By Cynthia B. Nunn
From a nonprofit executive’s viewpoint, when board members understand why and how they are to serve, the organization is in the best position to be successful and drive impact in our communities. When great people invest in great organizations the results can be extraordinary.
Serve the People of Texas First
The State of Texas has allowed nonprofits to exist as Texas Nonprofit Corporations for a very specific reason: to serve the people of Texas. This responsibility is held in trust by the board of directors. Yes, boards have a fiduciary responsibility for ethical behavior, transparency, accountability, and ensuring the organization has resources and manages them well. However, their responsibility to the people should come first. Although individual board members sign on to serve organizations whose missions engage their hearts, they actually work for the citizens of Texas. That fact alone should take the responsibility of board service to a new level of insight and engagement.
Don’t Leave Your Brain at the Door
One of the three duties of a board member is the Duty of Care: to act as an ordinary, prudent person would when considering the affairs and concerns of the nonprofit. Even though nonprofit organizations are notorious for leading with the heart (and that is a good thing!), there is also a need to have its nonprofit professionals and board members bring sound business principles into the board room as they cast vision, ensure financial sustainability, and create strategies for success. Enter the room eager to bring the best thoughts and reasoning abilities that move the organization toward success.
Drive Success toward the Bottom Line
Nonprofit organizations need personal financial contributions, as well as board member connections and networks to drive monetary support, but they also need pro bono and in-kind support. When needed services can be donated, there is a direct, positive impact on the bottom line through a reduction of budgeted expenses, though not all in-kind and pro bono donations drive to the bottom line and the nonprofit may not be able to use the donation immediately. Don’t be disconcerted that the nonprofit may not be as excited to receive the “gift” as the contributor is give it. Have a frank conversation with the nonprofit executive to determine if the gift is right for them and/or if it should be provided later when it can be planned for.
View the Nonprofit Executive as an Asset
Nonprofit executives are skilled individuals and as time passes these positions are filled with more professional and experienced leaders. Board members should confidently come to the board table with business and community exposures and expertise and expect to meet another skilled individual who is running the nonprofit business. Many of the skill sets are similar and the nonprofit executive also knows the nuances of running the nonprofit business. The two professionals can learn from each other and, if not, the wrong person may be at the helm.
Give as Much as You Get . . . or More
Nonprofits need what board members have to give – time, business skills, and access to resources that meet organizational needs. Be ready to work, give a personal gift, and connect the nonprofit to potential donors and volunteers. But that is not all. In return, a board member benefits by building new relationships, expanding business networks, learning new skills, and having the opportunity to productively utilize ‘passion for the cause’ to make a difference in the community. Board service should be a two-way engagement opportunity for the board member and the nonprofit served.
Deepen the Board Leader/ Nonprofit Executive Relationship
The board leader and nonprofit executive leader relationship is key to a dynamic, positive, success-driven tenure for both the board and the staff. Working through the appropriate chain of command is necessary to get the best outcomes from those individuals involved at both levels. Communication channels need to be open, understood, and respected as these critical relationships are developed and maintained. All other information should flow up and down through these leaders. This does not mean that a board member cannot directly access staff. It does mean, however, that communications should be handled correctly and with the knowledge and approval of the two leaders. A written communications plan should be established so that each party understands how to access the other.
Use Influence to Build Successful Relationships in the Boardroom
In the work environment, a CEO can tell subordinates what to do. In the boardroom, the relationships are not so clear-cut. Board members are peers and a different strategy must be employed to have a successful engagement with each other. With peers, the best leverage position comes through influencing others toward a desired outcome. Influence does not rely on a place at the top of an organizational chart. Influence is an art that one should master if getting things done, achieving strategic objectives, and working in a harmonious environment are desired outcomes.
Have a Good Time
If the relationship between the board member and organization is not fulfilling, there are more than 60,000 nonprofits in Texas where a board member can serve. The nonprofit executive should help the board leader create an enjoyable experience for the board members, but each member can help the experience be fun and satisfying as well. Yes, the business is necessary and expected, but there should be a time when board members gather as affectionate associates and get to know each other on a more personal basis. Relationships can be built among board members that spill over into business and social life, which is another benefit of board membership. Levity can disarm a tense situation as long as no one is being laughed at or demeaned. Learn to enjoy the board experience and bring suggestions forward that help the board grow as a body of invested individuals who care about the organization and each other.
Cynthia B. Nunn is a nonprofit professional serving as President of the Center for Nonprofit Management, a nationally recognized management support organization in Dallas, Texas. CNM enhances sustainability and maximizes impact for 3,000 nonprofits and 6,000 individuals in North Texas.
Jun 20, 2015 Comments Off on The State of the Nonprofit Sector
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