New Edition: Issue 1 – 2011


  Board Members Are Not
Hypothetical Constructs

New approach for board recruitment
     

Applying Assessment and
Development to the Board

Regular, structured introspection
is essential to governance

 

Board Giving and Fundraising:
Opportunity not Obligation

Path to effective board governance starts with
clearly articulated expectations, says Berea board chair

 

Board Members Are Not Hypothetical Constructs

It’s fairly common among board development writers and consultants to suggest that nonprofits take inventory of their current boards and develop lists of the skills, professions, and personal traits they need and want to add. Then (goes the conventional wisdom) put your list in priority order, and you’ll be ready to do board recruitment.

What a waste of time! What’s the point of identifying a desired outcome (“Someone wealthy, with lots of connections, who’s eager to do fundraising”) if there’s no way to accomplish that outcome? What’s the point of fantasizing about imaginary people (“Someone wealthy, with lots of connections, who’s eager to do fundraising”) when the point is to find real people and attract them to your cause?

The real process of board development takes place when an entire board sits down in a room and says, “Who do we know?” After the obligatory 10 minutes of “We don’t know anybody,” people will start saying, “Well, there is my cousin’s brother-in-law, who owns the copy shop on Fourth Street and has been looking for a board to join. ...” It may not be as glamorous as “Oprah,” but it has a lot more chance of producing community members who are willing to join and support your cause—and that’s what board members are.

 

BOARD RECRUITMENT RESOURCES

Alliance for Children and Families and United Neighborhood Centers of America members have access to a variety of resources to help with board recruitment.

But if it’s so simple, why do most boards find it so hard? Because they neglect the essential first step: deciding what they truly want and expect board members—all board members, not just new recruits—to do. If you don’t write a job description, you’ll find it remarkably difficult to identify anybody who can do the job, and even more difficult to persuade someone to take it on.

This highlights yet another common error among boards that are trying to recruit: getting preoccupied with describing the job they want someone else to do. “We want a lawyer, and an accountant, and someone to do fundraising, and someone to write our newsletter”—no. What you need are people who will join you in identifying and assigning all the tasks a board must do to keep your agency healthy.

Maybe it’s best to use a board member as your lawyer; maybe it’s better to hire a lawyer. Ditto accountants. Ditto marketing professionals. What you must have are people who understand that they face not one but many tasks, and not individually but collectively—and the people you recruit will only understand that if you do. You are not seeking someone to fill a position; you are seeking someone to share with you the position you already occupy.

In other words, board members are not hypothetical constructs. They’re actual people who, in conjunction with you and other actual people you will recruit, will perform actual tasks in support of your actual institution. So proceed as follows:

  1. Identify those tasks, and write them down.
     
  2. Identify people who might be interested in supporting your agency, and then compare their known skills and abilities to the tasks you’ve identified.
     
  3. Go talk to those people! Even if half of them say no, the other half will say yes, and you’ll have a set of new board members—instead of another set of charts describing the board members you wish you had.

And let’s dispense with a favorite nonsensical quarrel between those who think you have to recruit people with passion for your mission and those who think you have to recruit people who have the ability to fundraise. The answer is both, and the other answer is that no one is born with either. If you talk to a stranger about your mission and he or she catches fire with it, he or she is eligible in the passion department, even if he or she hasn’t been a long-term supporter; enthusiasm is contagious, and of course you have it, right? By the same token, if you talk to someone who knows and loves you and says “I’ll do anything for you, but I don’t know anything about raising money,” the appropriate reply is, “Don’t worry, we’ll teach you.”

Raising money is nothing more than stating the case for an institution you love to people with the resources to support it. Board recruitment is nothing more than stating the case for an institution you love to people who will be prepared to do the same thing. Let’s stop complicating it, and preparing for it, and just get out there and do it.


Reprinted by permission of the author. This article originally appeared in Contributions Magazine Online. Free subscriptions are available to staff and volunteers of nonprofit organizations.  

 

Kelly Kleiman is principal of NFP Consulting, which provides board development, strategic planning, and fundraising services to nonprofit organizations and philanthropies. Through her consulting practice and in her guise as The Nonprofiteer, she has spent more than 20 years helping small- and mid-sized nonprofits organize themselves better and raise more money. These days she focuses especially on helping them create systems for using high-skill volunteers. 

 

Board Recruitment Resources

Alliance for Children and Families and United Neighborhood Centers of America members have access to a variety of resources to help with board recruitment:

  • Alliance Severson Center. The Alliance Severson Center connects members to a variety of resources related to board recruitment. In particular, its DocuShare database includes several useful articles, including “Matchmaker Make Me a Match” by Maureen Robinson, “Board Recruitment: By Design or by Default?” by Jannice Moore, and many others that can be found using the site’s search features. 
     
  • Nonprofit Director Online. Linking Mission and Money in Issue 4 – 2009 reviews whether the philanthropic culture of a nonprofit human service organization impacts the effectiveness of its board governance.
     
