Serving on a Nonprofit Board: Opportunities, Qualifications, and Expectations

November 4, 2009


ALICE KORNGOLD: Thank you so much to Devin Stewart and the Carnegie Council for the opportunity to be here and to convene us.

I'm so excited about the topic. I'm excited about the panel that's here and the group of folks in the room—a wonderful mix of people who serve on nonprofit boards, who aspire to serve on nonprofit boards, nonprofit executives, and as I said, an extraordinary panel, whom I have the pleasure to introduce to you in a few minutes.

The topic is "Serving on Nonprofit Boards: Opportunities, Qualifications, and Expectations."

As Devin mentioned, I have worked for over 20 years training and placing hundreds of corporate executives on nonprofit boards and consulting to nonprofit boards in all fields and areas.

For business executives serving on nonprofit boards, it's an extraordinary opportunity for anyone joining nonprofit boards to bring expertise, networks, experience, relationships, diversity of perspectives and backgrounds, and resources to the table.

It's an extraordinary opportunity to advance a mission that you believe in, to engage with others who share your passion for a mission, in helping to envision an organization's greater potential and to create and achieve a revenue model to achieve success for the organization. It's really a thrill to be part of these enterprises.

Tonight we'll discuss the role of a board and how people engage on boards, how people on boards connect. I'm going to do a brief overview of the role of a nonprofit board—really brief—and then introduce the panel. Then we'll engage in a discussion, which will be, really, the bulk of the evening.

I know many of you, and we got to meet each other a little before. I can tell from that that it's going to be a very robust and productive discussion. As I said, I know the panelists, who have been friends for many years. We're in for a good evening.

In terms of the role of a board, just to cover some basics here:

Setting the mission of an organization. What is the compelling value that the organization brings to the world? Whether it's a global, national or regional organization, what's the value? How will this organization make the community a better place?

Setting the vision. This is one that I particularly love about nonprofits and really believe in, in terms of the role of a nonprofit board. A board has a responsibility for oversight, but that's not enough if a group of people sit around the table and just make sure that the checklist is completed.

To me, a board sits around a table and works with the CEO to say, "Where do we see this organization in the next few years? What's the greater potential? Let's really envision how we can advance this to a higher level in terms of what we do for this community, because we really believe in what this organization can do."

That doesn't mean anything unless the board also says, "How will we achieve it? What's the revenue model?" For nonprofits, a revenue model is complicated. It's a patchwork quilt of revenues—fees for services, government funding, and philanthropy, which is a mix of corporate, individual, foundation.

To really achieve its greatest potential, a nonprofit board needs a mix of people from different backgrounds, perspectives, relationships, and expertise to help you envision the greater potential and achieve it. People understanding and being excited enough to be good advocates for the organization.

Oversight is incredibly important. That includes financial oversight—that there are regular, clear, understandable financial reports, that there is an annual audit.

Then the responsibility of the board to develop the board, to make sure that the board understands what its responsibilities are, that people are living up to their responsibilities. That means adhering to the duties of care, loyalty, and obedience. There are legal responsibilities for board members to participate, to attend, and obedience to the mission and duty of loyalty, which means not having conflicts of interest or, if there are, to disclose them.

The responsibility of the board for fundraising. That means people giving individually and helping with revenue development. Some people have more capacity to give, others have less, but everyone needs to give something.

I would really emphasize the board envisioning the greater potential and creating the revenue model to achieve success and helping to achieve that.

For an organization to achieve its maximum success, it takes a few key elements:

Leadership. That means the CEO and the board chair. You can have great board members, but if you don't have the right board chair, the best doesn't happen. So having the right board chair is essential. That also means leadership succession planning. I have seen boards and organizations where you have a great board chair, but if there hasn't been planning for the next board chair, things go down.

Board composition. Having the right board members, which means a mix of people from different backgrounds and perspectives, to have a rich vision and networks and relationships and expertise and experience, and being very purposeful in thinking about who we need, how we will identify them, how we will recruit them, and then being clear about expectations. What do we need from people? How will we hold people accountable, as a board?

Board structure and committee structure. If we know as a board what we're trying to accomplish, what this greater vision is, what the revenue model to get there is, and who we need, then we can decide, too, how often we need to meet and what committees we need to accomplish this.

Then—really important—what will our agendas be for our meetings? The agenda is the finite, precious time that the board comes together to discuss its work. Important work happens in between board meetings, but those are the two precious hours, and people need to leave board meetings inspired, excited—"Wow, this is what I'm spending my time for. I love this"—more deeply educated about the work of the organization, having had a chance to really dig in and work on a topic—otherwise, why did they come to this meeting—and advancing towards some strategic decision making and advancing towards the revenue model. It has to be about how we are accomplishing the revenue model. People need to leave knowing, "This is what I need to be doing between now and the next meeting." It's what happens between board meetings that's important.

By the way, the other key element about board meetings is the information the board gets in advance of the board meeting, which needs to be relevant and concise. Giving the board too much information or an agenda that's not relevant—you are putting meat on the table that's distracting—so focusing the agenda.

