Nonprofit Board Talk

From the article - “In our recent Philanthropy Journal poll about recruiting board members, respondents indicated that they frequently face challenges in recruiting competent volunteers to their board. The economic downturn the country has been dealing with for more than five years has made it even more challenging for more than a third of the respondents to recruit competent board members. At a time when nonprofits need skilled and dedicated volunteers to help make the strategic decisions necessary to navigate difficult financial times such leaders appear to our survey respondents to be in short supply.” read more

Does Your Nonprofit Retool?

"Only those who constantly retool themselves stand a chance of staying employed in the years ahead." - Tom Peters

     I love this quote from Tom Peters.  It is true for individuals but I think it is also true for organizations as well.  Is your nonprofit retooling?  In a fast changing world, it is important to “retool" if you want to survive and be relevant in your mission.

     Everyone talks about using social media.  A great “retool" for any nonprofit.  Is your nonprofit board using eGovernance tools to help with board and committee meetings?  Have you looked at cloud computing to lower techology costs, expand capacity or improve productivity?  What about crowd funding as a new source for donations and program funding?  Are you using meetups to help with outreach and volunteer recruiting?  Your nonprofit must improve, adapt and retool … or lose ground to other nonprofits that do.

Thanks for reading the Nonprofit Board Talk Blog!

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Brent Jackson

Nonprofit Board Discussion – What is Cloud Computing?

It’s difficult to have a true discussion on cloud computing if most of the people in the room don’t know what it is.  It’s a buzz phase so everyone has heard of it but how many board members really know what it means?  I’m a person with an IT background so I’m usually asked to explain what cloud computing is.  I can see faces change as I explain it and understanding hits.

Most nonprofit boards will face this question at some point.  Here’s a short version of the explanation I give to this question.  I hope it helps when your board has the discussion.  The explanation is simple.  The best way to understand cloud computing is to compare it to the other forms of computing available to most nonprofits:

“Local” Computing – You are computing locally if all your programs (or software) and data is stored on your PC’s (or laptop’s) hard drive.  If you have a flash drive or external hard drive, you are still computing “locally”.

Server Computing (or Client/Server Computing) – Your nonprofit owns or leases a server.  When you connect to the office network, you can open files stored on that server.  In this case, the programs (Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, etc.) are installed on your PC but you store the files (or data) on the server.  This is very common with databases.

Enterprise Computing – In this case, both the software and the data is stored on your office server.  All the user has to do is type a web address.  You don’t have to make sure the software in installed first.  (There are exceptions to this but that’s another blog post.)

The key here is your nonprofit owns or leases the server.  The server is in your office or downstairs in the basement or at the data center.  You can see it, hug it, or take a picture of it.  You have a staff person or contractor that has to maintain it.  From time-to-time, you have to fix it or replace it.  The good part is, you have a server that gives you extended computing power.  The bad part is, you have a costly server that requires specialized skills to maintain.

Cloud Computing (or Cloud Services) – Do you want the extended computing power without the costly server?  Cloud computing can do it!  There are companies with data centers full of servers.  You can “rent” or “share” space on those servers.  You can get access to the software on those servers.  Just sign up as a customer and type in a web address.  Google Docs, Microsoft 360, Yahoo Mail, Evernote, and are all cloud services.  When you log into your account to get your data, you have no idea where that server is located.  That’s cloud computing!

This is a VERY simple explanation of cloud computing.  Experts spend hours talking about the types of service, levels of service, software options and vendors available in the cloud world?  This explanation is only to begin the discussion.  You need advice and support from experts as you move into the cloud.  Good luck on the journey!

Thanks for reading the Nonprofit Board Talk Blog!  Follow on Twitter @NPBoardTalk

Brent Jackson

From the post - “Board recruitment is broken — and I’m not the only one who thinks so. In recent surveys conducted by the Taproot Foundation and BoardSource, nonprofit leaders reported frustration in securing the right talent and, specifically, with knowing where to look for it.”  Read more.

From the post - “With the increasing demands of billable hours and outside commitments, it is tougher and tougher for young lawyers to find time to join nonprofit organizations as board members and take on board leadership positions. However, nonprofit corporations are searching for new and enthusiastic board members to bring energy and knowledge to their organizations.

