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!
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. "
Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Oh, how true this statement is. I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Franklin had insight into just how convoluted the tax system would one day become, creating confusion and often frustration for everyone.
As with any type of organization, nonprofits must follow federal and state tax laws. These laws help to protect the integrity of the organization and its’ operation.
In 2017 H.R.1 (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) was signed into law. This new law brings a potential shift in the way daily operations and fundraising activities are handled by nonprofits. From the fundraising perspective these are very uncertain and often downright scary times for organizations wondering if this new law will cause fewer people to donate or donate less.
The following provisions in the Act may impact donors and the tax benefits they receive from making charitable donations (Takagi, 2018). This could have huge implications on donations that nonprofits rely on to exist. Gene Takagi, with the NEO Law Group suggests that “as a result, charitable giving is expected to drop from between $12 billion to $20 billion per year.”
Each of these tax law provisions comes with a lengthy detail of information. Navigating through the detail might be overwhelming but understand you don’t have to do it alone.
It helps to have reliable resources to navigate through the cringe worthy tax law maze. Join the Volunteer Center on February 7th for the “Keep Your Nonprofit Out of Hot Water, 2018 Tax Law & Human Resources Updates” workshop. This workshop will provide the most-up-to-date tax law and Human Resource concerns. It will address how your organization will be affected by the 2018 changes. Another option is to visit the National Council of Nonprofits website and check out “Resources on How the New Federal Tax Law Impacts Charitable Nonprofits.”
“In the philanthropic world, you’re looking at the toughest problems that exist…problems that have resisted all the intellect & money thrown at them over the years.” Warren Buffet
Well it’s happened again…. yet another hacker is responsible for breaching an organization’s secure data and exposing over 143 million people to waves of potential credit nightmares.
Prior to writing this month’s blog I didn’t really understand what a podcast was. I wasn’t sure how it worked or how it might be useful. However, after delving into the world of podcasting I have uncovered a perpetual honey pot of audio recorded resources done by professionals in the nonprofit world for nonprofits to tap into.
What exactly is a podcast?
Apple defines podcasts as “episodes of a program available on the Internet. They are usually original audio or video recordings, but can also be recorded broadcasts of a television or radio program, a lecture, a performance, or other event.”
For podcast listeners, podcasts are a way to enjoy great content from around the world for free. For podcast publishers, podcasts are a great way to reach a wide audience.
As I mentioned earlier, podcasts are FREE programs that are not only accessible through the internet but also on apps through your phone. There are over 250,000 unique podcasts on iTunes alone, covering virtually every topic imaginable (Nonprofit Network). What’s nice about a podcast is that it’s mobile and can go anywhere and be listened to anytime. Recordings can be downloaded from libraries available at iTunes and Google Play. They can also be streamed from a host website directly through your computer.
Carrie Heider Grant, Program Coordinator for Nonprofit Network suggests these four podcasts have something to offer for everyone in the nonprofit world. Topics cover marketing strategies, social media hacks, fundraising, board structure, volunteers and so much more.
1) Nonprofit Optimist (Molly MacCready)
This newer podcast "showcases positive change agents and talks through lessons that their small nonprofits have learned." Molly MacCready, a professional who founded her own nonprofit organization 10 years ago, emphasizes the good in the world and uses this podcast to elevate the stories of small, but awesome, nonprofits.
2) Nonprofits are Messy: Lessons in Leadership (Joan Garry)
"Hosted by Joan Garry, the "Dear Abby" of the nonprofit world, this podcast is a discussion of the most pressing issues faced by nonprofit leadership. It features real stories of nonprofit leaders like you and how they handled the mess
3) Social Good Instigators (Kirsten Bullock)
Formerly known as the Nonprofit Leaders Network Podcast, "this show aims to encourage and inspire leaders of social good organizations. You'll learn from other leaders who reflect not only on the ways they helped their organizations excel, but also the things that didn't work out so well."
4) The Science of Social Media (Buffer)
This is a great resource for anyone who wants to broaden their social media marketing skills. It's a light-hearted series and they are shorter episodes at 30 minutes or less, so it's easy to digest and apply the ideas to my work.
Have fun exploring the world of podcasting!
Grant Heider Carrie. 6 Outstanding Podcasts You Need to Know. Nonprofit Network. https://nonprofnetwork.org/WWNND/4924292.
“Capacity building is not just about the capacity of a nonprofit today -- it's about the nonprofit’s ability to deliver its mission effectively now, and in the future. Capacity building is an investment in the effectiveness and future sustainability of a nonprofit.”
(National Council of Nonprofits.)
This very powerful statement creates a very simple question for your organization – Are we delivering on our mission and will we be able to do so in the future?
When looking at capacity building consider the infrastructure of a car. The car’s mission is to get the driver from point A to point B. The ability to do that relies heavily on the driver and how the vehicle has been maintained. Several additional factors play into this. Has the driver been properly educated on how to operate the vehicle? Has the vehicle been properly maintained? Have the oil and other fluids been checked? Does the vehicle have gas? Has the vehicle had an annual tune-up? These factors and many others determine if the car will be able to accomplish its goal of getting the driver from point A to point B.
Capacity building for nonprofit organization operates in the same manner. To sustain an organization one needs to consider evaluating their infrastructure like that of the car. Questions to ask might include: Is leadership the strongest it can be? Are board members effective? Do employees have the necessary skills to be effective? Are volunteers trained annually? Are we serving the community? Are we getting the funding we need? These factors support your organization’s goals.
TCC Group’s Capacity Building 3.0 How to Strengthen the Social Ecosystem, suggests organizations consider what needs to be evaluated and how to do just that. They suggest reviewing skills, operational systems, training, technical assistance and experience levels.
To learn more read the complete briefing at
TCC Group is consulting firm passionate about helping the social sector achieve greater impact. Since 1980, they have developed strategies and programs that enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of foundations, nonprofits, corporate citizenship programs, and government agencies.
Capacity Building 3.0 How to Strengthen the Social Ecosystem. Jared Raynor with Chris Cardona, Thomas Knowlton, Richard Mittenthal, and Julie Simpson
Additional resources for capacity building:
National Council of Nonprofits - www.councilofnonprofits.org
Grantspace – www.grantspace.org
Welcome to the inaugural blog for the Volunteer Center of McHenry County!
VCMC is excited to introduce our new blog series. We are here to help strengthen nonprofits. We strive to find resources to help agencies become stronger and more successful. Our goal is to help you achieve your goals. There are a number of tools to do this, but let’s focus on blogging and what it might do for your agency.
For starters, what exactly is a blog?...
In simple terms it is a piece of software which allows you to communicate to the masses via a website. It is a dynamic communications tool that shares information but also allows for comments and feedback from those who read it.
You may ask yourself…why do we need a blog? A blog is a terrific place to discuss issues, share your stories and gather feedback on your content about your agency.
Start with your agency news. Folks need to hear your message! They need to know what your agency is about and why they should support it. It is also an excellent tool to let folks know what kind of activities and events are happening with your agency.
Blogging also lets you share personal stories about your clients’ victories and accomplishments. It is a great way to showcase how your agency is making a difference in the community you serve.
Use your blog as an opportunity to thank your staff, supporters and volunteers. Acknowledging their efforts gives them the opportunity to shine and encourages others to be part of your agency.
All you need to get started is a keyboard and a volunteer. To learn more about nonprofit blogs please read Taylor Corrado’s article “6 Essential Components of Top Notch Nonprofit Blogs.”
We would love to hear what you think or what types of support materials might be beneficial for your agency.
Program & Outreach Director for VCMC