A year’s worth of planning came to fruition when Greenville recently hosted the South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organizations’ annual conference, “Together. For Good. Nonprofit Summit.” This three-day event was an opportunity for hundreds of small and large agencies from across our State, to gather and discuss the issues facing their sustainability. An agenda that should peak the interest of our business community, since South Carolina’s nonprofits represent a significant sector of our economy. Here are just a few statewide stats to ponder:

  • Nonprofits employ more than 162,000 (7% of the State’s workforce)
  • Nonprofits generate almost $14 billion in annual revenue
  • Nonprofits hold assets of more than $28.8 billion
  • Nonprofits contribute nearly $11% to the GSP (gross state product)

As we all know the past several years have not been easy…and our nonprofit friends have not gone unscathed. With their financial struggles and an increasing demand for their services, it is more critical than ever for organizations to clearly define and live out their missions. To do this, they must explore creative programming strategies, diverse funding sources and new opportunities for collaboration. As they map out their futures, it is in a nonprofit’s best interest to engage qualified business professionals on their boards.

Nominating committees are faced with the ongoing challenge of recruiting the right people to serve their organizations…which leads me to an email I received recently from one of my UBJ readers.

My firm has encouraged me to get involved in the community. As an attorney, I am eager to share my legal expertise with a worthy organization. How should I go about selecting the right board for me? ~Tanya

I am glad that you have posed this question, Tanya. I wish more folks would ask it before launching into a long-term (generally three years at a minimum) commitment with an organization. You wouldn’t commit to a personal relationship without determining your compatibility. The same should be true for taking on board responsibilities.
Over the years, I have served on many boards and as a result of these experiences I have become much more discerning in my selection process. I recommend you consider asking yourself these TEN questions before making a decision.

1. PASSION – Do I have a personal passion for the organization’s mission?
This must be the first question you ask yourself. If it is not a cause that you are truly committed to, you don’t need to answer 2-10.

2. TIME – Do I have enough time to be an effective board member?
Our time is one of our most precious assets…and joining a board means a commitment of your time. You will be expected to attend board meetings, committee meetings, retreats, and special events: not to mention the time required for regular communications and meeting preparation. Be sure to ask staff and current board members what to expect on a monthly basis.

3. EXPERTISE & EXPECTATIONS – Am I comfortable with the proposed board responsibilities?
Understand whether you will be expected to contribute your expertise and the role you are you being asked to play. Consider any conflicts of interest you may have.

4. HEALTH – Have I reviewed the organization’s financial status?
Nonprofit’s with more than $25,000 of income must file a 990 with the IRS. This information is available to the public. Smaller nonprofits will have other accounting reports they can provide to you. Tread cautiously if you are met with resistance when asking for this information.

5. DONOR – Am I willing to make a financial commitment?
Most boards encourage 100% board participation in fundraising. Some may require a minimal amount, while others may request and expect a significant financial contribution. As you might imagine, it is extremely difficult to fundraise when an organization does not have a fully committed board.

6. LIABILITY – Does the organization have adequate insurance coverage?
Consider the potential risks associated with the organization’s activities and ask about its current insurance coverage and whether risk management practices are in place.

7. CONFIDENCE – Do I have confidence in the organization and its leadership?
Talking to folks who have had experience with the organization is helpful. In addition review information such as the strategic plan, budget, employee bios, annual reports, etc.

8. IMPACT – Is the organization faced with challenges that offer me an opportunity to help?
Don’t be afraid to get involved with organizations that are seeking ways to improve and strengthen. These are the very groups that really need you…and you can truly make a difference.

9. SITE VISIT – Have I taken a tour?
You can learn a lot about an organization by visiting. It is valuable for you to see the staff and clients in action. I also encourage you to spend some time with the executive director and a board member or two.

10. FUN & FELLOWSHIP – Last but certainly not least…would I enjoy spending time with this board?

Recently I applied this same litmus test of TEN questions when I was invited to serve a second three-year term on the Meals on Wheels board. And my answer was a resounding; “YES I would be delighted to continue serving!”

So in summary, Tanya, I recommend doing your homework and selecting a board that offers you the ability to score a perfect TEN.

Until next time,
Debbie

NONPROFIT MATTERS WAS PUBLISHED IN THE UPSTATE BUSINESS JOURNAL ON APRIL 5, 2013

Thank you to the Upstate Business Journal (UBJ) for inviting me to be a regular contributor to their publication. My goal in writing this column is to share my passion for nonprofits by bringing to light relevant information and success stories. This column is presented in a question and answer format. So whether you are a nonprofit professional, an active community volunteer or someone just looking for a way to get involved, I want to hear from you. I invite you to read all of my UBJ columns here.