Strengthening the Board Strengthens the Non-Profit

A great deal has been written about boards of directors of non-profit organizations, and the discussion often focuses on a number of issues including the role of the board in fundraising; who should be approached to serve on the board; what are the limits of the board’s responsibilities; potential conflicts of interest; fiduciary responsibility; and a host of other concerns.  Those most involved in the administration of the organization often wonder whether investing in developing a strong board is really worth the time and effort.

Precisely at this time when financial resources are being stretched, efforts should be made to analyze the organizations board. Who is sitting on the board of directors today and what constituencies do they represent? These are important questions for the CEO to consider and to review with the veteran lay leadership that have been involved in the decision making processes of the agency.

A serious analysis of the board should examine the defined roles of board members; the resource development function; the opportunities for advancement within the board; the leadership development program that allows for new leadership to be groomed for the future; the representation of populations served by the agency; the advocacy role played in the public issues, etc. Once there is an understanding of the status of the board today the key decision makers can consider ways to strengthen the board so it can be a strong voice supporting the services provided by the organization.

Given the economic climate and the difficulties philanthropists and foundations are experiencing today an effective board can be a real asset to the non-profit agency. A strong board that is informed of challenges facing the organization can play an important role in developing significant resources. On one hand, this means direct involvement in fundraising and on the other hand, it means reaching out for in-kind contributions of expertise that can be used to strengthen the delivery of services.

Professionals in executive positions often feel a sense of isolation and find themselves handling many of the most difficult problems facing their organizations by themselves. When there are committed and involved board members they can be real partners in thinking through the challenges and in finding real solutions. In order for this to work there needs to be a real trust between the professionals and the lay leaders. This can only be accomplished when the will and desire of the professionals matched with the knowledge, commitment and investment of lay leaders. The team approach works to simultaneously strengthen the board, the staff and thus the organization.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W. is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a private consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.