From “The Dark Knight”
You may be wondering what this confusing yet oddly memorable quote from the Dark Knight has to do with Board Development for nonprofit organizations. Honestly, I’m not 100% sure either but I’ve always wanted to use it in a post. Hey, my post my choice. Trying to make the connection can be a stretch. But, when you set aside all the hero, guardian and chase stuff and focus on the idea of needing vs. deserving, it’s simple and relevant…
Much like Gotham, often charities have the board of directors they need when they start but are yet to have the truly effective and strong one their admirable work deserves.
Not too bad a segue as a few months ago, I had the privilege of working with several newer charities on maximizing the effectiveness of their board. These organizations were in the startup to growth phase (between two and five years old). I’ve identified three consistent trends from speaking with the leaders of these and other similar charities:
- The “starter” board is comprised of friends, family and a close inner circle that may or may not have a direct interest in the cause;
- Related, often these board members lack the capacity, commitment to, and understanding of the organization’s work imperative to lead the organization; and
- In many cases, these board members joined the organization with either a promise that they will not be called on to do anything. And in the worst cases, now they’re being called on for guidance as well as resources including their time, connections and of course, financial support (much to their surprise!)
Depending on how long you’ve worked in the sector, these characteristics for a new board may be obvious. To make matters more difficult, founders of these organizations are often reluctant to ask these new members to step up or step off. This is understandable as often these members are close friends, family and contacts. And by the way, this is one of the most unpleasant tasks a leader may have to do.
Let’s face it – starting a nonprofit is hard enough. It requires extraordinary commitment, passion and perhaps above all, perseverance (popularly known as Grit). So, don’t go it alone. I wanted to offer three suggestions to newer and maturing organizations that find themselves in this place:
- Start where you are: I put this as #1 for a reason – it’s #1 (the big one, numero Uno etc.) Talking to founders of nonprofits, I’m always amazed and can’t help feeling bummed about how hard they can be on themselves. Hey, you started a nonprofit!! That’s amazing in and of itself; the simple fact that you’re on the map is amazing. So, appreciate it and accept that where you are today is the best starting place.
- Take a Breath and Assess (also known as Taking Inventory): So now that you’re legal, know what your vision, mission and values are, it’s time to figure out what skills, experience, networks and resources you’ll need to succeed. The happy surprise here is that when you look at your current board – even if you started with your close inner circle – you probably have some of it. But you also need to figure out what you don’t have. And equally important, figure out where you can find it – or since we’re talking people – them.
- Re-stock: I decided to stick with the inventory metaphor. Now that you know what you’ve got and just as importantly, what you don’t, time to build the powerhouse store. How do you do it? BIG HINT: Very different than the way you arrived here. Since you started with friends and family, time to break out of that comfort zone. Seek out new and untried opportunities i.e. intermediaries like USA Boardnet or Linkedin’s Board matching service.. Let people OUTSIDE your board know you’re looking. I”m suggesting OUTSIDE because depending on your current board will attract peers much like them. Not bad it’s time for new blood, new ideas and a new pipeline.
If you build it, they will come...We’ve gone from Batman to Field of Dreams!