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.

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 - “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!


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!



Taproot Foundation leads, mobilizes and engages professionals in pro bono service that drives social change.

Watch this video to learn more about our approach to build a pro bono nation. 

Taproot Foundation

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!


From the post -“

Most nonprofit boards are including pro bono service and in-kind donations in their resource development. Are you?

No one knows better than you that nonprofits need strong boards to harness the resources they need to thrive. Until now, chief executives and board members have lacked direct guidance on how to work together to access resources beyond cash — such as pro bono services and in-kind donations. Business professionals have skills and networks that can provide invaluable resources to nonprofits and our research shows they are eager to join nonprofit boards.”

This post speaks for itself. It’s a good article on nonprofit board burnout. The article is called “5 Symptoms of Nonprofit Board Burnout” and it can be found on the X Factor Consulting Blog. It answers the questions:

  1. What is board burnout?
  2. What are the signs?
  3. How do you treat or prevent it?

There is also a recorded webinar dealing with problem boards and offering ideas to fix the problems. The webinar is called Board CPR: Revitalizing Troubled Boards for Service. You have to supply your name and email to see the webinar but it’s worth it. [read more]

“Healthcare professionals describe burnout as a “state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place” ( When the role that someone loses interest in is serving as a board member, then what we’re discussing qualifies as board burnout.” [read more]

Thanks for reading!


From the blog - “I have a daily (7 days a week) subscription to Google Alerts on “Nonprofit Management” and “Nonprofit Governance.” Every week, three or four nonprofit case stories surface, in these listings, related to inadequate oversight by nonprofit boards of directors. Many of the cases result six or seven figure dollar losses to the nonprofits. Following is my personal list of what reasonable board oversight means to attempt to help nonprofit boards of directors to avoid such losses. “

I have no problem giving credit where credit is due.  I found a good article on the role and duties of a nonprofit board member.  The article even has a thoughtful comment with an additional duty I completely agree with.  (I said so in my comment to the blog.)

One of the most important things to understand about any board of directors is that directors are required to carry out their duties and responsibilities under certain standards of care and attention. Board Source describes the three legal standards that have been established as:   [read more]

The article is called “My board of directors does what again?”  It’s posted on the YNPN Blog (Young Nonprofit Professional Network).  Go read it!

Thanks for reading!


Joining a Nonprofit Board - The Intro
So, you want to serve on a nonprofit board. Where do you start? What nonprofit boards have openings for new members? What is the process? I plan to spend a few posts discussing the process of finding and joining your first board.

I checked the website for NCCS ( National Center for Charitable Statistics). At the beginning of 2010, there were 1,514,530 nonprofits in the United States. I live in Washington, DC . The numbers for my area are DC (14,349 nonprofits), Maryland (32,692) and Virginia (40,110). That is 87,151 nonprofits in my area! (Check your state). Each one is required to have a Board of Directors.

I do not know if anyone tracks the total number of board members on all nonprofits. We can guess. Let’s say that most Board of Directors have from five to 15 members. On that basis, there are between 435,755 and 1,307,265 nonprofit board members in DC, Maryland , & Virginia.

Add another fact to this; a growing number of nonprofits are beginning to limit the time a person can serve on a board. This means a constant need for new board members. Bottom line … if you want to serve on a nonprofit board, there is a very good chance you will find one.

Finding a nonprofit board to join is the same as looking for a new job. There are three stages to join most boards:
  1. The search & contact
  2. Interview & evaluation
  3. Orientation
I will start with “The Search" in a future post. As this series unfolds, I would love to hear your stories about joining a board. Also, let me know if there is an issue or a question that I should address.

Thanks for reading!

Searching for a Nonprofit Board: Patience is a Virtue

It is important to keep in mind, when you are looking for your first board, that Patience is a Virtue! It was more than seven months before I connected with the first board seeking new members. One board took nearly a year, after first contact, to reach out to me as a potential member. Most boards will put you through a series of steps before asking you to join. Things could go awry and priorities could shift, at any point during the process. You must be patient!

I assume it is not that way for everyone. If Bill Gates or Beyonce posted a note showing interest in serving on a board, their email box would be full of board requests within minutes. Likely, you could track the time between interest and invitation with an egg timer. That is the power of wealth and/or notoriety.

Legal and financial professionals are in hot demand for board service. If you are one of them, your search will probably be easier and shorter. Most nonprofit boards understand that a diverse board is important for success. A good board needs a mix of skills, experience, and backgrounds to be effective. Patience continues to be important as the recruiting process begins.

The recruiting process is the dance you will do with any perspective board. It is no different then the interview process for a new job, it just takes longer to complete. Nonprofit board members are generally busy people serving in a volunteer role. You have to work at their schedule.

Be ready for it to take months to find a board you are interested in and that is interested in you. Once you find one or more boards of interest, be ready to take two or more months to complete the process for you to join the board as a new member. BE PATIENT! You will thank me later.

How long did it take to find your first board? How was the process?

Thanks for reading!