What I learned during the years I spent on the Board of Directors for nonprofit organizations.
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I made an important decision the other day, namely 2016 will be my last year serving on a board of directors for a nonprofit organization. It’s time for someone else to step up to the plate. For forty years I volunteered my time for dozens of organizations. So much so, I stopped counting when I reached fifty Boards. I’ve served on everything from professional societies for management, computers and systems, to homeowner groups, sports clubs, fraternal organizations, and more.
I coached and umpired baseball for ten years, also serving on the board for the local Little League. One day, we held a practice for my boys team and I was shagging balls in the outfield. It was a beautiful day and it had been a good practice. However, as I picked up the last few baseballs, I looked up and realized I was no longer enjoying myself and it had become more laborious than fun. It was at that moment when I realized my days with Little League baseball were over and I retired from it shortly thereafter. That is how I feel today where I am involved with two nonprofits. Following a board meeting, I suddenly realized it was time to go and I made a promise to myself not to extend any more commitments past 2016 when my tours of duty end.
I didn’t serve on these boards for any accolades or titles, just to help make the organizations better. As someone who has seen quite a bit of the world, I didn’t need such pomp and circumstance. As a management consultant I was fortunate to possess the skills needed to assist such groups, for example: I developed and balanced budgets, cleaned up finances, created data bases to manage memberships, developed web pages and promoted them accordingly, created and updated bylaws, took minutes, developed speaker programs, conducted special projects, developed and distributed newsletters and communications to memberships and met some interesting people along the way. Yes, it took some time to perform, but I had a lot of fun in the process. I like to believe I left each place better than I found it, which should be the objective of anyone serving on a board.
The question is, “Was it worth it?” For the professional societies, I met several people, earned their respect, and learned a lot in the process. For homeowner associations, I believe I played an important role in maintaining the value of homes in the community, if not increasing them. For sports clubs, it was a joy watching my kids, both boys and girls, grow and mature into adulthood. I was also appointed or elected as Chairman or Director at District, County, and State levels for a variety of tasks. All of which were rewarding experiences.
I have learned a lot about nonprofits over the years. However, there are primarily three lessons I wish to convey to my readers:
1. Most nonprofit organizations are run by nice people who haven’t got a clue as to what they are doing. They may have the best intentions, but do not understand a nonprofit is a legal entity in the eyes of the state and, as such, needs to be run like a business. No, it doesn’t take “A Village.” It takes business skills. You realize this when the group can no longer pay its bills or are sued. However, if you are lucky to get the right group together as a board, you’ll enjoy effective leadership, smooth administration, stable finances, good communications, and prosperity.
2. The work of a nonprofit is really not that difficult. It may require some time and effort but I have yet to see a truly difficult task in a nonprofit, and you have to remember I have served in just about every capacity. Something that helps immeasurably in this regard, is the development of “standard practices,” for such things as managing finances, membership, and communications to service constituents.
3. Anyone looking for accolades is joining for the wrong reason. They will likely perform little and assume credit for anything done. Such people are worthless for accomplishing anything of substance, and can hurt the spirit of the organization. Some people are afraid to reprimand such parasites fearing it will create a morale problem. The reality is the morale problem was created the moment the person assumed their position. “But they are volunteers, Tim; you cannot fire volunteers.” Yes you can, and Yes you should as their detrimental outlook will spread and cause problems in your group. Besides, if they are not truly doing anything, you have nothing to lose by replacing them. There is no room for politics in a nonprofit, but unfortunately it somehow creeps into most organizations.
However, when you have a board willing to roll up its sleeves and solve problems or tackle new projects with a spirit of teamwork, it can be a very rewarding experience, not only for how it was performed but also for knowing it will serve the institution for many years to come. In other words, you are adding value to the institution, and this is why I joined such groups, to make them better and perpetuate the group.
Now it is time for others to take my place. My generation of Baby Boomers were taught to provide assistance anywhere we could. I have friends who, like me, have served their Churches for years, civic clubs, local schools, hospitals, country clubs, and more, not just now and then, but for many years. However, it is time for someone else to shag the baseballs, to roll up their sleeves, and perpetuate all of these institutions we have come to love and depend on.
I will likely continue my participation in nonprofits but 2016 will be my final roundup for nonprofit board of directors. It has been a heck of a ride.
Keep the Faith!