Nonprofit Boards Need Love Too….and Training!


Published by on May 14, 2024

Nonprofit management carries many responsibilities, the least of which is effectively managing a
volunteer Board of Directors. The key word is “managing.”


Nonprofit leaders make the mistake of assuming that their nonprofit board members are equipped to be
Board members. Board members are given a brochure about the organization, perhaps a tour and
that’s it, but there’s so much more to learn about nonprofit Board service.


According to the 2021 Leading with Intent Report, published by BoardSource, there is a strong correlation between a Board’s understanding of their role and responsibilities and their performance across all areas including fundraising, legal oversight and financial oversight.

It is imperative to the growth and sustainability of a nonprofit organization to have a strong Board of
Directors. The recruitment and selection process are the first two factors to consider, but orientation
and training are even more important.


It is imperative to the growth and sustainability of a nonprofit organization to have a strong Board of
Directors. The recruitment and selection process are the first two factors to consider, but orientation
and training are even more important.


Nonprofit executives are often times so excited to begin their new duties that that they neglect to train
the board that they’ve inherited and they assume that all board members are knowledgeable about
their roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, they fail to properly orient new board members, adding to
the disconnect.



I learned this lesson as a new nonprofit Executive Director in 2001 at Trident Literacy Association in
Charleston, SC. After a few months with the organization, I discovered that half of my 7-person board
did not know what the mission of the organization was or what their role was. It caused frustration,
confusion and a lack of support, that nearly led to the demise of the organization. We were in deep
financial trouble and the board was totally unaware. They had hired me on to a broken system and were
unwilling to help fix it. I rolled up my sleeves, began raising money like crazy, and developed a pipeline of
support to sustain the organization through paid B2B services. The organization survived and continues
to serve the community today. I read books and attended workshops on nonprofit board management
and developed my first board orientation training. Here is a portion of it:


There are three different hats that nonprofit board members tend to wear and the trick is knowing
which one fits the needs of the organization.

The Policy Hat

The Policy Hat - 
When a volunteer is wearing the board member “hat,” policy and governance are their primary roles: not the operational details, which is the staff’s role. The Executive Director/CEO is the only staff person over which the board has authority. All other staff fall under the responsibility of the Executive Director/CEO, not the board.

 When a volunteer is wearing the board member “hat,” policy and governance are their primary roles:  not the operational details, which is the staff’s role.  The Executive Director/CEO is the only staff person over which the board has authority.  All other staff fall under the responsibility of the Executive Director/CEO, not the board.

The Committee Hat

The Committee Hat - The second “hat” which a volunteer board member might wear is that of a committee member. In this role, the volunteer is acting in an advisory role only. There is no line of authority over any staff. The staff person assigned to the committee is also in an advisory role to the committee and has no authority over the committee.

The second “hat” which a volunteer board member might wear is that of a committee member. In this role, the volunteer is acting in an advisory role only. There is no line of authority over any staff. The staff person assigned to the committee is also in an advisory role to the committee and has no authority over the committee.

The Unpaid Performer Hat

The Unpaid Performer Hat: The third “hat” which a volunteer board member might wear is that of
unpaid staff. In this role the volunteer is performing a program service (e.g. serving food at the soup
kitchen or taking tickets at a concert) and is directly responsible to the staff person who has been
assigned supervisory responsibility.

The third “hat” which a volunteer board member might wear is that of unpaid staff. In this role the volunteer is performing a program service (e.g. serving food at the soup kitchen or taking tickets at a concert) and is directly responsible to the staff person who has been
assigned supervisory responsibility.


In addition, every board member should have a handbook as a reference and reminder of their
orientation and/or training.



Many nonprofit organizations get into trouble when the executive and board are not in alignment because the board members don’t understand which hat they are to wear.  A nonprofit board orientation can correct any ambiguity about their roles and responsibilities. Understanding the roles and lines of authority can greatly reduce the tensions between the nonprofit executive and board members. 


The orientation should include the history of the organization, its mission, vision and values, bylaws, the
roles and responsibilities (legal and financial oversight, advocacy, fundraising, meeting schedule and
expectations of time commitment), proof of Directors & Officers insurance coverage, tour(s) of facilities,
conflicts of interest overview and board member ethical standards. In regards to the conflict of interest
and ethical standards, don’t just hand it out and have members to sign it. Take time to discuss the
documents and provide examples of what is and is not a conflict of interest, and a high level of ethical
standards.

In addition, include a discussion on the do’s and don’ts. Here is a basic list:


DO’s:

✅ Be generous with your time and checkbook. “Raise money and raise interest,” as the saying goes.
Attend meetings, events and provide financial support.

✅ Understand the mission of the organization.

✅ Pay attention. Be aware of what is happening within the ranks of your board and be sensitive to the
needs of your community.

✅ Be prepared to work hard and check your ego at the door.

✅ Welcome new ideas and the potential for growth and change.

✅ Support the CEO!

DONT’s:

❌ Don’t micro-manage or interfere with staff members. The Board has one employee – that’s the CEO.
The CEO has the responsibility of the staff of the organization.

❌ Don’t allow ego, personal issues or petty disputes build discord among board members or CEO.

❌ Don’t work against policies or decisions that have board approval. You may object, but do not impede;
and don’t criticize those who sacrifice their time to help your organization.

❌ Don’t accept “that’s the way we’ve always done it” as a response.

❌ Don’t make promises or commit the organization to anything without consent.

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Kimberly B. Lewis is the President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of East Texas and the owner of Motivational Muse, LLC.  She has more than 23 years of executive level non-profit and business experience – 21 of which has been leading Goodwill agencies. 

Kimberly B. Lewis is the President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of East Texas and the owner of Motivational Muse, LLC.  She has more than 23 years of executive level non-profit and business experience – 21 of which has been leading Goodwill agencies. 

Ms. Lewis is the founding member and past Chair of the Goodwill Industries International (GII) Diversity & Inclusion Committee and winner of the GII 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Champion Award and the 2023 PJ Trevethan Award for outstanding contributions to the training of Goodwill staff. She is a former member of the GII Board of Directors and former Chair of the GII Conference of Executives. She is an author, speaker, consultant and frequent contributor to Forbes Magazine as a member of the Forbes Nonprofit Council, and chair of the Forbes DEI Council.


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