Finally, educating the board. The board needs to understand what the role of the board is and they need to understand the issues and areas that your organization works on, whether it's part of board meetings or something that is offered in between board meetings, so they understand best practices in the field or issues around microfinance, community revitalization. Whatever it is you are in the business of doing they need to understand and learn, so there need to be opportunities for this.

I'm going to introduce the panelists. Then what I'm going to do is start the discussion with a question to each panelist, to get this going. Then I'm going to invite you to ask questions. I'm going to invite panelists to disagree, when they do. But you are going to hear that the panelists have a very rich set of experiences that are different experiences, and many of you have experiences to share that are going to be helpful.

Let me say one more thing about boards. Boards have been the focus of my work—and matching corporate executives to boards—for over 15 years. The reason boards are my passion—I have built and run some nonprofits. I was good at it. But it's humbling to realize that there is only so much you can do as the head of a nonprofit, unless you have a really effective board. The board is where the action is. Having an effective board leader and the right board members, with the right mix of backgrounds and perspectives and expertise, and a real passion and commitment, you can really maximize the potential of a nonprofit.

I really admire and appreciate people who serve on boards, who are interested in serving on boards. I also can tell you that when you do serve on boards, it can be the thrill of a lifetime if you are on the board of an organization that you really care about. So finding the right fit is important.

You'll have a chance to talk about how you do find the right fit and how you figure out how you can add value.

Cheryl Rosario is the director of philanthropy at American Express Foundation. She serves on two boards, one that I introduced her to, Art Education for the Blind, and the second one, which, as I mentioned, I involved her in, Creative Alternatives of New York.

Cheryl works with and funds some of the most major institutions across the country and in New York, from large to small. She actually places people on boards and has been doing that for over 15 years. So she has experience doing that. She has worked in the nonprofit sector. So she has a really rich experience in this field and is one of the most extraordinary and committed people I know.

Karthik Krishnan is vice president of interactive media and sales management for Reed Business Interactive. He has expertise in financial performance, audience engagement, market analytics, acquisition development, retention, and service—all these fabulous business skills that I think are really valuable in terms of what one can bring to a nonprofit in terms of perspective.

What's interesting about him is the ladder of experiences he has had in nonprofit work before he joined two boards, New York Public Allies and then East River Development Alliance, which I had the pleasure of introducing him to. I'll let him talk about some of his prior nonprofit experiences.

One was actually the Bill Clinton Foundation. He just brings extraordinary value as a board member. But this is a new experience for him. I think he can bring some value to the discussion. He is very thoughtful about how he chose a board and, again, in his ladder of nonprofit experiences leading up to that.

Bishop Taylor is the founder and CEO of East River Development Alliance, which provides economic development and community revitalization services in what is the largest public housing development in New York City. He is also a leader of African-American clergymen in New York City, one of the most influential people in our community, and a national expert in community revitalization.

I'll let him say more about the services in terms of financial literacy, homeownership, and job training and placement. I have had the honor of knowing him for the past several years, and he's just one of the most extraordinary human beings I've ever known.

A guest here today—and I want to introduce you because I think you will have a lot of value for this discussion—Maggie Jones is the CEO of Children for Children. I met Maggie just a few years ago. And talk about young new leaders.

You're barely 33. You were in your 20s when I met you, as the first CEO, essentially, of Children for Children, with a budget of a couple hundred thousand dollars, involving young people in volunteer service in New York City—a young, brand-new organization.

Maggie has, in the past year and a half, led its merger with the Points of Light Foundation and the HandsOn Network nationally, so that now the budget is many times what it was, and it is the national service provider for all children and youth volunteering for the United States and, I believe, globally.

I have watched her through this. When we had lunch the first time, I knew. I could see this. It has, of course, been an enormous amount of work. She is an extraordinary leader.

But in terms of board building and in terms of leading a major merger, she brings value to this conversation as well.

I'm going to open this with a question for each panelist, to get us going. Again, then I'm going to encourage you to ask questions.

Cheryl, you serve on two boards. You have worked with so many nonprofits—first with, actually, Time Warner, then with American Express—of all sizes, different fields, heavily focused on cultural arts, but many organizations. The two boards you serve on are actually smallish organizations. How did you pick these two? Why the two that you picked?


CHERYL ROSARIO: Welcome, everyone, and thanks for coming this evening. Thanks to Alice again for including me in this panel.

It's a great question. I think the first thing I can say is passion. I think that's the most important thing when you are thinking about a board, because if you are passionate about it, you definitely will be more dedicated and involved.

There are, of course, other things that I think are important that may be what you are searching for, whether it's résumé building or an opportunity to meet different people or just connect with various resources. There are other factors that you can look at. But I think passion is really at the top.

The organization Art Education for the Blind—most of my nonprofit work was either working with people with disabilities or working on women and girls' issues. I worked for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, started out in their D.C. office and then moved to their headquarters in Princeton, and got to know a lot about the visually impaired community. So that was something that was very close to my heart.

When I started working at American Express, Art Education for the Blind was one of our grantees, and I got to know them better. The opportunity to combine the arts and something I was passionate about when I was in the nonprofit field was just perfect.

