In 2019—Join and Lead a Nonprofit Board
I have worked with many nonprofit boards in my career. In my role as an executive or consultant, I have witnessed many examples of dying boards. In some cases, nonprofit board members were tired of serving. In other cases, leadership on the board had simply dried up without replacement steps. Many boards were stagnant because it had no strategic or operational direction.
A nonprofit board is a dynamic and fluid leadership element needed by nonprofit organizations. It requires fuel in the form of fired-up and committed members, plus a focus on the mission of the organization it serves. Nonprofit boards must have volunteers who are properly recruited and have proper orientation. Recruiters of board members must understand why potential members volunteer and what motivates a member to serve at a high level.
According to Positive Force Consulting, “12 Reasons Why People Volunteer,” people volunteer for the following reasons:
- There is a personal tie to the cause.
- Volunteering is a great way to build a resume.
- It’s a good way to bridge the gap between yourself and others who may perceive you as “different.”
- Volunteering sets a good example for others.
- Meeting like-minded, motivated, positive people is super easy.
- Volunteering can offer unique and exciting opportunities.
- “Doing good” is important.
- Volunteering creates empowerment.
- Volunteering has never been easier.
- Volunteering can help you get or stay healthy.
- Volunteering gives greater perspective and self-awareness.
- Volunteering is good for you.
Many individuals, through their volunteer enjoyment, decide to take an additional volunteer step, which is joining a nonprofit board. Joan Garry, in her blog post titled “Why Everyone Should Join a Nonprofit Board,” believes people at times misunderstand the value proposition of joining a nonprofit board.
Her 10 reasons for volunteers joining a nonprofit board are:
- You will learn patience.
- You will learn how to ask for money.
- You will have an experience that enriches your resume.
- You will meet interesting people who will add to your sphere of influence.
- You will learn to play nicely in the sandbox.
- You will learn to appreciate that assets equal liabilities.
- You will have another excuse to skip the gym.
- You will learn how to run an effective meeting of people who do not work for you.
- You will stretch all your intellectual and emotional muscles.
- You will fall more in love with your organization.
While individuals should join nonprofit boards, members of existing nonprofit boards should also strive to find the right individuals that are a fit for their board. The Council of Nonprofits Blog titled, “Finding the Right Board Members for your Nonprofit,” points out that a nonprofit’s first question should be what does your nonprofit need to advance its mission right now and in the future? Think about what talent and expertise is needed on your nonprofit board and seek to match this need with a potential board member. In the board member recruiting process, utilize the process of vetting and cultivating. Consider having a potential board member serve on a committee as a non-board member, so you can see if the board candidate is engaged and fulfilling his or her obligations and has the potential to contribute as a board member.
Bloomerang’s blog post titled, “The Key Secret to Recruiting the Best Nonprofit Board Members,” pointed out that Kent Stroman, author of the book “The Intentional Board—Why Your Board Doesn’t Work… and How to Fix It,” shared a secret for board success. That secret was to recruit only board members who could serve as board chairs! These individuals must have the following qualities: passion for the mission, natural leader, abundant financial assets, generous, understands charity governance, can allocate time needed, experience as a leader elsewhere, ethical, has specific talents needed and respected.
While the “secret” sounds like the perfect scenario, recruiting this type of talent is not easy. Much research needs to be made and a wider recruiting effort utilized to obtain the right board member, which can make or break future boards.
BoardSource, in its blog, “Questions to Ask Before Joining a Board,” encourages anyone considering joining a nonprofit board to ask the following questions during the interview process. Ask questions about the following:
- The board’s relationship to the staff
- The organization’s programs
- The structure of the board
- The organization’s clients or constituencies
- Individual board members’ responsibilities
Nonprofit boards need to be in a constant state of recruiting and evaluating potential members. Possible board members need to be personally evaluating various boards on an ongoing basis. The correct match must be made to ensure long-term positive results. In my career, I had several board members show positive emotion and gratitude when their terms expired because they experienced a deep emotional positive feeling serving as a board member. I have also seen board members quit very early in their board tenure because their board experience was negatively different than what they were led to believe at the outset of their term.
As 2019 begins, I challenge individuals to seek a nonprofit board experience that matches your personal mission by offering your volunteer service. Your long-term goal should be to become a board member, board officer and, eventually, chair of the board. I also challenge nonprofit boards to do a better job of recruiting, orienting and maintaining your current and future board members by having an expectation that anyone on your board can serve as an officer and eventually chairman. Let potential board members know what is expected of them as they begin their board tenure, so no confusion exists. With a mutual focus by volunteers and boards, the chances for a long-term successful nonprofit board will be greatly enhanced.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.