Competent board representation a hot commodity
February 5, 2013
In a county of 100,000 people, where close to 200 nonprofits vie for thousands of people to serve on their respective governing bodies, competition for competent board members can be fierce.
"A good board member is worth their weight in gold," said Cristine Kelly, Music in the Mountains executive director.
Because younger adults have careers and families, a typical Nevada County nonprofit board member is retired, said Kelly, who remembers being approached by several nonprofits to serve as a board member before she became the executive director of Music in the Mountains.
"We have a tendency to recycle board members in this county," Kelly said, who also serves in an advisory capacity to the Center of Nonprofit Leadership and sat on the Nevada County Arts board and the Nevada County Media Center, among others. She estimated that 70 percent of nonprofit board members serve on other boards as well.
“A goodwill ambassador, who can get people excited about your organization and facilitate connections, can be very valuable.”
— CRISTINE KELLY, Music in the Mountains executive director
"We have so many nonprofits around here," said Cindy Maple, Hospitality House executive director. "Anybody I want to ask to be on a board is already on a board."
Of the dozens of nonprofits The Union spoke with, almost every one said it wanted to increase its board size, and because of the economy, each wants people who can raise funds.
"Some boards actually spell it out that you have to raise or give a certain amount per year," said Joshua Lichterman, Alliance for a Post-Petroleum Local Economy board of directors president.
While asking people for funding can be daunting, Kelly said if you think of it as being a facilitator for a potential donor's passion, fundraising can become exciting.
Although a good fundraiser is a hot commodity in Nevada County, there are certainly other desirable skills.
With financial management such a crucial part of nonprofits, accounting skills can save a smaller nonprofit from having to pay a certified public accountant. The same goes for attorneys.
A marketing professional is another valued component of a board, Maple said, because much of a nonprofit's world is about getting a community to buy in to its mission.
Other sought-after skills have unquantifiable value, Kelly said.
"A goodwill ambassador, who can get people excited about your organization and facilitate connections, can be very valuable," she said.
Attitude toward staff and other board members is also an essential consideration, Lichterman said.
"If a board member micromanages staff, it can be detrimental to morale and motivation," he said.
Not all for-profit business skills transfer into the nonprofit world, said Julie Baker, Center for the Arts executive director.
"Just because someone is a good business person or a good board member doesn't mean they are good for your board," Baker said. "They have to be passionate about the cause to be of value to your board."
A good board member needs to know how to listen and be willing to give his skills, Lichterman added.
"The most important role is to have a long-term vision of where you want to go and create an environment that allows it to go that way," Lichterman said.
As that long-term goal plays out and as a nonprofit blossoms from a founding member's garage into a more sophisticated entity, there can be growing pains for the board members, Maple said.
Sometimes, board members who originally helped buy paint, sort receipts and hand out raffle tickets in the beginning have trouble adjusting as staff members are hired to handle daily operations.
"The process of disassociating the board from the day to day as a nonprofit grows is not always like turning a switch," Maple said.
Lichterman added: "We are a governing board, not a day-to-day board."
Boards aren't looking for bodies to fill seats and pad resumes, Kelly said.
Even groups as established as the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation and the Friendship Club have their board members cooking meals and catering, said Cheryl Rubin, a board member on the Center for Nonprofit Leadership.
"It is a job," Kelly said. "I can't believe they do it sometimes."
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
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