The organization was also at the stage where they had not gone through a strategic planning process. Alice has since helped them with some of that. It was at a point where I felt I could really give a lot. It wasn't too small or too grassroots. I am very busy with the family and a very demanding job. But it was an opportunity to show some of my talents and really help the organization, without committing an incredible amount of time, but enough that I felt that I could get something out of it and I could help the organization move forward.

The second organization is Creative Alternatives of New York. I mentioned to Alice that I thought about joining a second board. Being a funder, as you can probably imagine, I'm asked very often to serve on boards. But I think it's really, really important to think about the time commitment and what you are really interested in.

Though there has been a wealth of wonderful organizations that I could have considered, I really wanted to be able to give back to something, again, that was close to my heart. Some of my nonprofit work had been working with underprivileged children or women and girls in domestic violence situations, and Creative Alternatives of New York uses drama therapy to address various issues like domestic violence and child abuse or physical or mental disabilities. So again, it merged drama therapy, relating to the arts, and another topic that I was very passionate about. It has been just a terrific organization.

That's how I chose the two.

I'll just make one last point. I think that people do often try to join too many boards at one time. I think you have to look at the time commitment and what the responsibilities are. It's good to want to be involved. I know people on four, five, six boards. But I'm sure we'll talk a little bit later about the types of boards.

There are some where you can be there in just a fundraising capacity or another capacity, and you may be able to join more. But at this point in my life, two is what I feel like I can give a commitment to. There are other ways to volunteer or be involved in an advisory committee capacity if you want to do more. But I think it's good to start out with one and then gradually add on a second.

ALICE KORNGOLD: Thank you, Cheryl. Thank you so much.

Karthik, let me ask you, you had done various forms of volunteering with a number of organizations, starting in your own community—actually, in Pennsylvania first.

Then at a certain point you decided you wanted to join a board. What led you to decide you wanted to join a board?

I know you were very thoughtful and purposeful about where you wanted to get involved. How did you make that decision about where?

KARTHIK KRISHNAN: Just in terms of talking about the experience back in Pennsylvania, it was Pennsylvania Water Rescue, where we helped people with rescue and recovery operations. There are a lot of lakes and things around Pennsylvania. You find people falling into rivers, especially kids, and during winter season, the ice is so thin, people slip into the water. We try to help them with rescue and recovery operations.

We found that we were offering a very valuable service to that particular community. But one day, I just walked in and realized that we would not have the money to operate this service. That came as a rude shock for me. Here was an organization which had really good volunteers who were really passionate about what they did and, in some level, risked their lives to save people in the community. We found ourselves in that situation. I said, why did this happen?

I looked around and said, if only we had a good board, a strategic leadership, that was looking at not just the sustainability of the organization, but successfully being able to deliver the service for this community on an ongoing basis. That is one of the most important functions that somebody did not do.

I said, "You know what? I'm very happy volunteering, but I think it's a wake-up call to say we have to step onto boards of organizations that do a great job," not just in terms of playing a role on the board and saying, "You know what? I have marketing services and I can help them," but just thinking about how we make them successful. They have a legacy.

For example, ERDA, the board that I'm working on currently, focuses on improving the lives of people in public housing. Think about somebody in New York living with a household income of $20,000, a family of four. That's public housing. We have to take opportunity to these people. I think the board has a very important role to play.

That's the reason why I decided volunteering is great, but if you really want to shape the future, I think being on a board really gives you the opportunity to create that impact within society.

The second question Alice asked was, how did I select which organization to work with? It goes back to Cheryl's point. You ought to pick something that you are passionate about. From my perspective, I'm interested in two missions. One is education and second is economic independence. I think ERDA serves both. We help kids get through to college, in terms of getting them at an early age to talk about what career opportunities are there, SAT preparation, and then getting them into college.

In terms of economic independence, you have to get people who live in public housing into jobs, which means you are helping them train for skills, interview skills, and getting them into organizations where they can have a job.

Again, from that perspective, I think ERDA fit both of those missions. At the end of the day, you are likely to do more if you are passionate about an organization.

Being on a board for the sake of being on a board will not really help you be successful. The mission of the organization and what they do in terms of affecting the lives of people in that community has to be something that is really close to your heart. That's when I feel you will go above and beyond, and not worry about spending those extra hours to make this organization successful.

ALICE KORNGOLD: Thank you so much.

Bishop, you're the CEO and founder of an organization. From your perspective, what value do you need from your board? You have built this organization. Now you are at a new stage of this organization as you take it even to a higher level. What do you need from your board?

MITCHELL TAYLOR: Thank you, Alice, for inviting me to be a part of this.

I'm proud to have two of our board members here, Courtney Plummer, who is the chair of our Development Committee, and Karthik, who is really heading strategy for us and on the Development Committee as well.

I founded the East River Development Alliance in 2004 with Debra-Ellen Glickstein. My dad started a church in Long Island City back in 1961. It started with a food pantry and a soup kitchen. He worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He really used his resources working in an industry to bring a vital resource to people that lived in public housing: That's meat. They called him "the meat man" before they called him a pastor.

