“Non-profit” evokes “doing good” and “not for profit,” but it shouldn’t imply “not doing well.” Doing well by doing good is possible and important.
Acknowledging the value of “doing well in doing good” elevates your standards and expectations regarding how to best structure your organization, how to attract the right talent and how to plan for growth and success, effectively and efficiently. No well-thought-out cause should be under-served by under-estimating the need for strong leadership, planning discipline and adequate resources.
I have worked with a number of non-profits, some with very large boards, some with boards in transition and boards being totally refreshed, and others where there is no executive director and the board is hands-on. In most of the situations I’ve been involved in, financial and human resources are often under-capitalized and become the underlying threat to the growth of the organization and the ease with which it can scale.
So many non-profits are going through growing pains that are due to a lack of clarity about how to leverage resources and to minimize struggles during growth. Funding is typically a great and constant challenge. The board or executive director might doubt that the cause can attract the absolute best talents, that people with the right skills exist and that individuals are prepared to serve the cause voluntarily or for modest compensation. And, non-profit boards often tolerate weak board members or members who lend their names without action.
If you are a non-profit organization that is in its infancy stages, I can’t encourage you enough to think about what you really want to accomplish and to take the time to think about the skills that you must have and should have within the board and on the leadership team when recruiting. If you are going through growing pains, seek help to figure out how to have a level of effortlessness in scaling the organization by establishing the right resources structure to support your goals and objectives.
- If the organization started with friends, have the courage to let go of those who no longer effectively serve your purpose, don’t understand how their skillset doesn’t match the role of a board director and how their participation adds no real value to doing well by doing good.
- Don’t accept volunteer board members before defining your vision. I am astonished by the number of non-profit boards who recruit board members before taking this critical step. Think about what it is you want to achieve, then seek talent who will passionately align with your vision and mission and commit to your expectations.
- Avoid winding up with too many board members and/or too many members who can’t live up to the commitment!
I have seen non-profit organizations changing, thriving and successfully scaling when the organization:
- Had a great executive director with business acumen who could lead with passion, clarity and focus.
- The board was moderate in size and every board member contributed with a strong complimentary skillset.
- The executive director was supported, guided and constructively evaluated by the board.
- The executive director had no tolerance for weak board members.
- Committed to a strategic planning session once a year. (If you can’t meet in person, leverage online connectivity.)
- Have standard practices for onboarding new members and leadership.
- Board members contributed to fundraising. (It is unrealistic to build a non-profit board with members who are not committed to help the executive director raise funds or help define a sustainable fund-raising strategy.)
Some additional thoughts on fund raising:
- You can’t afford to just sporadically get funds and/or constantly chase funds without conscientiously identifying how you must optimally fund the organization.
- You must be cautious of your funding sources– there can’t be conflicts of interest. Board members and volunteers can’t derive personal benefits by soliciting business opportunities.
- Have funding sources that truly align with your vision with passion and purpose and can commit to your funding strategy.
- Have dedicated board members who will commit to identifying new funding partners, help you nurture the relationships with your funding partners and help you increase funding whenever feasible.
Part of your strategic approach for your board’s composition should include consideration for both what you need AND what you have to offer. Before seeking, recruiting and enlisting any type of resources, identify the benefits you can deliver.
- Regarding the board: question if individuals are better suited to serving the organization as board members or as volunteers based on what they are prepared to do and capable of doing. The board has legal/fiduciary accountability for the operations of the non-profit and must exercise reasonable oversight and objectivity. Everyone should act responsibly.
- Regarding Funding resources: take the time to determine if you should have minor donors and major donors, affinity fundraising groups who share something in common and can grow virally, and whether you are eligible for grants. Decide on the board members’ level of giving for your organization and whether it is mandatory as part of the board membership. Whichever funding resource you deem necessary and appropriate, you must have the bandwidth to manage the process. Assess how (and what kind of) events can help you grow funding.
- Regarding Supporters: every successful non-profit organization I work with has a solid volunteer network– a network of supporters to help with marketing activities such as events, reach out to increase the funding resources within the strategic organizational framework, who can address administrative tasks for special projects and more.
- Regarding your Advisory council/board: how will it supplement the skills of the board and of the executive director?
- Regarding Ongoing Assessment: assess on an annual basis the return on your resources, both human and financial. Your board has the responsibility for comprehensive organizational and financial planning. The board should insist on an annual audit by an independent certified public accountant or accounting firm. Be aware that the audit function should not be performed by a volunteer board member.
Remember: In doing good, there is no room (or excuse) for being sloppy. When in doubt, reflect about what is working, what needs improvement and what is missing. Change what must change with a process. Take pride in building an organization that has clear intentions, that creates positive ripple effects and that will truly energize and inspire the resources that support it. Don’t settle for less than you aspire to have on board!