The quality of a nonprofit’s board can make or break the nonprofit, an often overlooked reality. Gone are the days – if they ever existed – of board membership as a feel-good sinecure. Gone, too, are the days when board membership was like a Supreme Court.
Board membership is a job and a tough one at that. It requires an understanding of the value and mission of the organization, a willingness to spend time and money to support that mission, and serious strategizing and innovating when the organization hits a rough patch.
Especially if the “rough patch” is an economic downturn whose effects on funding linger year after year.
That makes the Brooke W. Mahoney Award for Outstanding Board Leadership, given by VCG in honor of its founder, an especially worthwhile honor. Boards are not often recognized for their overall accomplishments.
They should be.
This year, the common themes among the finalists were finding new funding and reorganizing the board to better support the organization’s mission. In the first category were The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Metro New York; Harlem RBI; Essex County CASA; and the Louis August Jonas Foundation.
For Make-A-Wish and Harlem RBI, the safety net and seed money was provided by $1 million donations from a single, engaged board or advisory board member. Then all the board members got to work on fundraising.
In the second category – reorganizing – were Essex County CASA, the Urban Education Exchange and the Louis August Jonas Foundation. Essex County CASA addressed its loss of revenue by reorganizing fundraising, which had been left to the executive director. The board took on more responsibility and recruited new members who were experienced in marketing and fund development. The result was a more diversified funding stream that met the organization’s need.
Urban Education Exchange reorganized program delivery, from selling its learning materials to school administrators to free, open-access website. The curriculum was distributed directly to teachers. Using technology and partnerships, the program was able to grow from 825 teachers using the curriculum to, at latest count,10,500.
The board reorganized itself as well, recruiting younger members with marketing, technology, and education-product distribution skills.
Finally, the winner: The Louis August Jonas Foundation did it all. Amid great controversy, the board reorganized programs, recruited new board members, and reached out through social media and the Internet. The changes ratcheted up their donations and attracted alumni to join the board and its committees.
As David LaGreca, executive director of VCG, said, these boards all demonstrated:
- deep passion for the mission
- leadership no afraid to lead and to critically assess an agency
- strategic board recruitment
- focused committee structure
The survival of all five organizations depended on board commitment, willingness to think creativity, work hard, and use their business skills and contacts. These folks spent their time, energy, and passion on assessing problems and coming up with creative solutions. They also recognized when new skills were needed on the board itself and when programs had to change in order to accomplish mission.
So I repeat: Nonprofit board membership is hard work. It’s also rewarding. I’m glad to see entrepreneurs and corporate executives support nonprofits this way.
And hats off to all the finalists!
Do you know any boards you’d like to honor? What did they do?
Original Flickr image by peggyhr used under Creative Commons license Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)