Leading with Intent:
2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices

What is Leading with Intent?

Who serves on today’s nonprofit boards? How are they composed and organized? How do they conduct their work? How well are they fulfilling their many important roles and responsibilities? What impact are they having on organizational performance?

Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices answers these questions and is the latest in BoardSource’s series of studies tracking and analyzing trends in nonprofit board leadership since 1994. We encourage you to read the 2017 study; to reflect on the trends and insights about today’s nonprofit boards; and to act on the many opportunities we have to lead our missions to further success through exceptional board leadership.

Key Findings

1. Boards are no more diverse than they were two years ago and current recruitment priorities indicate this is unlikely to change.

Despite reporting high levels of dissatisfaction with current board demographics — particularly racial and ethnic diversity — boards are not prioritizing demographics in their recruitment practices. Nearly a fifth of all chief executives report they are not prioritizing demographics in their board recruitment strategy, despite being dissatisfied with their board’s racial and ethnic diversity.

2. Boards are starting to embrace their roles as advocates for their missions, but stronger leadership is still needed.

More than half of all boards are actively working in concert with staff leadership to educate policymakers on behalf of their organization, but most organizations do not have formal policies around advocacy. Both chief executives and board chairs cite board member ambassadorship as a top three area for board improvement.

3. Strong understanding of programs is linked to stronger engagement, strategy, and external leadership — including fundraising.

The board’s knowledge of the organization’s programs relates to board performance in several key areas: strategic thinking and planning, commitment and engagement, and fundraising and community outreach. This points to the importance of cultivating a deep understanding of the organization’s programs and operating environment through ongoing board education.

4. Boards that assess their performance regularly perform better on core responsibilities.

Boards that assess themselves get higher grades across all areas of board performance. Emphasizing the importance of regular board assessment, boards that assessed their performance more recently (within the past two years) report higher performance scores than those that assessed less recently

5. Chief executives and board chairs agree that the board has an impact on organizational performance, and that two particular board characteristics matter most: the board’s understanding of its roles and responsibilities, and the board’s ability to work as a collaborative team toward shared goals.

For both chief executives and board chairs, these two characteristics strongly correlate to their perceptions of the board’s overall impact on organizational performance. While there is no evidence that this relationship is causal, it does document a perceived connection between board performance and organizational performance, and may point to high-leverage opportunities for board development and growth.

Leading with Intent 2017

How does your board compare to your peers in its composition, culture, and practices? Explore trends and insights about today’s nonprofit boards. And use the data to start a conversation with your board. Download the 2017 study.

Leading With Intent Cover

Additional Resources

Written resources, publications, templates, and tools on the topics below can be found on the BoardSource website.