Skip to main content

Current Blogs and Newsletters

The Role of the Board: Partnering to Fuel Nonprofit Missions

Navy blue background with white type reading The Role of the Board with headshots of Sonya Shields and David McGloy.

Cause Effective has recently been invited to participate in numerous conversations with nonprofit leaders about the future of the nonprofit sector, and Board governance and has been a big part of those discussions. We’ve grappled in these meetings with questions such as: how are we going to get past the struggles with Board role clarity and engagement, discomfort with fundraising, tension between governance and management, and racial and power imbalances? At Cause Effective, we are passionate about working with Board members because we know that their engagement with nonprofits can help organizations meet their organizational goals.

Throughout the years, Cause Effective has worked with hundreds of Boards and we understand that training and coaching people to be effective fundraisers and Board members isn’t just about building technical skills. It's about helping Board members align in their purpose and connect to a bigger organizational mission. In this work, it’s key for Board members to partner with the Executive Director and staff who are on the frontline doing the work.

Overall, being a Board member is inherently an act of kindness. Board members are giving of their time, energy, resources and ideas, to help advance the mission of the organization. From this perspective, kindness is the fiduciary duties of care, loyalty and obedience in action. Being present, supportive, trusting, dependable, and emotionally invested in the mission requires empathy, trust, and belief in the organization’s leader, staff, and community.

As individuals, Board members are generally knowledgeable, capable, accomplished in their careers, and philosophically aligned with the missions of the organizations that they are tasked with leading, and may have a particular subject matter expertise that supports the organization – such as finance, marketing, or human resources. But most Board members are not subject matter experts in the work of the organization so when it comes to governance, it’s important to rely on the knowledge and experience of the Executive Director and staff and lean into learning and building knowledge in other areas. The dynamic of intelligent and concerned volunteers asking the right questions is the built-in “check and balance” system of nonprofit governance.

In our experience, we often see Boards that become less than the sum of their parts, largely because of a lack of clarity in their role and responsibilities that leads to a lack of agency. While Boards are often trying to figure out what they should be doing, the most important role is being an ambassador for the nonprofit, which is critical to generate awareness, engagement and resources. Board members must always work to understand the organization since they do not work at the organization. And learning about the organization isn’t a turnkey message and talking points because every Board member should find their voice based on why they came onto the Board, and why they believe the organization’s work is important and impactful. Along with the executive and senior staff, Board members are the chief spokespeople for the organization. It is their charge to educate stakeholders about the organization’s mission, vision, strategy and build relationships that will help to advance that mission.  

Cause Effective helps Boards unpack their responsibility to support the people, culture, and systems in organizations. We train and coach Boards to help them develop the mindset and behaviors that will help the organization elevate their visibility and resources. We also help them to better understand the issues that impact philanthropy, fundraising, and nonprofit management, so they can navigate challenges and become agents of change, both in and beyond their organization.

Nonprofit governance isn’t easy, because it wasn’t designed to be. But with curiosity, and the right guidance, all Boards will be positioned to fuel their organizations toward meaningful social impact.

Cause Effective has a long history of partnering with Boards and we would love to hear from you. If your organization is interested in learning about Cause Effective’s consulting work with nonprofit Boards in the areas of governance and fundraising, please contact