Help me prepare?
May 14, 2015 6:57 AM   Subscribe

I am in line to become president of a non-profit board, can you point me to some great resources?

I am excited to become president of a non-profit organization Board of Directors. Our last president completely bombed, no vision, no plan, no inspiration, no funding.. so only way from here is up. I want to step into the role prepared. Do you have any resources, books, blogs..etc that you recommend? I still have a few weeks and want to jump in share a plan to achieve our goals but at the same time inspire folks to really participate and feel excited to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Thanks for your help!
posted by xicana63 to Human Relations (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'm no expert on the subject, but your state (assuming your in the US) probably has an association of nonprofits that will be an excellent resources. Maine's version has a free resource library that might have something for you. Here's the governance section.
posted by that's candlepin at 7:59 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here's a recent related question with some advice and links.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:14 AM on May 14, 2015

There's a good chance that some of your local colleges (community colleges as well) offer courses on this sort of thing, from both an academic perspective and a "Here's how you do it" perspective.
posted by Etrigan at 8:22 AM on May 14, 2015

New non-profit Board President here (since Jan.)

It would help to know what type of non-profit it is. Do you have an Executive Director or other paid staff? Is it religious? Do you have a lot of big capital projects? Are your funding sources primarily through the government, other nonprofits, donations? Are you membership based? As well as some idea of what your mission is.

My company (not the non profit origination, although you should check into the possibility) pays for a membership to the organization BoardSource since they're trying to encourage employees to serve on nonprofit boards and I find it really helpful. They have a lot of great books to purchase too. So, for example, one of my goals this year was to modernize the bylaws and I found their free downloads really useful.

I also found the book The First 90 Days really helpful. Not non-profit specific though.

FWIW here are some things I wish someone had told me:
1. Start looking for your successor now. From the very beginning. Find important things for them to do. Your most important job as President is to make sure the organization continues and recruiting Board members is a crucial part of that. Make sure every officer and/or committee chairs also understands that they're first job in office is to find their replacement.
2. Just pick one big project at a time. Try to sequence them as much as possible and watch out for dependancies. Seriously, make a list of everything you want to accomplish and then really sit and think about how long something will take, compared to your term of office. Then double those estimates. Then try to split the list into "crucial for the organizations survival" and "it would be great/really exciting if we could do this". Assuming that there aren't too many "crucial" lines, see if there's at least one "great" thing since that's what tends to keep people involved. If there's another Board member you trust, try to get them to take ownership of one or more of the other items that you realistically can't get too. Vice Presidents can be really good for that.
3. Since it sounds like fundraising is a priority, make a list of when all the grant deadlines are, and work backwards through the year for when the major milestones are. Particularly if you need votes/approval by the board or membership to move forward. I have to get membership approval for EVERYTHING, so if I don't have all the information everyone needs to take a vote, then I have to wait another month to move forward. May sure you understand what your chokepoints are and plan around them.
4. Don't be overly critical of previous Officer's work (in public.) I hated the way agendas were organized for our meetings; they'd used the same format for a decade, and it had atrophied, and meetings had become unbearably tedious. I was very vocal in my reasons for why I changed the format and it turned out that the President who had started the format was still on the Board. He never said anything to my face but he's been basically impossible to work with since. I don't know how much of that is due to the agenda format issue but it certainly didn't help.
5. Don't completely ignore the wisdom that comes from former and current members/board members since they can be wonderful resources, but trust your own judgement. Longterm Board members can have great historical knowledge but it's also likely that their current view of how the world works, and what's important is sometimes years or decades out of date. (But see number 2 about only taking on a finite number of major projects or changes at a time.)
6. Ask for participation rather than feedback. Set the tone early that you're happy to support people who want to try doing things in a different way, or taking on new projects (within the scope of the mission and rules of the organization). But if you just ask for feedback you will get a lot of ideas for around how you should be spending your time, rather than what they think is important enough to spend their own time on.
7. You'll make mistakes. How you respond to mistakes, will probably have more bearing on how successful you are than any great idea or other accomplishments. So plan out a strategy for how you want to respond to mistakes before they happen so you're not caught off guard. :)

Good luck! Just asking these types of questions makes it much more likely to succeed!
posted by DarthDuckie at 8:58 AM on May 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

One thing you can do to reset the tone is to run the meetings well. Send out draft agendas in advance and ask members for additions. Provide the final materials and agenda such that members can prepare (have extra copies for those who forget). Handle the Roberts Rules of Order stuff efficiently without being overly doctrinaire (there's a "Dummies" book on this).

Consider getting outside help to run the visioning session; pay for it or see if there's free help via your University Extension program or other resource). Create committees and hold them accountable, whether it's a policy or hands-on board. Build a working relationship with staff and other board members; find out where they see/want the organization to go and how they define the major challenges. Don't confuse vision, mission and goals. Understand the competing and complementary orgs and how you differ/overlap so you can differentiate yourself or decide whether your org needs to exist (and, if not, how to shut down); there may be a reason, besides the previous incompetent leadership, that your org is flailing. Frame the reasons why people should support your org.

PS If you tell us what your org's purpose, you may get better answers.
posted by carmicha at 9:00 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Since taking over a non-profit last year, I've referred to posts on Blue Avocado for handling all sorts of challenges working with the board. My board president also found it useful when she started.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:06 AM on May 14, 2015

I was on the board of the Center for Nonprofit Management back about 20 years ago, and have always been an admirer of their resources.
posted by janey47 at 10:42 AM on May 14, 2015

Adding to DarkDuckie's excellent advice: if your non-profit has staff, do your best to create a positive, collaborative relationship between the board and the staff. Since the board is responsible for hiring and evaluating the Executive Director, start with that key relationship - but don't neglect the others. Some of the best ideas come from people who provide customer service on the frontline.

When the board doesn't understand the contributions of the staff and vice versa, an us vs. them dynamic can emerge that's really detrimental to the progress of the organization. Sadly, I have seen boards who think the staff are whiners who don't understand the real world and staff who think boards are out of touch with the needs of day-to-day mission delivery. This is, of course, damaging.

Good luck! Just by making this effort to get more info, it sounds like you're off to a great start in serving the cause.
posted by Pearl928 at 1:13 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lots of stuff online at the Institute of Community Directors Australia including free tools and resources, as well as a whole heap of sample policies as well.

Some of the stuff is specific to Australia, but most of the stuff is very general and will work well in many contexts.
posted by chris88 at 7:07 PM on May 14, 2015

You might look into The Governing Board: Key Responsibilities for Association Boards and Board Members, by Nancy Axelrod, who started Boardsource (mentioned by DarthDucky above).
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:36 AM on May 15, 2015

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