Board members can get lost in the loftiness of the organization’s mission and not realize the harsh realities of the day-to-day. If your board members have limited or no experience working or volunteering in the nonprofit sector it is imperative you make it “real” for them, i.e. what you and the staff live with daily. Before I suggest steps on how to do this, two anecdotes:
Many years ago I served on the board of the local chapter of large nonprofit whose mission was to teach financial literacy and business skills to students in K-12. I was so impressed with their mission I also signed on to teach the high school level program. Everything was fine until one board meeting when the board began to discuss the curriculum. Many of the board members were senior executives of large corporations whose staff did the teaching. In the ensuing discussion it was clear they had no idea how the various financial literacy programs worked and how they were received by the students. I did. I was in the trenches. For as a sole proprietor I was the CEO and the worker in my company. I finally raised my hand and corrected as many of the incorrect assumptions I could.
When I worked with for the Museum as CFO, facilities management reported to me. Frequently the chair of the Facilities Committee would walk around the building with me and the Facilities Manager to witness the problems we were facing. As a result, any time repairs and capital expenditures were raised at a board meeting, this director was perceived as most knowledgeable and his recommendations were followed.
Here are a seven ways to make it tangible for your directors:
- Create opportunities for directors to meet directly with constituents.
- Arrange opportunities for directors to listen in on or participate in fund raising calls.
- If you have a physical plant, have them join the property insurance broker as he reviews the building each year pointing out trouble spots.
- Arrange for the directors to deliver direct service to the constituents.
- Include the directors on the distribution list for important industry/organizational specific articles. Then make sure to query them as to their thoughts on the subject matter.
- Create opportunities for directors to “shadow” staff in their daily jobs. Call it “Take a Director to Work Day.”
- Send them the weekly cash report so they develop a deeper understanding of the weekly struggle to balance need against resources.
Susan C. Hammond, principal of scHammond Advisors, consults with nonprofits on board governance, strategic planning, improving financial intelligence, and the formation of advisory boards or councils. She is an advisor, coach, consultant and author. She previously served as the CFO for a museum and other nonprofit organizations. Susan recently published the Advisory Board Kit: A Comprehensive Guide to Establishing an Advisory Board.
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