To advance this, back in 1984, I partnered with him to think about ways that we could really serve residents that live in public housing. His church was located across the street from the largest public housing development in the country. We lived there all our lives, in Long Island City. In that geographical footprint, there were four developments which totaled about 37,000 people.

For about 20 years, we, as an individual church, began to mobilize other clergy and engage them in trying to mitigate the mammoth problems that exist in public housing neighborhoods. We found that religious institutions hit a lot of resistance as it relates to fundraising and getting city and state government assistance in really trying to do the work that we did.

Finally, we had an idea to create a non-sectarian, non-religious organization that could really address these needs. So we created the East River Development Alliance.

It was very strategic in the planning stages. We recognized that it couldn't be top-down; it had to be bottom-up. The community had to drive the needs and what we would address. So we organized all the social networks that exist in public housing neighborhoods—your educators, your clergy, your tenant association presidents, which are your elected leaders amongst the residents, your businesses, and your other community-based organizations—so that we could come together and find ways to change a public housing neighborhood, not from the outside in, but from the inside out.

In establishing the organization, one of the things that you do need from a board is people that are going to be passionate about understanding and moving you from mission to manifestation. I think it's important that, when we think about people that are going to be a part of our board, we don't want just board members. We want team members. We want people that will be a part of the team, understand the mission, understand the vision, and be able to bring the resources or the skill sets that can move the organization to where they are.

I'll say this. I know we have limited time. I was reading something yesterday that said that in 2010, foundations will have reduced their funding by 45 percent, because they have lost funding by 45 percent.

There are two things that you have to recognize. The only organizations that will survive in 2010—and many have even shut down in 2009, this year that we are in—are those with strong boards.

One of the things that we are trying to do at ERDA is move our organization to the point where the board can raise the administration budget and then the organization can get the program budget. So bringing people together that understand that need will allow you to be sustainable in this type of environment.

As Alice said, oversight is important, but engagement in fundraising, resources, journalism, strategic planning, event planning, legal, finance—you try to get people that have all these different expertises. You never want to get too many people from one specific area. You want to have a good mix. I call it "the rich mix." That makes a rich board.


MITCHELL TAYLOR: I could talk all day, I'm sorry.

ALICE KORNGOLD: And I could listen to you all day. Wonderful. Thank you so much.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: I want to talk a little bit about revitalizing a board in an organization that has been around for a long time. I don't know whether it can come from the staff or someone else if it's a membership-driven organization. When you get a board that gets to the point where "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," in terms of strategic planning, in terms of executing the mission, does anyone have any tips on how to get a board reenergized and re-inspired by the mission?

MITCHELL TAYLOR: I can just speak to that, very briefly. When we started ERDA, we got our friends involved to help us with the board. We weren't strategic in getting a board together. They really didn't understand what it would take to really move the organization from mission to manifestation. I realized a year and a half into this that we were really stuck. We were at that stage, just a year and a half in.

At that point I realized that we needed somebody to help us, so we brought a consultant on board, Alice Korngold. She's tough. She's tough as nails. She came in and she said, "Look, this is what the board needs to be doing, and those of you who don't understand that mission, who don't understand that process, maybe this is not for you, because we have to move the organization."

So I think initially you have to think about bringing someone in with the expertise that is other than a board member. It can't come from the staff. It has to come from the leadership of the organization that brings someone in that can address that and just turn it.

It's a tricky thing, because the board is the boss of the CEO. But if you have a CEO that is stuck and a board that is stuck, the organization is stuck.

ALICE KORNGOLD: The process that I conducted did involve interviews with board members, and I was able to get traction with board members who understood this.

Thank you for your comments, Bishop.

There was funder support, actually. United Way of New York City was supporting this effort as well. But if there are some board members and, in this case, the CEO, who see that there is greater potential—the vision I mentioned earlier, a vision to take the organization to the next level—as an outsider, as a consultant, I can help build on that.

We had a retreat. I prepared for it by interviewing board members. Together we envisioned the greater potential and said, "What's the revenue model to get there? Who do we need on this board to help us?"

Then we went out and identified and recruited people and also did some leadership-succession planning for the board. Then it's a matter of "let's move it forward."

But when people can organize around a vision of where we are going and what it's going to take financially—but I think organizations always need revitalizing. Then it's time to do that again.

KARTHIK KRISHNAN: One thing I might add to that is, you have to go back and treat the root cause of the problem. Why is a board dysfunctional? Because there were no set expectations. Starting off with something that says, "This is what is expected of the board," always gives you an opportunity to go back and ask, has the board been effective?

The second step of that is picking the right leader. I think the chair sets the tone.

So those are two ways by which you can actually make a board functional. When you have a charter and you say, "This is the plan," and the board has not delivered, you have the opportunity to walk up to somebody on the board and say, "Hey, these are the expectations. You haven't delivered. Are you going to step up and commit to it or are you going to step off the board?" That gives you the opportunity to bring a new person on board and keep moving it in terms of making the organization successful.

CHERYL ROSARIO: I'll sneak in a couple last comments. In doing the board development program for AOL-Time Warner, when they were one [company], I saw a couple of things. You can move some of the board members to an advisory capacity, so that they are still involved, and then they feel dedicated to the organization, but maybe not as involved in moving the organization forward. So that's one thing.

