Developing a Strategic Board of Directors

 A Board of Directors, Board of Trustees, or an Advisory Board all have overseer function for the organization whether it is for-profit or non-profit. Those serving on these boards often are chosen for their executive role in the organization, their connections to resources, or involvement with partner organizations. Yet these people are expected to help craft a strategic future for the organization that pushes toward mission fulfillment while adapting to changes in the operating environment. The purpose of this short paper is to identify ways board members can be brought into strategic alignment with the needs of the organization and thereby provide valuable advice to guide the organization.

Board Roles & Responsibilities

Board Source identifies a number of responsibilities that directly relate the Board’s strategic role. These include:

  • Determine the mission (purpose) for the organization and clearly communicate that mission to those responsible for directing daily operations. Components of this statement include organizational goals, values to be embedded in the operation, and stakeholders who are to be involved. While this statement is fairly static over time, it should still be reviewed periodically for alignment to current conditions and opportunities.
  • Select the Chief Executive who will be responsible for implementing the strategic mission and overseeing daily operations. This role expands to monitoring this individual’s performance and providing performance improvement advice as needed.
  • Work with the executive leadership team to craft a compelling vision that will focus and motivate all organizational members toward fulfilling the mission.
  • Provide the executive the moral and professional support as needed to lead the organization forward.
  • Ensuring that the planning function is operating effectively and integrated into routine performance reporting processes. Components of the planning activity include the mission and vision statements that are widely communicated, the strategic framework for developing the operating plan, and the mechanism by which the operating plan is put into action and tracked for performance.
  • Ensure that the necessary resources are available to execute the mission.

Alignment between the Board and Top Leadership

Moving further into the crafting of a strategic future for the organization, the Board and Top Leadership have intertwined roles. At the core level, the Board is responsible to see that a strategic plan is developed, put in place, and tracked during implementation. In this oversight role, the Board sets guidelines, clarifies assumptions, and monitors work done by the Top Leadership Team. The following table illustrates specific points of interface between the Top Leadership Team and the Board as the Strategic Plan is developed and implemented.

Board responsibilities

  • Clarify the organization’s mission and a vision for the future
  • Monitor the Top Leadership Team to confirm that the strategic planning process is in fact in place and being done
  • Ensure someone is accountable for each part of the strategic planning process
  • Review plan assumptions and provide feedback for improvement
  • Review strategic options and challenge them adding perspective
  • Approve the Plan
  •  Monitor the implementation as a Board oversight function
  • Risk assessment

Top Leadership Team responsibilities

  • Analyze the gap between the current capabilities and what is required to fulfill the mission and reach the vision
  • Prepare the strategic planning document including the required analysis, strategic formulation, and implementation plan
  • Organize the work necessary to gain full organizational involvement & commitment
  • Evaluate alternate scenarios and determine what core competencies exist and which might be developed
  • Determine how the organization might best meet its mission
  • Execute the Plan
  • Push the agreed upon plan down into the organization’s budget and daily work tasks
  • Risk management

For more information see Board Source (2009).  What are the basics responsibilities of nonprofit boards?  Retrieved from

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