Nonprofit, know thyself!
Before bringing on new board members, this is especially important. The need for self-awareness is highlighted by the application process for Palindrome Advisors, a group of entrepreneurs who have pledged to lend their skills to nonprofit boards for at least a year.
Happily, most have bonded so much with “their” nonprofit that they stay around much longer. A year is not enough time to follow-through on real change.
Palindrome Advisors is new to the nonprofit sector; it was founded with the express purpose of giving nonprofits the benefit of entrepreneurial thinking and skills.
So far, those who have signed on to be advisors include social media expert, technology titans, lawyers, doctors, public relations and media experts, strategists, venture capitalists, and even an active duty colonel in the US Army.
What they have in common, according to Palindrome Chairman Zaw Thet, is a desire to share their experience and knowledge to make the world better.
His growing group of advisors represent the norm for entrepreneurs; research has shown that, in general, entrepreneurs give to their communities early in their business careers and often … in person.
Take note: It isn’t all about the give-get; it’s about talent and time. Whether you are applying for a board member through Palindrome or other resources — see the list below — the first step is to assess your needs. What skills do you have on the board and what do you need to have in order to achieve your goals? That may require dusting off your strategic plan or it may just be taking a hard look at the board itself.
The Palindrome application is a good start. Note the questions about governance:
- How often does your board meet?
- How many members attend?
- How do you engage board members between meetings?
- Do you have an advisory board?
- Describe your board’s on-boarding process and how long it takes.
These questions help to ensure a good match between advisor and nonprofit, according to Charlaine Moore, Palindrome’s executive director of nonprofit outreach. “Some advisors are spread thin,” she said. “They’re on several boards and not able to commit a lot of time.”
But being a good board member takes time. Make sure that your prospective board members have time to devote not just to quarterly meetings of the full board but also to committee meetings, attending events, getting to know your programs, and strategizing ways to seize opportunities and overcome challenges.
Before recruiting new board members, the existing board has to size up its own talents and identify gaps. It also has to size up how well the board governs. Helpful hints can be found at Governance Matters, under the Board Leadership Project and the Good Governance Guide.
At present, Palindrome’s advisors come with three things, according to Thet: passion; prior for-profit (and, maybe, nonprofit) board experience; and, for the most part, connections within the Palindrome community.
Nonprofits, on the other hand, are vetted to ensure that they are, in fact, legitimate nonprofits; that they know in which areas they need new skills; and that they clearly appreciate the value of non-monetary contributions from board members.
“Passion” is key to a good match between board member and nonprofit. It takes passion for a cause to advocate for it and to carve out the time it takes to be a board member.
Yes, the advisors do make the same give/get commitment as other board members. But Thet is adamant that money isn’t everything. Palindrome wants to give nonprofits a hand up, not a hand out.
Once you know what skills your organization needs, you can recruit board members, apply to Palindrome Advisors or get help from other board matching services, such as:
- BoardServeNYC, a United Way initiative
- New York Junior League, one of many Junior Leagues with a board training program
- Board Assist
Or, for the “Do It Yourself” nonprofits you can search LinkedIn for potential board members. For ideas about how to do this, check out this free webinar from our archives.
Membership on a nonprofit board is not an honorary position. It’s work. Make sure the person you bring on board can do the job you need done.
How does your organization recruit and train board members?