As you develop your practice, you will come into contact with individuals who are members of nonprofit organizations’ boards or officers of nonprofit organizations. As discussed below, there are many great reasons to join nonprofit boards and several issues that you should address before deciding whether to join a particular nonprofit board.”  Read more.

The Costs of Board Service: Time, Money and Energy

          Are you thinking about starting a new project, joining a new club or learning a new hobby?  The first question you should ask yourself is how much time, money, and energy will this cost?  The same question applies to serving on a nonprofit board.  Make sure you have a good idea of the costs of serving before you say yes.

          How much time?  How often does the board meet (monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, etc.) and how long are the meetings?  Are the meetings during the workday, after hours or on the weekend?  Will you have to serve on one or more committees?  If so, how often do the committees meet?  How much time does the average board member spend reviewing reports or documents between meetings?  Do the nonprofit have non-board activities you are expected to help with or attend?  You want to make sure there is a good balance between the board’s time needs and your availability.

          How much money?  Will you be required to make an annual financial donation?  If so, is there a required minimum donation?  Can you afford it?  Will you have to buy tickets to anything (an annual gala, conferences, concerts, shows or games, etc.)? Are there other expenses?  Do you have to contribute to a soup kitchen, food drive, shelter supply closet, or team uniforms?

          I served on a board once that served a lite meal at each board meeting.  The committees took turns providing the food.  I shared in the cost of the food if it was my committee’s turn.  Bottom line - try to get a realistic idea of the costs of serving on the board you are thinking of joining.  I have seen good people forced to resign from a board due to the financial burden.

          How much energy?  This is the hardest one of all!  Most people don’t think about energy cost.  Have you heard the saying, “A meeting of the minds but the minds didn’t show.”  Well each of us has a finite amount of mental energy to spend each day.  Board service requires a lot of mental energy!  It’s important to show up to meetings with a clear, well-rested mind.  A nonprofit board needs people to do more than show up and keep the chair warm.  It’s ok to say no to board service if you have a crazy or stressful life.  You can always serve later when things are under control.

          Why did I write this?  I love nonprofit board service!  I would recommend it to anyone looking to learn, grow, serve or make a difference.  However, I have seen people join boards and it not work out.  In every case, the relationship failed due to a misunderstanding of time, money or energy commitments.  I don’t want it to happen to you.

Thanks for reading Nonprofit Board Talk!  Follow on Twitter @NPBoardTalk

Brent Jackson

From the post - "Nonprofit board service is particularly compelling for business people and professionals seeking to develop as leaders."

From the post - “Mario Morino, Venture Philanthropy Partners Chairman, recommends that nonprofit boards answer six critical questions to insure that their nonprofit is prepared for changes that might lie ahead.”

Searching for a Nonprofit Board – Try BoardNetUSA

         I listed ideas to find a nonprofit board for board service in past blog posts.  Remember you must have patience during the process (Searching for a NonProfit Board: Patience is a Virtue).  I have a post on the number of nonprofit boards and the process to join most boards (Joining a Nonprofit Board – The Intro).  The simplest way is to find a local nonprofit you are interested in and just ask to serve on the board (Joining a Nonprofit Board – The Search and the Ask).  Lastly, I gave three places you can check for a list of nonprofits in your area (The Search and the Ask Follow-up).  This is all you need to actively search for your first (or next) nonprofit board.

          What if you’re a busy professional.  Or, you’re new to the area and don’t know the local nonprofits.  There is a passive way to search for a nonprofit board to serve on … let the nonprofit board find youBoardNetUSA is a website that matches nonprofit boards to people looking to serve.  And, it’s free to use!

          All you have to do is set up a profile on the service.  List your skills, interests and background information in your profile.  Nonprofit boards post requests for new board members.  The nonprofit will list any skills or background it’s needs in a board member.  If you match, BoardNetUSA will send you an email.  Easy!

