More Than Passion Needed in Prospective Nonprofit Directors


More Than Passion Needed in Prospective Nonprofit Directors

By: Eugene Fram         Free Digital Image

What nonprofit selection committee would reject a candidate who demonstrates passion for the organization’s mission?   I can attest to the fact that in many recruitment processes, an interviewee who shows strong empathy for the cause is a “shoe-in” for a board position regardless of any obvious weakness in other skill areas. By contrast, one who appears less than passionate about the organization’s mission can be overlooked or even eliminated from the list.

Being emotionally overly attached to the organization’s cultural tradition can also trump objectivity when a change in board format is proposed.   I once interfaced with a board member who was so attached to his organization’s cultural norms he attempted to block moves towards a more efficient but more formal operational mode, protesting the changes would erode what he sensed to be the nonprofit’s sense of family.

Founders’ Syndrome: A sense of ownership resides in some long-term board members that can lead to poor decisions that are in the best interest of the organization.  Founders of nonprofits, for example, often fail to delegate operational authority properly while they are building the nonprofit. Many even try to retain micromanaging control as a board member after their retirement. This results in continual board crises and has the potential of eroding all the accomplishments of the organization.  Alignment with the mission is always desirable in board members.

Following are tactics that will help directors to:

Become More Entrepreneurial:  Nonprofit boards can hesitant to develop an entrepreneurial management environment when they are dependent on governmental funding. Some board members may fear being charged with squandering these types of funds for failed entrepreneurial efforts. But progress in the 21st century requires small experimentation. It allows the nonprofit to examine new systems and ideas, understanding that some will fail. Committed board members can help the CEO to seek additional funding to support these types of activities. For example, I encountered an insurance agent who I can describe as having some passion for the agency’s mission. But he energetically raised funds by using his knowledge of promoting insurance products. He later moved to chairing the board of a major health foundation that was very successful in meeting its objectives. 

Become More Effective in Strategic Planning: I have frequently noted nonprofit strategic planning that is entirely based on a simple SWOT analysis—simply listing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats without analysis critically reviewing them.  Many nonprofits, such as human service and health organizations recruit their board members from different career backgrounds and are not willing to question or research changes suggested by peers.  Two board members, I observed wanted a nonprofit to use an  Management by Objectives process.  Without any due diligence, the nonprofit adopted a process that was so complex that the staff was over burdened with writing and reviewing objectives that client service levels declined.

Recruit More Effective Board Members: Add to the traditional nonprofit skills grid several career dimensions to recruit, many of whom may be described as being merely empathetic about the mission:
1. Seek recently retired people, both those traditionally retired and those who retired early, who may have time to be candidates for both governing and consulting with boards.
2. Seek individual contributors who may have more control of their time, such as doctors, lawyers, professors and small business owners.
3. Seek successful entrepreneurs who can schedule their own time, can resonate with the organization’s mission, vision and values and who want to give back to the community.
4. Beyond the time requirement, seek persons with experience on profit or nonprofit boards so they can share their board knowledge and become models for those having their first board experience. Their questions and behaviors can teach as much or more than formal seminars.

There is no doubt that passion for a nonprofit’s cause drives action. But how that passion is framed–with what degree of respect and objectivity it is presented–can advance or disrupt the organization.



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