Then there are just some real tactical things that you can do at your meetings. Bringing the staff involved to really talk about the programs or even if you can bring some of the clients in, really helping to get back to the mission of—often the board meetings can get very stagnant and get into the processes. But if you really get back to what the mission is—I have even seen organizations that actually put the mission in the middle of the table, so that you are always focused on that, whether you are looking at a possible funding opportunity that may not make sense for your organization or if you are trying to move the organization forward.

ALICE KORNGOLD: That's a really important point. Sometimes in helping board members understand about moving forward, for those who can no longer really add value, when the time has come that the organization needs to move into a new phase and people who had been able to add value at one point but not now—it's really a matter of focusing on what it's about, whether that's the children or the people in Guatemala and Haiti. Who is this about? Let's focus on that.

If you can bring something to the table to help us get this organization to the next level, wonderful. If you can't, this is the time to move to an advisory board, to move to a friends' circle, whatever it is. This is what we need from this board now, to do this. And be very clear about the role of this board at this time going forward.

So I think that's a good point.

QUESTION: As a lot of funders are asking for more metrics, for more detailed metrics, for more frequent measurements—every funder wants something different—nonprofits are coming back and saying, "We don't have the capacity to measure this. It's a lot of expense for us to measure this. You're not paying for us to measure this."

The question is, isn't the board asking you for this anyway? There was a big discussion, in my discussion group at least, of what role the board should play between the nonprofit and the funder, as the funders press the organization for metrics.

MITCHELL TAYLOR: One thing that we have embraced from the very beginning is demonstration and outcomes, efforts to outcomes. Anybody that is going to give you money wants to know what the efforts are and what the outcomes are. And they are going to want to have a report at the end of that tenure of that funding cycle.

For a nonprofit to say that they don't have the ability or capacity to fit within a metric system, that's, to me, preposterous.

KARTHIK KRISHNAN: I totally agree with you. At the end of the day, you're trying to create impact. How do you know you are creating impact unless you can measure it?

There are two ways to compare this. There is online advertising. People say it's clickable. We know people are clicking on it. If it's print advertising, it's hard to measure. But at the end of the day, even with print advertising, using surveys and things like that, there are ways to do it. You might not have hardcore metrics, but you can talk about how many people are going through your pipeline. You can have anecdotal evidence and talk about stories.

When you go back to a funder and say, for example, it's not about, "Hey, 1,000 people went through it." All I need is one picture. There is one picture that we have on our website that says, "Kids from Astoria are going to college." To me, that is a powerful impact of what I can do. When I have to go to my own foundation and ask for money, I say, "This is what we do. If you want to know more about it, why don't you take a walk with me across the street and let's go down to Queensbridge and see this."

The board can lend credibility to what your organization does by having those conversations.

But again, if you are trying to work for a not-for-profit organization, at some level, you should be able to quantify what you are trying to do. Most not-for-profits should have a program committee that actually looks at what programs are being executed. Sometimes what would happen—assume you are trying to fight polio. Polio has been eradicated. But if there is an organization that still has a mission of eradicating polio and there are no polio victims here in New York City, the mission is already passed.

So you always have to go back and look at the mission every few years and say, "We have these programs that are aligned to achieve those missions." If that's not happening, and the only way you can measure that is how many people we treat—you might not be able to have hard metrics to say, "I had 1,000 people go through this program and 10 percent ended up in college." In some cases it's not possible. But at some level, you should be able to quantify it.

ALICE KORNGOLD: Maggie has something to say.

MAGGIE JONES: I was just going to say that I think it's also the leadership of the organization on the staff. It's your responsibility to educate your board about the need to look at metrics and measurement and to give them the information to be able to do that.

Your board has to learn what the organization needs as well from that programmatic end. So giving them tools, explaining to them what a theory of change means—yes, it would be incredibly expensive to follow every child throughout the course of his life to find if that six-year-old that participated in that program during first grade went to college. But there is enough research out there already that you can create that information.

I personally think that that is a staff job and your responsibility to educate your board about it.

ALICE KORNGOLD: These are superb comments. I think the board question is, when you set out the mission—"This is what we are going to do for the world to make it better"—relevance, which you raised, is actually important. One of the things I do with boards is look at, "Is our mission relevant to today's times? Is that something we need to look at and address?" and then look at what the greater vision is, where we are going, the revenue models.

I think an important board question is, how do we know that we are achieving what we have set out to do? I think, as Maggie said, the CEO and his or her team should be the experts to be able to sometimes engage with a board committee and say, "All right, let me tell you what I can do in terms of creating a dashboard to show you quarterly, to say this is how we are doing." The board needs to know, "How do we know how we're doing?"

Some things can be measured very easily and some things are nearly impossible and completely cost-ineffective, like, "How are these five-year-olds doing over their lifespan?" And by the way, you could never tease out whether, because they participated in Children for Children, they have had a successful life and now they are making a lot of money and giving money to philanthropy.

You couldn't tease that out. So what is realistic?

