Being a nonprofit board member is a big job. There are a lot of roles and responsibilities to understand before you even attend your first meeting.
To help educate both new and experienced board members, we posed a number of important and frequently asked questions to Dr. Alicia Schatteman, the Acting Director at Northern Illinois University's Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies and one of the wonderful facilitators for our Board Excellence Program on August 24.
Q: What is the top thing I need to understand before I commit to being part of a nonprofit board?
A: Do your skills, interests, and availability match what the organization needs right now? The board president and most senior staff person should be able to articulate this to you before you join the board. Organizations needs different board members at different times and for different reasons. A good match makes all the difference.
Q: How do we recruit new board members?
A: Start with a profile of what kind of board member the organization needs, for example experience with capital campaigns or hiring the first executive director, then ask for recommendations in your community of people who match that profile. Think outside of traditional networks of your existing board members, keeping in mind that you are looking for a board that is representative of your community’s demographics and commitment to the mission. Identify prospective board members and then find people who are connected to them to make the introduction.
Q: Is it okay if the Executive Director is also part of the board?
A: Typically it is best if the Executive Director is not part of the board since there are obvious conflicts of interest, such as performance evaluations and salary decisions. Some nonprofit boards have the Executive Director as an ex-officio (non-voting) member. Since there is not really a strong reason to have the ED on the board, I would suggest don’t do it.
Q: How much do I need to know about the day-to-day activities of the organization as a board member?
A: If the organization has paid staff, the day-to-day operations are left up to the most senior staff person of the organization. Where it gets tricky is if the organization is all volunteer, and therefore the board may be more involved in the day-to-day operations. Otherwise, hire the right executive director and then get out of his/her way to run the organization you hired him/her to run.
Q: What should I do to prepare for each board meeting?
A: You need to have sufficient time and information to offer advice or make informed decisions during a board meeting. Therefore, the agenda should clearly state what discussions and decisions are under consideration and provide the necessary information. Ideally, board members should receive this information several days in advance to be fully prepared.
Q: Should I be connecting with all staff members of the organization or just the E.D.?
A: The board (collectively) is responsible for hiring, evaluating, firing the ED but certainly board members can engage in conversations with other staff members, to get to know them, to understand their roles, but they are only directed by the ED.
Q: I don’t like asking people for money. Do I have to participate in fundraising?
A: Asking for money is only one step in the fundraising process, so volunteer to get involved in the other four steps! Every board member should be engaged in at least one step in the process to grow a culture of philanthropy.
Q: If our nonprofit organization dissolves, am I responsible for debts?
A: The board collectively has the legal and fiduciary responsibility for the organization while they serve as board members. If the nonprofit cannot pay its creditors, the organization would first dissolve all assets (cash and physical assets) to pay any creditors. If there is still remaining debt, the nonprofit could declare bankruptcy as well.
A special thank you to Dr. Alicia Schatteman for sharing her wisdom with us.
To learn more about becoming a valuable board member for your nonprofit organization, register now for our Board Excellence Program on August 24!
Today‘s blog is being brought to you while I sit on my back porch sipping a cup of coffee and listening to the birds chirp. It’s a relaxed environment and allows me to work as I need to get my job done. As a volunteer with the Volunteer Center of McHenry County I certainly appreciate the flexibility this affords me while I support a nonprofit agency from the comfort of my home. Not that long ago I would not have been able to do this but would have made the long commute into the office to sit in a cubicle and pound away on a keyboard. Gradually there has been a shift in work environments and how things are being accomplished.
During the mid 1990’s advances in technology made it possible for a new type of work environment to be created. The era of working remotely was born. Smartphones, laptops, tablets and a Wi-Fi connection became the tools for modern day telecommuting. Telecommuting is a work arrangement where employees work outside of the workplace at a remote location…home, library or coffee shop. All it takes is the technology, a mobile device and a location.
Organizations have discovered that telecommuting programs attract and retain valuable employees, while boosting morale (National Council of Nonprofits). It comes with a flexibility that many employees view as a work benefit. Working remotely also saves on commuting time and reducing an organization’s carbon footprint. So, is telecommuting something viable for non-profit organizations? The answer is YES, but requires planning, policies and procedures.
The National Council of Nonprofits offers these practice pointers when establishing guidelines for nonprofit employees working remotely:
Many nonprofits do not operate within a brick and mortar facility. Employee headcount and budgets restraints may call for a “virtual office” type environment. It is crucial these nonprofits adhere to established policies and procedures specifically created for working remotely.
Keep in mind that a traditional work environment may not have roles and responsibilities which allow for working remotely. Leaders within the organization will need to evaluate and determine what best meets the needs for the nonprofit. For those that do remember flexibility and communication are key to the program’s success.
National Council of Nonprofits. Remote Worker and Telecommuting Practices for Nonprofits.
Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. Benefits of Telework.
“We become what we want to be by consistently
being what we want to become each day.”
Richard G. Scott
The fields are ready. Uniforms are pristine. The concession stands are stocked. The bats are warmed up. The gloves are oiled. That’s right it can only mean one thing...baseball season is here! At this point you are probably wondering where this is going so let me get started.
One thing baseball and nonprofits have in common is they operate under a form of leadership. Both answer to a board of directors, shareholders or someone at a high management level. The leadership is responsible for a variety of tasks; financials, human resources, employees, clients and operations just to name a few. This probably sounds very similar to your organization. Leaders have a hug responsibility to their organization. Without leadership something is bound to fail. This month let’s look at how baseball and nonprofit succession planning are important to staying in the game.
The game of baseball is a very strategically planned and played as a team sport. On the field the team is led by a manager. The manager is the decision maker for the on-field strategy, lineup, training and instruction. The role is critical to the team because the manager’s guidance is what dictates the team’s direction on the field. So, what happens if the manager is no longer there? Maybe a planned retirement or an unplanned termination has occurred. Maybe a personal emergency takes them off the field. No manager could now mean no direction for the players. So, how does an organization handle this? The organization needs a new leader. They can't just pull one of the streets to fill the role. The sustainability of the team requires careful succession planning if the organization is to continue to drive success.
Nonprofits are also very strategically driven. They are also challenged with the inevitable leadership shifts. Leadership will change, it’s not a matter of if but when. These types of shifts can be detrimental to the organization if there hasn't been any pre-planning done. The best way to handle this is to create a written succession plan. Not taking the time to create one could mean the demise of your organization. Getting started is always the toughest part. Let's get you pointed in the right direction.
The National Council of Nonprofits suggests starting with these ten planning tips for transition:
The future sustainability of your organization relies on the work and plans you put into place today. Get a written succession plan created and keep your organization in the game!
If you are in need additional resources take a look at the Nonprofit-Executive Succession Planning Toolkit. It offers guidance on emergency and planned successions. (Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City)
National Council of Nonprofits. Succession Planning for Nonprofits – Managing Leadership Transitions. www.councilofnonprofits.org/tools-resources/succession-planning-nonprofits-managing-leadership-transitions
Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now. "
Program & Outreach Director for VCMC