Mistakes to Avoid in Building Your Board – Part 1
By Ken Turpen, CFRE
Every nonprofit executive knows the importance of having a dynamic board and how it can ensure the future of the organization. Beyond the common, but still relevant, acronyms that most use to define which board members to select (i.e., W.W.W. as in board members who provide Work, Wealth, and Wisdom, or T.T.T. as in Time, Talent, and Treasure), there are plenty of mistakes to avoid when selecting individuals to create the perfect board for your nonprofit. I’ve made some of these mistakes and I’ve seen other mistakes made over the years. Don’t you make them!
- No job description. When meeting a prospective board member for “the” discussion about their possible membership, I think it’s imperative that you have a board member job description in tow. That’s correct. Carry a physical piece of paper with you that has their job description listed in bullet points. If the board member knows what is expected, in clearly defined language, and right up front, you have a much better chance at having a happy and productive board member than not. Without the job description, they will wonder what exactly is expected of them. The fear we usually have is that we think we will blow them away with the enormity of what we need from them. But the truth is that we need to identify individuals to serve who see our mission as critical to the needs of the community or society, and they feel honored to be asked and deeply respect us for being honest with the expectations that are required for service.
- There’s no required sacrifice. This mistake is directly related to “no job description,” but bears definition because it is critical to the recruitment process and ultimately will yield greater results and a happier board member in the long run. It is my thought that when we sacrifice for something we tend to place greater value on the object of sacrifice. So, when we create our job descriptions and start explaining exactly what we need from the prospective board member, we need to be very specific in detailing what those sacrifices mean. Is there an annual gift required? Is there a specific amount that each board member must give? What is the expectation in terms of board attendance? Is there a board attendance policy? These are all questions that need to be answered long before sitting down with your board recruit.
- Thinking that giving “time” in board meetings is the best use of time. If you could get 20 hours of time from your board members every year, and had to divide that time between time spent in the board meeting versus getting things done for your organization outside the board meeting, how would you split it up? I contend that you are much better off with a 30/70 split, and that the best use of board member time is outside of board meetings. Board members should be opening doors, making calls, and assisting in donor visits and solicitations. Too often we weigh board members down with marathon board meetings and involve them with day-to-day operational decisions and discussions that could be handled by the executive director. We forget that if we have recruited wisely that we have board members who don’t want to spend long hours in the board room and would rather be doing something meaningful for us.
- Selecting board members for wealth and treasure alone. There’s nothing like having board members who have the resources and the commitment to give. But if they are not willing to attend board meetings and don’t have significant respect from the community, then we are much better off treating them as “most honored” major donors than as a trustee of our organization. The fact that they won’t attend board meetings and contribute their “wisdom” to the future of the organization will speak volumes to other board members about their involvement and will have a net negative effect on the nonprofit in general. This might even leave the wealthy non-attending board member with the impression that “they just want my money.” When we have wealthy board members attending and contributing the same wisdom to the future of the organization that brought them wealth, then everyone in the organization (board members included) will have a much higher opinion of the work of the board and the organization’s value to the community.
Ken Turpen, CFRE, Vice President at Thompson & Associates, has served as a senior foundation executive of five nonprofit organizations during the past 25 years and consultant in secondary and higher education, and healthcare fundraising. He has unique insights into nonprofit boards, CEO leadership, management, community activism and donor perspectives as his career has brought him opportunities to excel in each of these areas.
The Value of Nonprofit Management Education
By Wesley E. Lindahl, Ph.D.
I’ve dedicated my career to the development of the field of nonprofit management—particularly the field of fundraising. So, I had to step back for a second to fully explore the question—what is the value of nonprofit management education? Today we’re seeing two academic programs emerging that will provide different answers to this question.
First, the undergraduate major in nonprofit management provides students the opportunity to enter a field to start a career with eyes-wide-open. At North Park University, we require all our business majors to take one 2 SH course in nonprofit management. As they start the course, most students are totally confused about nonprofits. “So, you mean you actually get paid to work at a nonprofit?” is one of the typical points of confusion. Our nonprofit majors continue to build their understanding of volunteer management, board development, nonprofit finance, nonprofit marketing, and nonprofit fundraising. They know about careers in the field through internships and they are ready to move into their careers with a fundamental understanding of the how and why of working in mission-based organizations.
Second, the graduate master’s degree program provides adult students with a way to learn–in a year or two of courses — what they would take a life-time to learn from experience. At North Park University, our students repeatedly say they can apply what they experience in the classroom to the work setting the very next day. We provide this practical education that accelerates our students’ growth as they develop into ethical leaders who can influence others and provide service to their clients. That brings us to the last point. A master’s degree specifically in a nonprofit field (e.g., Master of Nonprofit Administration) will help to identify a leader ready to be promoted or given new, higher-level, responsibilities at a different organization. A real value to their career and a real value to the organizations they serve.
Finally, as the academic programs grow and as the research that provides the academic foundations to the field accelerates, we’ll be seeing doctoral level programs in nonprofit management develop as well. The value for these programs will be in their ability to truly develop the profession over the coming years.
Wesley E. Lindahl, Ph.D. is Dean of the School of Business and Nonprofit Management and the Nils Axelson Professor of Nonprofit Management at North Park University in Chicago, Illinois. Lindahl has worked as a professional fundraiser for almost eighteen years at Northwestern University, most recently Assistant Dean and Director of Development for the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. He volunteered as the Vice President for Resource Development at the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) for two years, and has written two books, “Strategic Planning for Fund Raising” (1992) and “Principles of Fundraising: Theory and Practice” (2010). He recently completed his term as the Chair of the Research Council for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and recently served as Book Review Editor of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (NVSQ). He is on the board of the Swedish American Museum in Chicago and is the Chair of the board of the University Center of Lake County. Lindahl has a Ph.D. in administration and policy studies from Northwestern University; a master of science in mathematics from the University of Minnesota, and a bachelor of arts in mathematics from North Park University.