Yes, I also would agree that sometimes funders' expectations are unrealistic in terms of the cost. It would cost more to measure it than to run the program.

So it's finding the right balance. I think that is a very important board conversation and, as Karthik said, it's good also at a committee. So there is a proper balance. But, as Maggie said, this should be CEO expertise, and a CEO should also be able to bring to the table what the best practices in this field are, what the benchmarks are, what other nonprofits in this field are doing.

Margaret actually did some research on this about homeownership and financial literacy recently. I don't know if you want to add something to this. What are the impacts of homeownership and financial literacy? I'm putting you on the spot, but you just did some research on this project with me.

PARTICIPANT: I agree with everything you say. It's just so difficult to tease out what is a big factor, what is really making or breaking the effect that you are looking for. It's just one of the difficult things that I guess comes up.

I think the problem is that sometimes someone comes up with a hypothesis that doing X leads to Y and Z, and then a couple years later, someone will come out with, "No. Actually, you didn't take into account A, B, C, and D. Actually, these things don't work out."

I think a lot of times with statistics, you can skew it one way or another, and depending on what you are looking for and how you consider everything, you can get completely different outcomes.

ALICE KORNGOLD: Which goes back to the question, as Karthik said, of how you are going to tell the story to investors and your board that, most of all, says, "We're putting money into this." How do you know that what you set out to do you are accomplishing and making the world a better place, the way you have said you're going to do it?

MITCHELL TAYLOR: I always say an educated board member is the best advocate. I do understand that it's hard to tease out a six-year-old kid ten years from now, whether they are in college. But you can also be responsible enough to count how many kids you have served and then be able to average out over time where these kids have gone. But at least you should be responsible enough to know how many children you are serving per year—maybe take a cohort and track that cohort so you can have some statistical data or statistical sampling.

You have to be able to report on this stuff. I think the board should require it. I think that if a CEO is not talking about it, then, as board members, you should say,

"Listen, how are you measuring your impact?" You shouldn't be on a board where the organization can't tell you how the impact is being measured. I just feel strongly about that.

CHERYL ROSARIO: And there are also groups like Taproot that you can work with that do pro bono work. In Creative Alternatives of New York, we're working with them now on metrics. So there are other resources out there as well.

QUESTION: You have given information a lot about the structure of the organization. In terms of collaborating and other organizations that might in some way pursue the same goals that you do at the organization, is that competition or collaboration? How would you describe that?

CHERYL ROSARIO: I think we're seeing more collaboration in these economic tough times. There wasn't a lot of that before, especially if you were in the same industry. Let's take the arts.

Organizations may feel like they are competing against each other. But I think you are seeing a lot more, whether they are doing a production together or a workshop together or looking at where they have gaps on the board—organizations are talking more and more, because everyone, in the long run, really wants to see everyone achieve and make it through these tough times. So I think we are seeing a lot more collaboration than we used to.

KARTHIK KRISHNAN: Think about it. Not-for-profits are nothing but a microcosm of what you see in real life. If two businesses are competing, there is nothing that prevents two not-for-profits from competing. There are a limited number of dollars. You're going after arts money; I'm going after arts money. So that is going to create some competition. But if you have a really strong board and CEO, you can always think about—I don't know how your not-for-profit merged with the other one, but there are always opportunities for not-for-profits to come together.

But again, that conversation starts with the board and saying, "In 90 percent of the cases, we seem to be going against X, Y, Z. Is there an opportunity for us to partner and do something?" At the end of the day, the mission is the same. If you can come together and strengthen it—that's a conversation that has to be led by the board, with a lot of support from the CEO of the organization, because he or she knows the community well and knows how many synergies exist.

CHERYL ROSARIO: And it goes back again to the mission. If you feel like there's another organization that may be now fulfilling the mission more so than your organization, then it may be time for a merger or for you to step back, so that it's not about you, but it's about what you are trying to achieve.

ALICE KORNGOLD: Did you want to comment, Maggie?

MAGGIE JONES: I would say one thing. I agree with you Karthik, in that nonprofit is an incredibly, I think, competitive field to work in. I would just say that our merger actually came out of a strategic decision. We actually started the conversations before the recession hit, really looking at metrics, actually, and how we were going to reach more young people, and going through a resource to change process and conversation with strategic planners.

But I think it is a really challenging process to go through because of the fact that it is such a mission-driven business. It's hard for organizations to come together, because it's not, I think, at the end of the day, the big, giant company that acquires the other company that makes this amount of money, and these people make this money from selling their company. It's a really humbling experience at the same time, too—just thinking about our founding board and their going through this process as well.

So I think there needs to be more of it, but it's maybe more challenging than in the for-profit field to go through it.

ALICE KORNGOLD: And I think much less in the way of resources to support the process of collaborating and strategic alliances, in terms of consulting and even the staff time to release you, and even staff expertise—which again makes the case for having board members with some expertise to help you.

QUESTION: I'm curious about these revenue models. There must be a lot of busted revenue models right now, including, I might say, ours. How do you go about redeveloping a revenue model? How do you build one in the first place? I would like to know more about that.