          Be prepared!  It may take a month or two to get a match.  Also, once a match is made, it could end up a false start.  The process is very close to interviewing for a job.  At anytime during the process, either party could decide “this will not work out after all”.  Don’t take it personally and don’t give up!

          I’ve served on 7 nonprofit boards.  I found 5 of the 7 boards using the service.  Try it and tell me if it works for you.

Thanks for reading!


From the Archive - “Do You Know Your VP’s?”

A very long time ago, I worked in the Accounting Department of a hotel. I was given chance to attend a training class called “How to Set Priorities.” It was a one day class (seminar really), held in a large ballroom with 100 or 150 people sitting theater style. It was one of the best one day classes I ever attended!!!

The speaker covered a number of concepts. I think the most powerful concept covered was the VP’s. This idea made such an impression on me that I still talk about it to this day! The speaker said that everyone you meet in your career and in your life will fit into one or more of four types (or VP’s). The VP’s are VIP, VTP, VNP and VDP.

VIP = Very Important Person – In this context, a VIP is not necessarily the president of your company or a celebrity. A VIP is anyone important to helping you in life. It is anyone that supports you or gives you good advice. The VIP has your best interests at heart, like your family and your best friends. The professionals that back you in life (your coach, accountant, lawyer, and the head of your church) are all VIP’s to you. These are your supporters when trouble hits and, if needed, your rescuers or combat troops! At work, VIP’s are all the people who help with your career, such as your business advisor or mentor. Consider the boss that will send you to training or other professional development. Do not forget your co-workers who give you “good” advice, recommendations or supply you with “good” information. After all, information is power in business and in board service.

My point is this … find and keep VIP’s in your life! Your happiness, success and ability to deal with problems are enhanced by the number of VIP’s you have in your life.

VTP = Very Teachable Person – To be a good leader, you must learn to delegate. To be a successful leader, you must learn to delegate to the right people! These are the VTP’s. VTP’s are people who are good at getting things done. VTP’s are fast learners and need little supervision. VTP’s are the people you recruit to your team when you get a promotion. Always be on the lookout for more VTP’s.

VNP = Very Nice Person – Everyone has the nice neighbor. Everyone has nice co-workers. Everyone has nice friends you see once a month for lunch. These people help make life more enjoyable. You need people to talk to about last night’s football game or play card games with you or go to the movies. Nice people are good.

The thing to remember is you must have a balance. Most of the people in life are nice. As a result, nice people can easily take up (or waste) your time. Be careful here! At work, you can damage a promising career this way. In board service, you can be seen as ineffective. It’s great to talk about the game but don’t become known for spending a large amount of time chatting in the hall or before the board meeting. VIP’s and VTP’s get promoted or become board officers. VNP’s do not.

VDP = Very Depressing (or Draining) Person – These are the complainers, the drama queens and angry people. Life is negative for them. They come in several forms. The VDP is sad. The VDP is rude. The VDP always has a new problem and wants to talk about it for hours. There is always DRAMA! The real danger is a VDP wants to recruit you as a VDP! They want you to be negative WITH THEM. Don’t let this happen! You must wish them well and hope they someday find true happiness. To live a successful and happy life, you must keep the number of people in this category VERY small. Their negative energy will bring you down so do not let it!

Well that’s it … the VP’s. VIP (Very Important Person) / VTP (Very Teachable Person) / VNP (Very Nice Person) / VDP (Very Draining Person)

Thanks for reading!


Meeting Availability Blues – Try

If you get a good resource, pass it on!  With this in mind, use to avoid meeting availability blues!

We use Microsoft Outlook on the job.  It’s easy to schedule a meeting with Microsoft Outlook.  I can create a meeting invite and add all the people I want to invite to the meeting.  I can see each person’s availability to find the best date and time to hold the meeting.  Easy!

This is not the case with most board service.  Most of the people serving on the board work for different companies or organisations.  This means different email systems.  I can’t check for meeting availability in advance.  As a result, to request an unplanned board or committee meeting, I have to start a chain of emails to check everyones availability.

