What if board members came to you fully trained?
My colleague Cheryl DelPico of New Roots Providence floated a brilliant idea by me a few weeks ago that I’d to share with you. She was commenting on a “Meet the Funders” forum she had attended.
One of the corporate community relations managers said “The only thing nonprofits ask from us is money. We can help them in other ways as well.” The community relations manager was thinking about volunteers, or some inkind contributions or even board members.
Which got Cheryl to thinking. Yes, many corporations are eager to place their employees, especially current or up-and-coming leadership, on nonprofit boards. And that’s great.
Her concern was that often those individuals come to nonprofits with little-to-no board experience. Training them is left to the already time and resource stretched nonprofit. And with the majority of nonprofits in the US well under $1 million in annual budgets, most don’t want to invest a lot of money training volunteers who may not stick around.
What if, as is happening in some programs across the US, businesses made it their responsibility to ensure that their potential board volunteers were fully trained in the highest practices of nonprofit governance, before they were placed on a board of directors.
What would be included in that training?
Well, certainly the program would include basic fundamentals of boards, such as legal obligations of board members, the special responsibilities and privileges of tax-exempt public charities, the responsibilities of governance, etc.
But I’d also include a number of other topics in my training program, such as:
- the unique financial structure of nonprofit organizations and how it affects what board members look at
- an indepth look at conflict of interest
- creating dashboards or key performance indicators to monitor nonprofit health and plan for the future
- making community connections
- establishing annual board objectives and workplans
- evaluating societal outcomes, or how do you know if you are really doing any good
- self-management and discipline
- managing change and facilitative leadership
- policy development
- the ideal board meeting
I’m not talking about a two hour training program. Maybe two days.
My training would include working a few cases, attending a few board meetings and analyzing them against best practices, simulating a board meeting that includes a contentious organizational issue… practical experience.
Why would a company want to invest in a training this rigorous? Because your employees will be much more useful to the organizations they serve and because they’ll be more fulfilled in their service. Because they’ll learn some valuable skills that can spill over to their jobs and their own leadership. And because you’ll be making a very valuable contribution to the organizations your employees have chosen to support.
P.S. I’d love to hear about businesses that are already running these programs and how they work. Or other non-monetary ways that businesses can help nonprofits. For example, if your company is running a organization development or human resource based training program that isn’t specific to technical expertise in your line of business (e.g. team development, project management, implications of new labor laws), why not hold a few slots for some of the nonprofits you support and invite them to your training.