  • Fund Development Columns. Alliance for Children & Families Magazine columnist Bob Jones, president and CEO of Alliance member Children’s Aid and Family Services, Paramus, N.J., often writes about the role board members play in fund development. Read “Empowering Board Members to tell Your Agency’s Story” from Issue 3 – 2009 and “Development Basics to Survive Tough Times” in Issue 4 – 2009.

Applying Assessment and Development to the Board

Regular, structured introspection is essential to governance

Nonprofit boards typically are comprised of many successful leaders from for-profit or related entities. This isn’t surprising since these individuals often are best suited to help organizations leverage wealth and community connections.

What is somewhat surprising, however, is that although high levels of efficiencies and accomplishment are considered trademarks of for-profit business, many for-profit leaders do not bring a culture of strategic planning and structured accountability with them when they join a nonprofit board.

Since the for-profit and nonprofit sectors have distinct cultures, this may be understandable. Nevertheless, this issue deserves scrutiny in order to draw upon the strengths of both cultures and maximize organizations’ contributions to their communities.

Opportunity for Improvement

Lester Salamon, author of The State of Nonprofit America, paints a rather dark picture of the quality of many nonprofit boards. A modest study by the University of Notre Dame’s Nonprofit Professional Development unit of the Mendoza College of Business supports Salamon’s assessment

In light of these trends, this article is an invitation for trustees to develop policies of self-assessment for the whole board and for all individual trustees.

Does your board annually conduct a self-assessment?

Do your board directors engage in professional development and education activities?

Respond anonymously in a quick online survey. Then, view others' responses.

 

Trustees routinely support assessment and professional development activities within their organizations.

They are accustomed to assessing the functioning of programs and finances through specific reviews, operational audits, CEO evaluations, regular budget reports, and formal program evaluations. They also support staff development through policies that encourage conference attendance, membership in associations like the Alliance for Children and Families, personal enrichment programs, and good supervision.

However, nonprofit boards too seldom apply these evaluative and developmental activities to themselves, whether in assessing the quality of their group decision making, or with respect to their individual deportment, contribution, and participation.

Group Board Assessment

Board assessment begins, as all assessments must, with a statement of expectations and goals. These should be spelled out in the board’s procedural manual, which outlines the overall responsibilities of the board, and in a job description statement, which details what’s expected of individual directors. Boards should assess and review the key functions described in these documents on an annual basis.

What follows is a list of common priority roles and responsibilities, along with key questions designed to guide the interrogative process:

Individual Board Assessment

Similarly, the board needs to regularly evaluate each member.

 

RESOURCES FOR SELF-ASSESSMENT

A variety of tools are available to assist nonprofit human service boards with their annual assessment activities. We recommend:

  • requesting assistance from the Alliance Severson Center to determine which tools are most frequently requested by Alliance and United Neighborhood Centers of America members;
     
  • using the bulleted questions found in this article;
     
  • referring to Peter Drucker’s suggestions in How to Assess Your Nonprofit Organization With Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions and The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, both available through amazon.com.

This process can begin with a self-assessment and then move to a collective discussion. Think of it as akin to college and professional athletes watching game films. Each player begins with a self-commentary, and then other players contribute suggestions for the good of the team.

Both types of assessments are vital to strong governance. First, the assessment itself leads to improved performance. Second, and more subtly, the awareness that individual and group functioning will be assessed leads to better quality as the board carries out its business.

Board Development

Related to, and often taking place soon after the board assessment is complete, is board development.

Often a board will conclude its internal assessment with the design and implementation of a development plan for itself. This can involve a half-day event designed to improve areas of weaknesses that were identified during the assessment process. There should be a retreat event like this every year.

Similarly, for trustees, there should be individual development activities around board position and roles. An example plan may involve letting each trustee select something of professional interest to research or pursue academically, and then asking each trustee to report his or her findings. The report empowers all trustees to gain increased knowledge and competency in support of the organization’s mission and services.

It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Similarly, for nonprofit boards, the unexamined board is not worth having. 

Thomas J. Harvey, MSW, is director of the Master of Nonprofit Administration Program at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. During his 40-year career, he has led local and national organizations committed to confronting the challenges of poverty, discrimination, and access to health care and human services. He is former senior vice president of the Alliance, and he served as president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA. In 2002, he helped found the Alliance’s Executive Leadership Institute. He has been named as one of the 50 pioneers within the field of social work during the past 50 years by the Council on Social Work Education.

John Tropman, Ph.D., is professor and associate dean for faculty affairs at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. He’s also an adjunct professor at the university’s Ross School of Business. His research focuses on the organizational elements that create high-performing human service organizations, which has resulted in numerous articles and more than 20 books. As a consultant, he works with both individuals and organizations. He’s also a member of the faculty for the Alliance’s Executive Leadership Institute.

 

 

 View the archive of On Board with Nonprofit Governance columns.

HT Column

Data Supports Need for Strengthening Development, Education of Nonprofit Boards

The University of Notre Dame’s Nonprofit Professional Development unit of the Mendoza College of Business annually offers executive business education to more than 400 CEOs and other senior managers from some of the nation’s best-known nonprofit service providers.

