of just one person. I’ve attended many Board meetings that have had meaning, passion, and maybe most importantly, direction. My personal experience tells me non-profit Boards are typically made up of two types of people - the doers and the talkers. Here’s a short list of things that may help you fill your Board with more doers, less talkers.


Remember, your organization wasn’t originally formed because members needed something else to do after their real job ended at 5pm. Your organization was formed most likely to establish codes of ethics, provide education, establish a legislative voice, preserve your industry, give back to the community while providing tax exempt incentives to donors, or simply to network with others in the industry in hopes of building long-term business relationships.

What can you do to lead? - Find out what makes your organization tick. Work with your Board members to develop a strategic plan for the things you’d like to accomplish during your term in office. Make sure you attain buy-in from your Board. If you don’t know how to make a plan or where to even start, work with someone on the Board who does. Not knowing how to do something is not an excuse for inaction. Your members or donors are counting on you.


Planning for tomorrow’s leaders should be part of today’s priorities. Everyone sitting on your Board is busy, has family obligations, and has other commitments outside of their volunteer duties. They’ve agreed to serve on your Board for free. The likelihood of someone stepping into a position of leadership without encouragement or recruitment by their peers appointing them, recommending them, or by nomination is pretty slim. It just doesn’t happen.

Where do you start if you don’t already have a succession plan? - First start by “asking” members to help. Volunteer Board Members have a hard time saying “no” when they’re asked to step-up into a new position with more responsibility if they’re asked by the right individuals.

Get your new members assigned to a committee. Recruit from your existing committees to add members to the Board. Appoint new Board Members as Committee Chairs. Work to get your top Committee Chairs into other executive board Leadership roles. Continually train each position so expectations are clearly communicated and managed throughout their term.

Effective succession planning can take years, so starting today is critical.


Every organization has a well-meaning board member that may often hijack the Board meeting and disrupt the flow of the agenda. It is the President’s primary role to serve as the Chairperson for each meeting and likewise, should keep the meeting on task and on schedule. If a topic outside the agenda is presented and worth further investigation, this can be assigned to either the Executive Board or tasked to committee for further review and report back to the Board.

To respect all Board members’ time, avoid allowing any one individual to derail the meeting with a topic that is not relevant or requires more time than allotted to fully discuss. Most importantly, respect those who have taken time out of their day to volunteer, so starting and ending your meeting on time is just a simple gesture of respect. If a critical issue is presented that wasn’t expected another meeting can always be scheduled in addition to the standard schedule to fully explore the issue.


Execution is the difference between a “doer” and a “talker.” Most non-profit organizations’ financial resources are limited. Therefore, building on the experience, wisdom, connections, and the extraordinary commitment of volunteers is critical to the survival of most organizations. Having endless amounts of paid staff isn’t usually an option and even so cannot replace the passion and commitment of those working in the industry. There is generally no shortage of ideas or opinions of how to accomplish something, but those individuals that make the most impact are those who actually step up and DO what they said they would do or take action to make something happen.

Remember, recruitment and succession planning is key to the long-term success and health of your organization. Give new members opportunities to shine and those that actually execute are your prospects to grow for the future. Recruit the doers!