Advice from a CEO for New Board Members

Sal MondelliBy Sal Mondelli

boardofdirectorsA portion of this article was originally published by Eide Bailly in its “Nonprofits Talk” blog.

I recently stepped down as CEO of 360 Communities, a social services not-for-profit agency serving over 18,000 individuals per year in Dakota County, after serving in that capacity for four and a half years. This was my first opportunity running a not-for-profit after serving on not-for-profit boards for 25 years. The work is not any easier than running any of the for-profit companies I was associated with, but when you see and hear stories about helping people in need, the results are extremely rewarding.

Here are a few suggestions for anyone contemplating joining a not-for-profit board:

  1. Be passionate about the work. Be involved in something you are passionate about and can support wholeheartedly. Don’t be afraid to try something that is outside of your comfort zone. Research the work the agency does and don’t be afraid to ask about expectations and responsibilities of a board member.
  2. Commit and make it a priority. Ensure that you have the time to commit to attending board and committee meetings, as well as events. If the schedule doesn’t work for you right now, consider volunteering on a committee until you do have the time. Don’t be afraid to say “no” upfront if you cannot make the commitment.
  3. Educate yourself. Get to know the mission, values and strategy of the agency. Some offer a complex set of services that will take some time to understand. Learn the “elevator pitch” and understand the fundraising expectations.
  4. Understand the difference between governance and operations. As a board member you are responsible for strategic, financial and compliance issues—different from operational details required at your “day job.” Be a value-added partner to the CEO and ensure that there is a level of transparency that offers easy dialogue between all board members.
  5. Enjoy yourself and have fun. This will be work, but it shouldn’t be drudgery. Remember the huge difference you are making in a number of people’s lives.