In reSources, our free monthly e-newsletter, we sometimes showcase smart things other people are doing on a national level, especially if those experiences can serve as lessons that can be applied to the Greater Philadelphia area. The New York Times recently featured insights from Rebekah Campbell, a veteran entrepreneur creating her first Board of Directors. The case refers to a for-profit board but many principles likely apply to your nonprofit.
- Rebekah Campbell knew nothing about boards when she started her company Posse.
- She created an eight-member-board, following her lawyer’s advice.
- The board demanded detailed financial information Rebekah was unprepared to share.
- A board director unexpectedly submitted a full-time job proposal to the board and was denied. The director quit and later submitted a significant invoice for his time.
- Several more board directors quit while new ones joined throughout the past three years.
- Rebekah is on her third mix of board members. This time she has found the right fit.
Make sure your directors have the right experience. Rebekah’s original board had impressive names but they didn’t have experience working with a start-up. Similarly as you build your nonprofit board, focus on adding people with the right mix of skills and experience that aligns with your organization’s objectives.
Invite people you like and trust. Posse almost folded after one year. One board member then turned on Rebekah and influenced others. Don’t underestimate the value of being around people whose company you enjoy. The more trust and unity that can be established within your board, the more efficient, productive, (and let’s face it, enjoyable) your board will be.
Keep the numbers small. Rebekah’s current board has four directors, including herself, and a regular observer with no voting power but acts like a director. This small number works for Rebekah and her team at Posse. For your nonprofit the size of your board will depend on your organization’s resources and goals.
Set expectations up front. Rebekah struggled when a few months after Posse launched some board directors had different expectations about receiving payment. Her situation is relevant to the for-profit sector. But the larger point that applies to your nonprofit is be clear with your prospective board members about what you expect and how you envision their role. This way potential differences that otherwise would be undiscovered until later can be addressed early.
Be transparent and organized. Your board can only help you if they know about the challenges you face. Rebekah learned being clear about what she wanted to accomplish for each board meeting forced her to consistently evaluate Posse’s current state and how her board could help. As a result, she received better counsel from her board when she began making organization and clarity a priority. Being transparent also demonstrates trust to your board. If your board knows you trust and value them, they are more likely to go the extra-mile to meet your organization’s needs.
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