How much administrative support does a nonprofit board need?

Kate Goffredo Dougherty

By Kate Goffredo Dougherty

Time can be an easy thing to under-budget. A 20-minute drive into the city? Try 45. Half an hour at the grocery store? More like an hour and a half. A few minutes after dinner for a stroll around the block? Forget about it.

But time is the key factor when deciding how much administrative support a nonprofit needs to give to its board of directors. Over or underestimation of time commitments on either side can result in leadership breakdowns with ramifications throughout the organization. So how can this be avoided?

Follow this golden rule: Boards do not have a lot of time. Never lose sight of the fact that board members are almost always volunteers, with jobs and other commitments that will take priority over your organization. Even the most enthusiastic board member will at some point find themselves running short on time when life's other responsibilities come calling.

For this reason, you must treat your board's time with respect. Expect little of it, and make the most of what you do receive by giving extra emphasis to organization. When board meetings roll around, be prepared.

Don't use word-of-mouth to determine who should be attending or what will be on the agenda. Instead, send out an email a week in advance with all of the necessary materials and a list of who will be speaking. If neither your board nor your administration has its ducks in a row prior to a meeting, you'll end up wasting time or, even worse, arriving at crucial decisions based on faulty information.

Administrative support shouldn't conclude with the meeting, either. Although it can be a cumbersome task, have someone take thorough minutes and commit to spending a few hours after the meeting to cleaning them up and sending them out. You have your board's attention and the meeting is fresh on their minds, so follow up immediately. They can't be expected to jump back into the fray a week or two down the line.

Occasionally, board members can actually be the ones who underestimate how much of their own time is needed. We see this often with organizations that lose an executive and decide to temporarily shift responsibilities to the board. Board members optimistically believe they can divvy up the time, but they often fail to realize the extent of responsibilities: tax filing, banking deposits, invoicing, event organization, and even day-to-day communication with employees and stakeholders.

These responsibilities should rarely, if ever, be given to board members, because these situations can quickly degrade into disorganization and lost revenue. For that reason we always advise nonprofits to enlist administrative support services provided by a company like Dunleavy & Associates when faced with an absence, even if only for a short period of time.

About the author: Kate Goffredo Dougherty is Senior Project Manager, Operations at Dunleavy & Associates. With a background in nonprofit administration, Kate oversees the lion's share of Dunleavy's operations, and shares her expertise with clients seeking to improve their operational and organizational management. She also specializes in event planning.