Prior to each new executive education session, Notre Dame surveys the executives on how they rate the quality of their nonprofit boards. (Take a similar survey.) After two years of such surveying, a pattern is emerging:

  • Senior managers rate their boards at a 7.1 level on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. In academic terms, this is a 71 percent, or a barely passing grade. It hardly indicates best practice.
     
  • Almost all participants indicate their boards have a policy limiting terms of service for trustees, as well as for officers. Yet, these same managers report that the policy is not observed by 20 percent of the boards. Similar inconsistencies surfaced in the basic function of annually evaluating the executive director.
     
  • Only 47 percent of participants indicate their boards use an annual self-assessment tool to evaluate their own performance as trustees.

This data reveals several interesting trends that support the need for strengthening the development of nonprofit boards.

Your Turn

This survey is a companion to the On Board column from Issue 1 – 2011.

Questions marked with a red asterisk are required. A link to view survey results will appear once you submit your responses.

To submit responses to the column authors, offer your comments, or suggest future column topics, complete this electronic form.

Results: Your Turn

Does your board annually conduct a self-assessment?

  • Yes  No Responses
  • No No Responses

If so, what have been some of the noteworthy outcomes?

  • No Responses

Do your board directors engage in professional development and education activities?

  • Yes No Responses
  • No No Responses

If so, what type of activities does the board participate in?

  • No Responses

Board Giving and Fundraising: Opportunity not Obligation

Path to effective board governance starts with clearly articulated expectations, says Berea board chair

If you poll a handful of nonprofit human service board directors about which aspect of board leadership most intimidates them, you’re bound to discover that, for more than a few of them, it’s raising money.

Although board giving and board fundraising are—or should be—key elements of board leadership, they’re often the areas that make board directors the most uncomfortable.

Dave Zentkovich, board chair at Alliance for Children and Families member Berea Children’s Home and Family Services, Berea, Ohio, has a different take. He views these elements of board membership as opportunities, not obligations.

“I think it is critical for board members to be 100 percent vested and personally give charitably each year to the organizations they serve at a leadership level,” he says. “This motivates me to make sure that my personal support is being used effectively and efficiently by the organization.”

Berea Children’s Home and Family Services requires annual charitable participation from all of its board directors and specifies that they either give or help fundraise $5,000 each year.

“We have each new board member sign a statement that articulates all of our expectations,” Zentkovich says. “In this way, there are no misgivings or misunderstandings.”

In addition to defining the expectations around financial contributions, this signed statement clearly articulates requirements related to attendance, participation, and personal fundraising.

To encourage board directors to think creatively about their fundraising role, the organization asks each new director to complete an informational form that inquires about individual, foundation, and corporate connections. These connections often open new doors for the organization’s fundraising staff, who utilize this information to seek new revenue sources.

Two-Way Street

Clearly articulating expectations of the board has helped Berea Children’s Home and Family Services recruit and retain qualified and engaged board directors. However, Zentkovich is quick to note that board directors also should have expectations of the organization.

 

“I think it is critical for board members to be 100 percent vested and personally give charitably each year to the organizations they serve at a leadership level. This motivates me to make sure that my personal support is being used effectively and efficiently by the organization.”

—Dave Zentkovich, board chair, Berea Children’s Home and Family Services

For Zentkovich and his fellow board directors, this means they trust that their skills and expertise will be both valued and utilized. The organization has established a committee structure that meaningfully engages board members in helping to set the direction of the organization, explore new opportunities, and solve problems.

In Zentkovich’s case, this meant tapping into his more than 20 years of experience in financial and strategic planning. Since joining the board in 2006, his skills have been called upon as a member of the finance, pension, and audit committees; he also was elected board treasurer in 2008.

“I would suggest that new nonprofit board members go into the experience with an open mind and enthusiasm to quickly identify opportunities to get involved,” he says. “Participating in small committees is an excellent way for new board members to get to know other members in a more personal way.”

CEO, Board as Partners

Another expectation Zentkovich and his colleagues on the board have of the organization is that they and the staff management team will work in true, open partnership.

“As owners of the organization, we, as board members, want to challenge the management staff to work to achieve our organization’s mission and vision through high-quality and effective programs,” Zentkovich says. “I believe that having clear and written goals and expectations, along with an open partnership and dialogue with management, is critical to running a quality nonprofit organization and overcoming the challenges that every nonprofit faces.”

But, even when all expectations are met, there’s another less tangible element that differentiates good governance from great governance, says Richard R. Frank, president and CEO of Berea Children’s Home and Family Services.

Zentkovich is “passionate about our mission, a great advocate, and generous with his time and talent,” Frank says. “Dave’s leadership on our board of directors has helped to make our organization stronger.”

BMP

History of Service Dates Back 146 Years

Berea Children’s Home and Family Services is a 146-year-old organization. It provides mental health, behavioral health, employment, juvenile diversion, nurturing parenting, and child care services to more than 11,000 children and families annually.

Of the clients served, 90 percent live at or below the federal poverty level. Therefore, all services are designed to empower clients to escape the poverty cycle and achieve healthy and productive lives.

The organization has an annual budget of $33 million, employs more than 800 employees, and has offices in five counties in northeastern Ohio.