Non-Profit Leadership

Originally published on LinkedIn on 6/202/17

Board members wanted! As non-profit staff, we report to a board and the better our relationship, the more highly functioning our agencies will be in serving our constituents. We need board members who are curious, engaged, generous, and discreet. Simple, but requires some explanation. Let’s break it down in hopes that we can encourage more of you to get involved in leadership positions with non-profits because we all need you.

We need board members who are curious and excited about the work that is being done. I want to work with people who ask questions. I love when my board asks for clarification and digs a little deeper so they fully understand the situation and the ramifications to the organization. In fact, I find board members whose sole contribution to meetings being “second” and “so moved” as boring and unhelpful. When we bring on new board members, we give them a board handbook. That handbook contains lots of information about what we do, including “Talking Points” for when my board represents the organization in the community. The hope is that the information helps board members feel confident about speaking on behalf of my agency. Beyond that, we appreciate when new board members come in and meet with the staff to ask questions and better understand our wonderful world of programs, services, and acronyms.

At the very least, an engaged board member is one who has a strong attendance record at meetings. Even better, I hope that board members will be generous with time in attending the majority of special meetings, serving on ad-hoc committees, showing at most fundraisers, and when possible, helping to staff to cover the occasional commitment in the community. It sounds like a lot but spread around an entire board it’s a few commitments a year and believe me when I tell you, it’s a huge help.

Board members need to be generous. There I said it. I need my board members to give generously to my organization every year and support our fundraisers. This is for two reasons. First, if you feel so strongly about the mission that you’re willing to be a leader, then naturally, you probably feel strongly about being particularly generous with that organization. Secondly, I am asked the following on many of my grant applications: “What percentage of your board gives to your organization?” There is only one right answer to that question. Some non-profits request a certain annual contribution, some give rough guidelines, some ask only that you give what you feel is generous. Clarify that before committing so that there aren’t any surprises.

Finally, it’s critical that board members are discreet in the way they talk about the organization and the clients. It’s not uncommon to have detailed discussions about specific client issues and those discussions should never leave the board meeting. If there are organizational discussions, those should not be shared with the community because context is key and it’s extremely difficult to unwind a misunderstood message.

I encourage everyone to inquire about opportunities for non-profit board leadership. Not only do we need you but hopefully, we have something to offer in return. Whether it’s knowing that you’re helping to further the mission, making personal connections, enjoying a feeling of accomplishment, or developing a skill set, we hope that there’s something in it for you. Please know that an up-front conversation about expectations will give you great information to determine whether this will be a fit. Above all, please know that your contribution is appreciated and invaluable!