Here’s an online tool that can help with this process.  Go to  Create an account and let the service help you plan a meeting without all the emails.  You can create a list of possible dates and times for the meeting.  Then put in the email addresses of the people you want to invite.  Meeting Wizard will send each people an email with a link for the meeting information.  Each meeting attendee simply clicks the link, check the dates and times he/she can attend and Meeting Wizard tracks the results.

Once you confirm the meeting in Meeting Wizard, the service will send an email to everyone to let them know.  One more problem solved!

Thanks for reading!


Are You Using Conference Calls in a Crisis?

One of the Board of Directors I serve on has been dealing with two crisis in the last three months. To deal with both crisis at once, the Board created special task forces (sometimes called “ad-hoc” committee). Each task force was assigned the duty of handling all the research, discussion and completing of tasks. When needed, a task force could call the full Board to vote on a recommendation or request guidance.

The Board of this nonprofit is small but made up of very busy professionals. Arranging face-to-face meetings each time something had to be discussed would have been impossible! There was too much to do in a short amount of time! Conference calls SAVED US!!

There were times when an issue or new information came up. Someone sent an email and a conference call was scheduled later that day. Try to pull that off with a face-to-face meeting on most boards … not happening!!

Most high-end cell phones have conference call abilities but it can be unwieldy if you are trying to connect three or more people. There are many fee-based conference call services. However, you pay the fee monthly, even if you have no conference calls.

To help us though our crisis, we used It’s easy to use. Go to the website. Create an account and the service will assign you a code. Give everyone the service number and the code. You will get an email with conference call details after each call. The code is available 24 hours so you can have a conference call on the fly. You should know, the service number is not toll free.

One important note: Check your local laws and your nonprofit’s Bylaws & policies. Make sure it’s ok to hold a conference call for board work. The nonprofit I’m discussing here has a policy that meetings of the full Board are held in person. Only standing committee and task force meetings can be held as conference calls. I hope this helps with your next board crisis.

Thanks for reading!


The Search and the Ask Follow-up

I got a question to my post, “Joining a Nonprofit Board – The Search and the Ask.” It’s a good question:

“How do I find a list of the non-profits in my area?”

I’ve lived in my neighborhood over 4 years. I couldn’t give you a list of non-profits in my area. Not off the top of my head anyway. But, I do have a few ideas to get a list of nonprofits you can contact for board service:

  1. The United Way – Get a list of United Way supported charities from the United Way’s website. Search by your zip code (USA) to get your local United Way site and then search for a list of local nonprofits.
  2. GuideStar – GuideStar is an online database. It contains information on all nonprofits in the United States. This information comes from IRS tax forms and other sources. You can search the database with your city or zip code. Once you find a nonprofit you like, get the address & contact information. There are fees to get detail information from the database.
  3. Your local volunteer center – Most counties and cities have a volunteer center or nonprofit association. Most will give you a list of nonprofits in your area that are members. Some have a board service matching program. Be prepared to pay a fee and take a training class before you are matched with a nonprofit board.

I hope this will get you started. Good luck on your search!

Thanks for reading!


Joining a Nonprofit Board – The Search and the Ask

In an earlier post called “Joining a Nonprofit Board – The Intro,” I reported that at the beginning of 2010, there were 87,151 nonprofits. This number came from the NCCS ( National Center for Charitable Statistics). From this number, I concluded that an estimated 435,755 to 1,307,265 people are needed to serve on those boards. In other words, a lot of nonprofits need a lot of board members.

How do you find a nonprofit board to serve on? There are many methods to find a board. The first and possibly, the easiest … just ask.

If you live in a city or large suburb, there are small nonprofits within easy reach. By law, each one must have a Board of Directors. Even a small nonprofit (if it is well managed), will always be on the lookout for new board members.

What are you interested in? What issues or causes are you passionate about? Would you support animals, housing, or research to cure an illness? Do you want to help those in need? Every state has to deal with domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, homelessness, and crime prevention. Find a local nonprofit that deals with a subject you want to work on and ask to serve.

Contact someone serving in a leadership role for the nonprofit. Ask if the board is looking for new members. Remember to have patience. If that nonprofit is not looking, ask the next one on your list. Believe me; many nonprofits will be happy you asked! Good luck with your search.

Thanks for reading!