Nonprofit Board Talk
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.

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Brent Jackson

Why the move to Tumblr?

     It just occurred to me!  I never explained why I moved my blog from Wordpress.  Wordpress is a great service!  It has powerful blogging tools that I will miss.   It was nice having all the months listed on the side of my old location.  While I moved most of the posts to this new location, I lost that history.  So why did I move?  Simple … Tumblr is easier to use.

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

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

Annual Checklist for #Nonprofit Board Members

#Nonprofits #BoardService

1 – Make your annual donation!  You should financially support your nonprofit even if it does not require a donation from its board members.

2 – Update your profile (or directory) information.  Has your phone number or address changed?  Did you change jobs?  Most nonprofit boards maintain a profile sheet or directory for board members.  Make sure the information is correct.

3 – Check the status of your term.  If your board limits the number of years (or terms) a member can serve, check if you’re near the end of your term.  If so, you have some planning to do!  Prepare a package of information that needs to be turned over to the board when you step down.  Have a plan to transition any projects or documents you will not be able to finish before the term is ends.  Think about your role with the nonprofit after you step down.  Maybe you can serve on an advisory group or continue as a volunteer.

4 – Recommend a new board member.  All boards need a constant flow of new members.  This is a great time to chat with professional friends and colleagues about nonprofit board service.  If one is interested, refer them to the committee responsible for recruitment.  All board members should help with this task.  It should not fall on the recruiting committee alone.  (Note – Keep the boards recruiting targets for skills and / or professions in mind as you talk to people.)

5 – Review your nonprofit’s IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ!  All nonprofits must file a tax return with the IRS.  This form is available to the public.  Look at it please!  Make sure it was filed and that it is correct.  You don’t want to be a board member of a nonprofit that loses its tax exempt status.

6 – Review your nonprofit’s state tax return.  Does your state require a tax return from nonprofits?  If so, ask to see that return as well.

7 – Review your nonprofit’s year-end financial statements.  A board can’t ensure the financial health of a nonprofit without reviewing financial statements.  Make sure you have seen them and understand what is on them.

8 – Review this year’s budget.

9 - Review the nonprofit’s policy manual.  This is part of governance.  There are policies listed on the IRS Form 990.  Your state or local government may require nonprofits to have certain policies.  Any lawyer or HR professional will have a list of polices highly recommended for financial management, risk management and operations.  All policies should be easily available for you to review.  Make sure the nonprofit has all the policies it is required to have.

Tell me if I missed something!  I’m happy to update the list.

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