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.

3 responses to What if board members came to you fully trained?

  1. Laura Deaton

    This is a great post, Gayle. It also has other advantages!

    (1)Nonprofits could recruit for the Board training from an interesting and perhaps currently under-represented array of Board members, and

    (2)Those who choose to go through the training and complete it successfully will already have “skin in the game” and be poised for success with solid information, a great attitude, and new skills.

    I’d also add these topics to you’re already growing list:
    * Successful Shared Governance (Board/CEO) including regular executive and Board evaluations and Board and Executive succession planning.
    * 24/7 commitment to vision/mission (how to wear the “Board” hat all day everyday in addition to other hats that are worn)
    * Community-based Collaborations and Partnerships (one step further than community connections – it would be great to set the bar higher on this)
    * Making the “Ask” and Fundraising (surprised not to see that but perhaps it is assumed or enveloped in another area)

    Love it, love it, love it! Now, how does it get rolled out across the country? 🙂

    • Gayle Gifford Post Author

      Thanks for the GREAT additions to the list Laura.
      The reason I didn’t add “making the ask” is because I think board engagement in solicitation depends entirely on the funding model of the organization. See my article: Banishing your Expectation of Board Fundraising at http://bit.ly/7Dy15D.

      I’ll underscore the 24/7 commitment to the organization. If Board members are constantly thinking about how their contacts and connections might be a great match for the nonprofit they serve, and they are put their thoughts into action, they’ve already gone quite a long way to moving forward resource development at their organization.

  2. Alice Korngold

    Gayle, I love your posts! I actually have been training and coaching corporate executives for nonprofit boards for over 15 years. Trainings vary from a couple of hours to full days. All are highly interactive. Then I place business execs on nonprofit boards through a one-on-one process that often takes months to help each person find the board where they will really find their passion and can also add value. Then I coach them. Many rise to board leadership roles. This approach is a win-win-win for the individual, the company (that is fostering leadership development and wants to strengthen the community — locally or globally), and most of all, advances nonprofits and the world!

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