Sunday, April 27, 2008

How To Be A Modern Nonprofit Board Member, Or, Nonprofit Leaders, Willing To Take A Look At Yourself for the Good of the Nonprofit You're Working For?

Nonprofit Board of Directors, Board of Trustees, even Nonprofit Board Advisers, and the like should take a tip or two from these adorable fellows.

Board leadership requires the ability to stand one one's own, if need be. Last week I watched an episode of "Charlie Rose" while he happened to be interviewing actor George Clooney. By the way, I remember when George was in that half hour comedy about an emergency room (no, before "ER"). I remember the mullet and the Walkman that was forever around his neck. So, I think 'he's one of us', he's struggled a bit to get where he is. I surprised myself when I was pretty impressed with a comment that Mr. Clooney made. It's stuck with me. Sage words from George Clooney? I guess so.

Charlie Rose asked George about being asked to be a peace ambassador on behalf of the United Nations. He responded joking, self deprecatingly, about probably not being the natural choice as a representative of 'peace'; and then he made a small but excellent point. He said that when he accepted the position, he told the UN that he would lead as a huge proponent of the program and its goals, and he would also be its greatest critic.

Jon Stewart has said something similar in an interview that I read or heard. He said that he learned, while doing stand up comedy, that you do better as the one on stage (I extrapolate the meaning to be able to include 'leading'), if you don't fall in love with your audience.

I think that there are pearls of wisdom in these actors' experiences! These are even nonprofit sector pearls!

Nonprofit board directors, board trustees, even nonprofit board advisers, and the like should take a tip from these stars. Volunteering one's time is as generous as any financial donation. Giving one's time, attention, and expertise to a cause IS generous. If you are a board member, you probably got involved because you cared about the issue, wanted to contribute, and found a nonprofit working on the cause that you believe does great work. This is all really and truly powerful, generous, advantageous for your community, and more.

I had a friend in college who used to say 'if you know that you can't do the job, don't take the job offer'. His point was sage, too, though he was not a movie star.

Nonprofit leaders, while you mean well, I ask you to consider the following list.

10. Nonprofit leaders must know when to stand apart from popular opinion; be willing to go against the rest of the leaders when necessary; and be willing to speak up and stand on their own if their conscience, morals, understanding of the law, or their understanding of modern nonprofit management, transparency, and operations is not being met.

9. Nonprofit managers must be proactive in their own understanding of modern professional nonprofit management, operations, transparency, federal and state requirements, oversight, and more. Don't wait for your agency's board president or executive director to say 'OK, we're going to get a consultant in here to educate you, the board, about modern professional governance, planning, oversight, and fundraising'. Learn about the current concepts, be a professional about your volunteer position, and take responsibility. You're expected to retain these responsibilities by the federal government and by each donor.

8. If you aren't willing to learn what a nonprofit leader is expected to know and do, according to contemporary nonprofit professional ethics and standards, why are you taking the volunteer position?

7. The only responsibility you have is to the law/ethics and the nonprofit's mission statement and its goal/work. If your work, planning, education, and leadership is not guided first and foremost by the nonprofit's mission, what is it being guided by and why? If you can't change it around to put the mission first, resign.

6. We all know that it is nice to be liked. We all know, too, that leaders are not always liked, and that's part of being a leader. If you can't both tout the organization you volunteer for, and also be its worst critic in some fair ratio to one another during your leadership tenure; you aren't serving the organization, its mission, or the constituency or issue you're supposed to be making better. Volunteering for a nonprofit is not supposed to be a social opportunity, easy and fun, nor a popularity contest. It is actually hard, difficult, challenging, professional and exceptionally rewarding work. Read my post, What Is A Well Run Nonprofit Agency? I'll Tell Ya...

5. Do you and your colleagues at your organization keep open, in touch with the latest nonprofit governance paradigms and issues, staying willing to always review your nonporfit's work, leadership, staff, bylaws, volunteers, and mission to ask about each of these, 'are we relevant; are we effectively serving the need our organization was created to; are we achieving organizational and operational goals; do we have honest frank tough but fruitful discussions (client to staff, staff to staff, volunteer to volunteer, and volunteer to staff); does everyone involved listen to one another; does everyone involve stay open to self criticism for the good of the mission; is everyone open to the community ready to remain positive about other nonprofits doing similar work in the region, willing to communicate professionally with colleagues in the field, do your organization's people stay open to collaboration?' If not, why not? The mission and your clientele or cause is the most important 'thing' and why your agency exists.

4. If your organization has gone through something tough such as getting negative press, or maybe going through an internal scandal, or having to go to court and taking some heat, etc.; did you, your colleagues at the nonprofit, and the total organization learn from the experience(s)? Was everyone willing to look at themselves, at their role in the issue, was your organization communicative with your community through the rough patch, was there an independent investigation, were findings and the solutions shared with your constituents and community? Was your organization able to deal with the bad press or rumors in a modern, transparent, communicative, open, fair, professional way? Were appropriate, effective, thorough, and ethical changes made? If not - are you arguing amongst your peers for these professional and modern steps to take place?

3. Could you do all of the necessary work (for instance, the work and qualities of a modern educated nonprofit leader, as describe above), without once hearing a 'thank you'; getting recognition, or listing this volunteer work on your resume'? Are you a leader who wants to do the work; show up for the meetings; and speak from your professional experience, conscience, and with an eye to the mission, or are you just needing a resume' bullet point?

2. I admire that you've read this far down the list. It says a lot of your ability and willingness.

1. Are you more in love with your community than willing to do the leadership work, that may not keep you in the comfortable or perhaps 'popular' light?

There are no scores to indicate where you may fall on the 'quality leadership spectrum'. This is one of those rhetorical discussions. Also, there are no saints. I don't expect you are one or that you'll turn into one. I do expect, though, that you can read this entire list, consider it, and maybe even look at yourself in comparison to it. Ultimately, what I say or think doesn't matter, but your organization's mission and its work does. That's why I bring this up.

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