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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Board Leadership: Ask yourself these questions
Marion T. Lee, CFRE

June, 2014

“Who are these people and why are they on this board?”

How many times have you asked yourself this question as you contemplate donating to an organization, volunteering to help with program service, or serving  on a nonprofit board or a board committee?  Sounds cynical, yet knowing who is serving on a nonprofit’s board    vitally important for donors, prospective staff members, and the community at large. 

So why do we want this information?   As donors, we seek this knowledge to establish affinity, affirm credibility and credentialing.  Our gift, be it time or money, is easier to commit to when we feel that a board is known and actively engaged in the organization.  At Bacon Lee, we also have  noted that savvy candidates for new positions conduct in-depth research into members of the nonprofit’s board and their reputation in the community.  It is not unusual to have a candidate accept or pass on a job opportunity based solely on the board, its community profile, and governance reputation. 

What personal benefits are derived from board service?  Active, passionate board service requires time, attention and fortitude.  To be a good board member, you  bring to the nonprofit your true sense of integrity, courage, ethics, compassion and patience.  Serving on a board also comes with the reward of significant benefits that include:

1)     Learning more about the community in which you live;

2)     Gaining experience in general administration and human resource management, financial oversight, strategic planning, organizational governance and communications;

3)     Networking and developing life-long friendships and

4)     Developing personal fulfillment by supporting a cause that is dear to you 

How does the right board participation help an organization?  As you can see, making the decision to join a nonprofit board of directors requires much thought. .  It should not be a decision made randomly, based on guilt or your need for a vanity boost.  Your work and dedication has far reaching impact on the success of the organization.  In Bacon Lee’s recent feasibility studies in the Austin/San Antonio region, we found that 77% of the persons interviewed  had concerns about giving to  a project for reasons directly related to the board including: 

1)     Could not find a list of the board members on the website or in the materials;

2)     Felt that the Board members were not recognized in the community or for their active involvement in the cause;

3)     Knew that the current board was known for  its passive, laissez-faire attitude which has effected fundraising and human resources.

When approached for board service, what should you consider first?

As someone who recently  evaluated my own board roles, I  suggest that when approached to serve on a board, you ask yourself these five questions: 

1)     Why am I interested in joining this Board?

2)     Do I have the information that I need to make this decision?

3)     Will I devote the time and attention needed to fulfill my duties as a board member?

4)     Am I willing to be there in times of change and possible crisis?

5)     When determining whether to make a gift, where would this organization fall in my top  five gifts?


If you have determined at this point that you are interested in continuing to build a relationship with the organization, consider asking a current board member the following:


1)     Does the nonprofit organization carry Directors and Officers Liability Insurance?

2)     Is the organization facing a significant event such as a capital or major gift campaign, or change in executive leadership?

3)     Is there any pending legal action involving the organization?

4)     May you have a copy of the most current by-laws and does the organization operate in accordance with the by-laws?

5)     What is the time and gift commitment expectation?

Informed leadership is essential and it begins before you ever take a seat at the table.  I would strongly recommend that you make sure that an organization has Directors & Officers Liability Insurance before agreeing to serve.  A significant fundraising event can be exciting and surely increases your learning curve as will a change in staff leadership.  On the other hand, legal action against the organization can be serious and should be evaluated based on your personal concerns and circumstances surrounding the issue.  By-laws are the basic “ground rules” of the organization.  An organization should be operating in accordance with  its by-laws or be willing to create an ad-hoc committee to review them and make recommendations for changes. 

Finally, your own commitment of time, talent and treasure,  is a personal assessment of your passion for the mission.   You will, at the right time on the right board, change lives – for the better and for good.

Visit Bacon Lee and Associates at


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