ALICE KORNGOLD: I think this is a time, clearly, when every single nonprofit is challenged, because every revenue stream is under threat, essentially, whether it's your government sources of funding or your fees for services or philanthropic dollars, which would be individuals, foundations, corporations.

That's why the board is so important. That's why every person at the table is so important, and not one seat can be squandered with someone who is not really present and engaged, either bringing expertise or perspective. Also it's really important that the board as a group has a sense of ownership and responsibility, that it's our job to not only envision the greater potential, but to engage in this discussion of where the money will come from and be part of that.

Revenue model—by that I mean thinking about where the monies will come from and how we can help make it possible. For some people, that means giving a lot. For some people, it means asking for money from companies, from people they know. Some can do that. If you care passionately, it's not hard to ask. You are not asking for yourself. You are asking for the seniors you serve, for the children you serve, for the poor people in the community.

But for other people, it's expertise. I just spoke with someone who knows the field of international finance and funding for microlending and will have expertise that will be very helpful to a nonprofit that I know. One of the Bishop's most valuable board members is not someone who can write a big check. You can actually speak to him as a board member.

Maybe you want to address that—a young person, actually, and extremely valuable. Talk about revenue model—in health and human services, one of your biggest sources of funding is government funding. So someone on the board with expertise that can engage with the CEO to strategize on that—extremely valuable.

Maybe you can talk about that.

MITCHELL TAYLOR: When we started to look at the needs that we have on the board, we wanted to get someone that had fluent conversations with government, city, state, and federal, someone that had expertise in policy. This person, of course, doesn't make a lot of money, but he brings all of those skill sets, hundreds of relationships, people that he meets with all the time, and understands the theory of change for nonprofits, whatever that mission may be.

So we went after that person and we got that person. He may write a check for $100 or $200. He's not making the six-figure salaries that other people are making on the board. But he has this wealth of relationships and information. He can do white papers and things like that and make connections that other board members couldn't make, because he's in our field.

So you need that expertise.

ALICE KORNGOLD: And he knows who to talk to about what and who carries the influence. It's invaluable.

Another person might have expertise in public relations and how you make the case. Board members will say, "Okay, I know who to pitch this to. I can go to my company. I can go to my friends. But how do I take a complicated issue and turn it into an elevator speech?" If you have someone on the board who says, "Oh, I'm good at that. I can do that"—I just had someone who works with a big consulting firm help me turn something into some really exciting graphics. That was fabulous. It was helping me make the case for something. So that's a value.

As others have pointed out, when you are running a nonprofit—actually, when I wrote my book and I interviewed people on boards, one of the comments that they made was, comparing for-profits and nonprofits, the CEO of a nonprofit doesn't have a chief of marketing, a chief of public relations, a chief information officer, chief this and chief that. We look to board members, those of us who run nonprofits—I have run nonprofits—we look to board members to fill in that expertise. That's very valuable.

QUESTION: How did you find this young person with all these connections?

MITCHELL TAYLOR: That person works in the field that we are working in, expanding economic opportunities for low-income people in New York City.

QUESTIONER: If I were looking for that category in the Yellow Pages—boy, am I giving my age away—what's that category called in your case?

KARTHIK KRISHNAN: You can't look in the Yellow Pages.

MITCHELL TAYLOR: No, we're not looking in the Yellow Pages.

ALICE KORNGOLD: It's the CEO of your organization who should and would know who the experts are in the field. The Bishop knows who the experts are in our field.

The board wouldn't necessarily know, until the board is fully developed. Now the Bishop has experts on his board who know.

But the CEO would know and is out and about and at programs and knows, "Ah, these are the experts." And by the way, the CEO of the organization or executive director should even have relationships with these people. So not only did Bishop know who we needed, he already had a relationship and a rapport with him. So when we went to meet with him, to get him, that's what we did, actually, when I was doing the consulting project.

I sat down with the Bishop in this board retreat and we said, "Okay, this is what we need." The Bishop said, "I know the guy."

We went and met with him. We said, "We need you."

He said, "Oh, my gosh, I love your mission. I can help you."

MITCHELL TAYLOR: Exactly. As I was saying, it is the executive director or the CEO of the organization. In your field of work, that person should know who the movers and shakers are and who can contribute to the strength and wealth of the organization.

ALICE KORNGOLD: By the way, he just turned around, with the Bishop, and took me to breakfast and invited me to the board.

CHERYL ROSARIO: There are a lot of additional resources out there, too—in your case, the Arts & Business Council that helped match folks to various arts organizations, corporations that may be funding you. Many of them have board-placement programs in place.

I don't know the age of this person, but I also think there is a big value—and it's a gap in boards—of the 35- to 45-year-olds. You see a lot of examples of junior boards, where CEOs are hiring the 20-year-olds to have fun events and bring a lot of interesting things to the table, and then you have your standard board. But I think the 35-to-45 gap is really missing. A lot of corporations now are setting up opportunities, through their volunteerism, not to just go serve at the food bank or work in a junior achievement situation, where they are going to schools to teach, but actually helping to match a lot of their employees with boards.

