Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Joining, serving on and leading a board of directors – 5: joining nonprofit boards

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on August 26, 2011

This is my fifth installment in a series on boards of directors as viewed from the perspective of serving on one as a career development stage (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2.) And I turn in it to consider boards and board memberships at nonprofit organizations (see also Nonprofits and Social Networking.)

I have written about the roles that boards play in the vetting and hiring of an organization’s CEO and/or President. This may at times be primarily a matter of bringing an advisory voice to the candidate selection process, and without anything like a final decision making role. But even there, a definitive board vote of no confidence can have real impact. I have written about the role that a board has in advising the organization’s CEO and/or President and through them the senior executive team and organization as a whole. This is a valid point too, and anyone considering taking a board position has to be prepared to do the work needed to contribute to this effort with an informed voice. But bottom line, everything that a board and its members do with regard to that organization should connect into and serve the meeting of a single goal.

• An effective board and its members strive to help make the organization they serve, more competitive in its marketplace.

That includes board participation and activity that is developed as a group in support of the organization, and it includes what individual board members bring to the table in the form of personal reputation, networking connections and reach, skills and expertise. And once again, all of this should be brought to bear on the goal of helping that organization to more effectively reach its goals in capturing and retaining market share.

Nonprofit organizations, as already discussed in Nonprofits and Social Networking derive their revenue from discretionary income that they can bring members of their communities to share with them. Recent elimination in the United States of legislative earmarks and other forms of governmental support for societally worth nonprofit causes simply serves to illustrate that any other sources of revenue may be very good for nonprofits while available, but they can never safely be considered reliable, core sources of such funds. They can never safely be assumed as available in planning or overall strategy and prioritization, and should always be thought of more as added windfall.

One of the most important roles that board members play for nonprofits is in their ability and willingness to help raise funds in support of mission and vision.

• That can mean helping to secure support from the private sector, and from a wide range of potential donor sources there.
• It can mean reaching out to secure and retain potential public sector and other windfall revenue sources that, as above, should more strictly speaking be considered special revenue streams.
• In either case this means deeply knowing and valuing their nonprofit’s mission and vision and what it exists to accomplish. And it means serving as spokesperson on behalf of their nonprofit in promoting both the importance of its mission and vision, and the importance of that organization in fulfilling them.

Good, effective board members do not simply meet in closed door session and do some background reading in preparation for that. Good board members have to be willing and able to represent the organization – and this is definitely true for nonprofits.

When legislative earmarks were formally cut off and rescinded as a cost cutting measure in early 2011 by the United States Congress, and even monies already promised and committed were withdrawn, nonprofits all over the United States suddenly found themselves facing severe, and for some even organizationally fatal cuts in revenue. I was working part time with a US nonprofit that lost a significant percentage of its expected operating budget when this happened, and with most of their revenue losses coming as monies that had been specifically approved for release to them and that they had planned on receiving. This particular nonprofit did not go under but they did have to cut back, and on both future planning and on current programs – including their core programs. This is a situation where effective board members can make the crucial difference, in reaching out through their networks of colleagues and connections to help fill crucial budget shortfalls.

• So I am not just writing here about routine day to day and month to month board participation, as members contribute to the board’s role in the organization’s business year cycles.
• I am writing about responding to the unexpected, and I add for positive unexpected opportunities as well as helping to meet the needs of sudden challenges.

Regardless of for profit or nonprofit status, when you accept a position on a board you need to understand both the general, more generic responsibilities that this entails and also the particular needs of the specific organization you would work with. For nonprofits, the issues I have been discussing here connect into both.

I am going to turn to boards and startups in my next installment in this series.

I have been posting on the general topic area of jobs and careers since I first started adding to this blog, and have been adding a succession of series on that to my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development directory. I have recently started a second, continuation page to this directory at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. and you will be able to find this and subsequent series on this topic area there. This series on joining and working on a board of directors is my first to include on my continuation jobs and careers directory page and I am currently planning on following this with at least five more series as well as a number of already planned supplemental postings.

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