Nonprofits and their Board Members – Matches Made in Heaven?

The Fit of Nonprofit Board of Directors Positions


For the past two years (around the new year) I have published a series of blog articles focused on recruiting and retaining a great nonprofit Board of Directors.  I take readers through 4 steps: Assess, Plan, Train, and Manage.  Within these steps are more detailed tasks such as determining who you are as an organization as well as deciding your organization’s needs, engaging in strategic planning, supporting and training your board & staff members and then managing the performance & outcomes of the board as well as your organization.  Organizations of all stages of development, from emerging to mature, can benefit from periodically re-assessing these areas.

Today I would like to dig a little deeper.  Even if you are part of an organization that does look at the needs of your organization as well as one that plans strategically for success, to what extent do you ensure that each and every board member is the best fit for your board and your organization?  How thorough is your ‘assessment’ process for board members?  If you are a mature and large organization, do you invite people to sit on your board because of the position they hold at a certain company or the amount of money they may be able to bring into your organization?  If you are an emerging organization, do you just take whomever you can get?  Do you utilize assessment tools to better assess the person that you are bringing into your ‘family’?

I am the Executive Director of an emerging nonprofit organization.  Like many others that are in the same stage of development that we are, I asked (ok, kinda begged) my friends to be on my board.  I did have some strategy and ‘matching’ in mind, though.  I asked people who had specific skills, talents and expertise that I believed to be critical for the success of my organization.  As we are just in the beginning steps of creating the organization, I knew that I would need people who would work to develop the structure of the organization.  We would think about fundraising later (we use a social entrepreneurship model and rely on earned income by charging for our services, which helps).   Although my ‘planning’ worked well and we were able to move from our very first board meeting to going live with a spring running season that included our own unique curriculum of physical/social/emotional topics in 4 ½ months, I have already lost 2 board members within the first year.   One person was not able to commit the time due to a changing work situation and the other person was not the right fit for the culture of the organization.   As we bring on new board members, we are becoming more critical of the needs of our board and org to make sure they are the right ‘fit’.

When forming and re-forming your board, there are so many factors to take into account.  Do you think about the person’s strengths?  What about their interests?   Do you assess their values and how their values compare with the values of the organization?  It is important to create nonprofit Boards of Directors that are diverse on many levels, from personal background to employment sector to socio-economic status to personality to strengths, etc.  All of these aspects of each individual board member are important to assess when bringing on your new board members.  Doing so will help you to create successful boards and, in turn, successful organizations.  Is what you are doing now finding you the absolute best fit for your board?  There’s definitely a better way.  What are your ideas, tools and successes?

Jeanne Ward is a Consultant and Personal Strategist who brings her knowledge of psychology, strategy and personal fulfillment to her current work. Jeanne started her career by helping mentally ill inmates to ‘get their lives back on track’ as they integrated back into society from jail in NYC. She leveraged this experience with a Social Work degree to manage teams who were supporting people trying to move back into the workforce. She later lived in Atlanta, GA and Frankfurt, Germany where she began consulting with nonprofit organizations to guide them on their strategy, volunteer development, and organizational development as well as to support the development of their leaders and board of directors. After the jolt of a divorce, Jeanne found herself doing a lot of soul-searching. Digging deep, she arrived at a new-found appreciation for herself and the world around her. This journey taught her that when we start with improving ourselves, the benefits multiply. Jeanne realized that her strengths of strategic thinking, relationship building, and implementation planning could be combined into her ongoing passion of personal leadership. Hence, her personal strategy work was born. Jeanne helps men and women between the ages of 35 and 55 who are fed up with their corporate jobs to create fulfilling professional and personal lives through the development of a personal strategic plan. This work ensures that her clients identify their professional and personal goals as well as create a plan to make those goals a reality. Jeanne is also the Executive Director of the Atlanta Road Trotters Kid’s Running Club, a nonprofit organization that provides a platform for children to build a foundation of running health and fitness which leads to a better connection to the organized running community as well as a strong foundation of Discipline, Self-Esteem, Respect and Team Work. She has also co-authored a workbook on networking, founded and organized the National Association of Social Workers-Georgia-sponsored ‘Social Service Career Network’ and organized a summit for the National Alliance for Mentally Ill attended by over 100 organizations from 6 Atlanta counties. Previously, she sat on the board of NASW GA as their Secretary as well as on the board of NAMI GA/DeKalb as their Co-President, was a senior consultant for the Georgia Center for Nonprofits and helped to run a capital campaign for an independent school. Jeanne has an MSW from Hunter School of Social Work (City University of New York), an MA in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice (City University of New York) and a BA in Psychology from Emory University. Jeanne lives in Atlanta with her ten-year-old son.

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