So tap into corporations you know and look at resources, like the Arts & Business Council in your case.

QUESTION: My question dovetails on what we've been talking about. I would love some practical advice for what you do when the financial needs of the organization outgrow what the board is actually capable of giving. A lot of the organizations that I serve on have give-or-gets, where you actually have to give a certain amount in order to participate on the board or you have to raise that amount.

What's some advice for how to handle a situation when someone can't fulfill their requirements? How do you communicate the urgency and the importance of board giving?

KARTHIK KRISHNAN: One is being able to definitely expand on the board. There's no physical limit to the number of people you can have on a board. That's a revenue model. That's number of people times money is always revenue. Again, you can expand the board.

The second thing is, for people who are underperforming, that are not able to give, I think at some point they need to get off the board. I think that's the right answer.

You made a commitment. When you say you have a $5,000 give-and-get policy, you agree to it. It's like a charter. It's like a promise that you made to this organization. If you can't make it—don't get me wrong here. Not everyone would be able to write that $5,000 check. But you have people that you can connect with.

Think about the Obama campaign. He raised $20 bills. You could do the same thing. You have 50 people on your Facebook. If they can give 50 bucks, that's $2,500 right there.

So that's the way we need to think about it.

QUESTION: What advice would you have for somebody who is interested in joining a board? What are specific steps that can be taken to identify a board, clarify expectations, whether it's financial or time commitment, and so on?

ALICE KORNGOLD: Fabulous question. It's a process that takes time and thought. You can certainly research nonprofits on the internet. But I think talking with people who are involved in an organization is really important, and understanding from people who are on the board or the executive director of an organization what's really going on at the organization. It's really important to have that knowledge.

I'm afraid I know too many stories of people who found organizations on the internet and wound up in their first board meeting saying, "Oh, my gosh. This isn't what I expected."

So I think understanding what the dynamics are, what the issues are that the organization is dealing with, certainly understanding the revenue model, what the board and the organization are aspiring to be and to accomplish, is important, and what their expectations are.

It is a process of research and discovery. It does help to have a broker to assist you. Cheryl mentioned some organizations—United Way has a Linkages program, which is excellent.

Courtney found ERDA through Robin Hood. Arts & Business Council has a program. I work with corporations, with the people that they identify, to place them on boards. It's a process where I spend a few months with each candidate to help them find the board that meets their interests globally, nationally, and regionally.

I think those are most of the programs where there is a broker that is beyond just internet research.

I would encourage you, in all of your paths and journeys, to talk to people, wherever you go, as you meet them, about where they are involved. It's often through your own personal networks that you are going to learn about organizations and boards. That way you also hear what's going on at the organizations. I think you might be surprised to hear how many people are involved and hear wonderful stories and learn of and find some amazing opportunities.

I'm going to end by asking for a final comment from everyone. Thank you all for your tremendous interest.

CHERYL ROSARIO: I'll make one final comment to your question and then I'll say some final words.

Another way is to just start volunteering in another capacity, other than a board, with an organization or a mission that you care about. One of my colleagues just moved to the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, and she got really involved in helping at one of the historic houses there, just helping in a volunteer capacity sometimes on the weekend. They got to know her. Now she is actually in the process of becoming a member of the board.

So I think starting out with an organization in that way is also a good way to then merge into a board opportunity.

My final comment is just that we have talked a lot about the importance of giving and the fundraising component—and it is a very, very key component, especially in these economic times—but I think wearing the hat of a board member, you should always be on. That's why it's so important to be passionate about the board that you are on. I'm constantly a champion for the two boards, whether I'm at a workshop for work or—when appropriate. There are times when it's inappropriate to bring things up.

But constantly talking about their work, and then bringing valuable resources back—"I met this person who I think would be really helpful to you on this thing that you're working on"—making those connections. If you're passionate about it, it's going to happen organically anyway.


MITCHELL TAYLOR: I would echo Alice's comment relative to board engagement. If this is the first board that you are going to try to get on, I think, as Cheryl said, there are groups that could even help you with volunteerism, like New York Cares. They work with a breadth of organizations around New York City where you can have volunteer opportunities.

But it's just like the stock market. No one goes in there and starts trading. No. You need a broker. You need someone that can really advocate on your behalf. I would encourage everyone to try to seek that avenue out before going blindly on a board—through Linkages, through Robin Hood, United Way, Korngold, and organizations like that.

KARTHIK KRISHNAN: I would say, pick something that you're passionate about. As Cheryl said, if you're not passionate about something, you're not going to commit your time.

The second thing is, it also puts you in a very difficult situation. You are pretty much chief marketing officer for this organization. And if you don't feel comfortable about what you do as an organization, you are never going to go out and feel comfortable asking people for money.

Again, pick something you're passionate about. Be very, very picky about that. Everything else doesn't matter.

Second is, meet with the organization and go to the community in which they serve. See that impact for yourself and feel, "This is something I really want to do." Once you can answer that question honestly and say, "I want to be associated with this organization," jump on that board.

ALICE KORNGOLD: Please join me in thanking the panelists and thanking the Carnegie Council for having us. This is fabulous.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Read MoreRead Less