Board Development

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A team is only as good as its leader.

A common saying, along with thousands of other leadership quotes.

So let’s unpack what this means for a nonprofit board of directors.

What’s the relationship of a nonprofit board chair and their team?

And how come, when a leader wants to step down, there never seems to be anyone ready, willing – and able – to take their place?

And is there anything we can do – short of “firing” a weak leader (which can throw even a well-run nonprofit into chaos) – to improve the board’s development of strong voluntary leaders?

Of course, the answer is yes.


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Posted on in Board Development

There’s no substitute for first-hand experience.

A board member, executive director and director of development agreed, at last week’s Nonprofit Excellence Awards Panel produced by the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York on Excellence in Fundraising and Resource Development, with this Steve Jobs quote: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Rather than asking cold – for board members, for donations, for resources – the answer, for panelists from New York Common Pantry and Red Hook Initiative, is to involve people in the organization as volunteers.

To show them, by proximity, the important work (and the recipients of the services) – in order to sell them on the mission. 


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Same old, same old…

How many board rooms have the same tired faces around the table, the same hands being raised (or sat on, to avoid volunteering for yet another assignment)?

The same combination of reliably strong performers, people who can’t be counted on, wild cards?

The same “We did it this way last year” voices, “That never works for us” laments, “My network is all tapped out?

Inserting someone new – or better yet, a couple of people – can be a key piece of the answer to board ennui. 


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We’ve heard a lot about board diversity over the years.

“Does your board reflect the communities you serve?” – a typical funder question on various grant applications.

“Do you have a lawyer, an accountant, someone in PR?” – another standard board composition query.

“I need to recruit rich people to help me fundraise,” goes the classic executive director’s lament: “Someone different from my current board members!”

But there’s one element of board diversity that seems out of reach for many boards that are skewing older and older – that of age.

Where are the board members of tomorrow?


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Posted on in Board Development

It’s an issue many nonprofits struggle with – for groups with a highly professionalized staff and a board of “interested laypeople,” what is the real value-add of a Board (aside, of course, from raising money)?

The standard answer, “ to set policy the staff implements” assumes a portrait that doesn’t quite fit – a board that knows enough, indeed, knows more than the staff, about the issues of the field and can therefore wrestle successfully with policy determinations and steer the agency’s course.

For many nonprofits, that just doesn’t ring true.

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