If someone approaches you to sit on the board of a nonprofit organization, you might ask yourself “What’s the point? How will being on this board actually translate into some sort of recognizable change in the community?”
“The organizations that are the strongest, the most sustainable, and the most successful in executing their missions are the ones that have board members who are involved,” says Akira Barclay, associate director at Youth, I.N.C., where she coaches small nonprofit organizations on fundraising and development. The organization harnesses the energy and talent of the brightest minds in business to help New York City’s most promising grassroots organizations better serve the city’s most vulnerable children.
Their board is comprised of Wall Street and A-list business leaders, including Ronald E. Blaylock, vice president of GenNx360 Capital Partners. High-profile board members like Blaylock are influential in helping organizations raise money, among other things. In this Nonprofit Insider, Barclay takes time out to explain what board members need to do to help fulfill an NPO’s mission.
Raise the NPO’s profile. All of the best organizations have strong, powerful, well-known boards. When people of this caliber choose to sit on a board, it helps strengthen the long term sustainability of the organization, because it is like they are ensuring that the organization is being run the right way. When out and about in the community talking about the Nonprofit, board members demonstrate that they are confident about the organization, that they know it is financially stable, and that they have confidence in the staff since the staff and directors report to the board. It is an endorsement and a vote of confidence.
“That goes a long way because there are so many nonprofits out there. If you are in the business community, you get constant appeals for donations. But if you have a colleague who is involved in the leadership of a board, [then] that makes that particular organization stand out,” says Barclay, a member of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy and an ambassador for the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Brooklyn Do Gooder Award Campaign. “Those are the ones who are going to survive and fulfill their mission over time and really make the biggest impact in the community.”
Give. To be a good board member, it isn’t enough to just literally sit there. You really need to give at the leadership level and not be afraid to go out and ask others for their support. “If you’ve donated your own money, you are going to pay attention,” says Barclay. Some people will sit on a board and not give. Those organizations don’t fare well. Many of them fold and cease to exist because fundraising is an NPO’s lifeline. Although some organizations have specific amounts that their boards are required to give, it’s not a requirement. Giving starts with the board because they set the pace for the individual donor base. One hundred percent board participation is a sign of good governance and speaks to the general strength of the organization. “If the body of people who serve in a governance function don’t give, why would anyone else give?” says Barclay. “It sends a bad message. I don’t give anywhere the board doesn’t give.”
Open doors to new resources and provide business skills and acumen. Board members are your most important volunteers. They help to connect the bridge between the nonprofit community and the business community. “You can encourage employees and colleagues to serve on a committee [and volunteer],” says Barclay, who donates her time and resources to the New York Women’s Foundation where she serves as workgroup volunteer coordinator for the Circle of Sisters for Social Change. Those with finance, public relations, human resources, and legal backgrounds can help provide an area of expertise when a small nonprofit might not have a dedicated person. These professionals can help pull together the documents for an audit, make sure the financial statements are done in a way that portrays the organization in the most favorable and transparent light, assist with hiring, reduce turnover, or make sure the legal language on a consent form is correct and consistent. It makes a difference to have that resource on your board.
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