VOices Blog Members Home Events English | Français Shopping Cart
Skip to main content

Blog > What knowledge and skills should an ideal board have?

What knowledge and skills should an ideal board have?

posted on Dec 12, 2017

by Maria Lahiffe

Whether you are looking to join a board, or you are recruiting for your existing board, it helps to think in terms of competencies, rather than responsibilities or expertise.

“Competencies are general descriptions of the attributes needed to perform a specific function.” [1] Important attributes include

  • The skills required to do the job
  • The knowledge needed to understand the challenges inherent to the job
  • The attitudes and personal attributes, that influence decisions and actions

A competency-based mindset allows you to really home in on what you can offer, or what your board needs, and provides a set of objective criteria to aid in recruitment, selection, self-assessment, and performance management.

Most boards have some common competency requirements. To analyze your own board, or a board you are interested to join, analyze in the following way

  1. List all the responsibilities of the board. Responsibilities fall into four key areas:
    1. People
    2. Policy
    3. Process
    4. Property
  2. For each responsibility, identify the related competencies required to execute that responsibility thoroughly. Remember that competencies include knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
  3. Group responsibilities by common competency areas

Here is a handful of examples of responsibilities and competency areas which are common to most boards: [1]

Board Responsibilities

Competency Areas


Recruit, select, develop, evaluate, and plan for succession for the most senior staff member (Executive Director or SEO)

  • Recruitment
  • Performance evaluation
  • Career planning and development
  • Succession planning

Participate in meetings to fulfill responsibilities and work effectively with others

  • Consensus-building
  • Negotiation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Dealing with difficult people
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership and motivation (self and others)

Promote the organization

  • Ambassadorship
  • Marketing

Communicate with members and key stakeholders

  • communications


Develop policies for the organization which support:

  • legal and ethical integrity of the organization
  • accountability
  • business decisions
  • communications
  • finance and investments
  • technical aspects of your mission
  • policy development
  • policy monitoring
  • legal and fiduciary
  • ethical conduct
  • understand and avoid conflict of interest
  • grievance administration and appeals
  • business analysis
  • financial management


Determine and further the organization’s vision, mission, goals, and values

  • strategic thinking
  • setting priorities
  • problem solving
  • performance measurement

Ensure development of a business plan to support the organization’s strategic direction

  • Decision making
  • Systems thinking
  • Business plans and budgets

Support fundraising activities

  • Ambassadorship
  • Fundraising
  • Financial monitoring
  • Ethics


Ensure the organization’s assets are protected

  • Risk management
  • Intellectual property management

Understand business tools required to work effectively and efficiently

  • technology

 If you are seeking to recruit members to an existing board, you can use the above analysis to form the framework of a competency gap analysis.

  1. Identify the competencies you need, as above.
  2. Identify the competencies you have among existing board members.
  3. Gaps can be filled through recruitment and/or professional development.

If you are seeking to join a board, then you can use this analysis as a basis to show how your personal set of competencies would be an asset to the team.

Want to learn more? Come to an upcoming workshop.

Click here for more information, and to register.

Volunteer Ottawa offers a comprehensive suite of courses related to all aspects of running a non-profit or a charity. Click here for our event calendar. Subscribe to our Event RSS Feed to be among the first to know when a new workshop is added to the schedule.

Like what you've read? Subscribe to our RSS feed so you never miss a post! We have a general RSS Feed for all VOices blog posts, as well as a Board Governance RSS Feed, which will focus on topics related to governance.

Related blog posts:


[1] J. B. Pealow and S. L. Humphrey, Best Practices and Tools for Not-for-Profit Boards, Canada: Canadian Society of Association Executives, 2013.
new comment comment