Nonprofit Board Members Share Criticism

Guest post by Hardy Smith News, Stories

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Participants in my survey of nonprofit board members to identify why board members don’t perform as expected shared several criticisms about the relationship between nonprofit organizations and their boards.

This information is important because, according to survey results, the issues mentioned can contribute to enthusiastic board members becoming turned off, a silent threat to the welfare of an organization.

Responses from five long-term board volunteers offered revealing insights when they were asked to identify their biggest criticism related to nonprofits and relationships with their boards.

Their comments are representative of replies collected by the survey.

Former Florida State University President Dr. T.K. Wetherell felt that problems can develop with board relations because “nonprofits often expect more and more of board members who still have lives and businesses to run.” Dr. Wetherell suggests, “Ask only when you need their help and limit the asks to something that can make a difference.”

“Lack of communication about expected performance is my biggest criticism,” said Mayor Rusty Jessup of Riverside, Alabama. “I also believe openness about differences is essential. Don’t pretend there is not a problem. Never ignore the thousand pound gorilla in the room. Don’t sugarcoat anything for PR purposes. Close your meeting if necessary, but talk about the gorilla.”

Penske Corporation executive Walt Czarnecki is an advocate of “management and boards working more closely on all issues–not just financial,” as a way to improve board relations.

Lori Tolland, an active community volunteer in Ormond Beach, Florida, cited the general “need to communicate expectations.”

Nebraska Chamber of Commerce President Barry Kennedy added this concern “the need to ask for input on key issues.”

Acting on the constructive criticism and suggested solutions from these five engaged board members will improve board member relationships and will also help keep them performing as expected.

About Hardy Smith

Hardy Smith is living his calling by channeling his experiences and insight into maximizing the success of nonprofits, associations and other volunteer-based organizations around the country; work that has earned him recognition from Florida’s network of Small Business Development Centers. The group recently named Hardy Smith Consulting as one of its Small Business Success Stories.

Welcome to our New Website

Grace Armstrong News

One of our core values at the Nonprofit Leadership Center is to delight our customers. We have been promoting the changes to our website so much in the last few weeks because we think it will make your relationship with us much easier for you. And we hope that, in the long run, that delights you.

Once you enter your profile information one time, it will be there in the future when you register for a program. You will no longer have to enter your information over and over. We will also keep track of all the programs you attend and you can access your attended classes at any time.

In the near future, we will add a Job Bank. If you have a nonprofit job opening you will be able to post it for an affordable fee. If you are looking for a job in the nonprofit sector, you will be able to look for openings in our Job Bank. There have been many requests for this resource and we are look forward to providing it to the community.

Keep checking back with us for new features we will be adding over the next several weeks.

We appreciate your time in visiting our website, reading our blogs, using our resources, and attending our training. We hope we delight you as we are always interested in doing our best on your behalf.

The Nonprofit Board Fiduciary Role

Lorraine Faithful Uncategorized

In the nonprofit sector, the board of directors is responsible for the well-being and financial health of the organization. The board as a body and each individual board member is expected to exercise due diligence while overseeing that the organization’s financial situation remains sound. Board members need to know proper financial processes and practices so as to not place an organization in financial jeopardy. This is a board’s “fiduciary duty” and it is a critical component of the overall accountability of boards to the public and to a nonprofit’s supporters.

Some of the financial oversight responsibilities of the board include:

  • Approving the budget
  • Monitoring financial statements
  • Installing adequate internal controls
  • Ensuring legal obligations are met

Exercising fiduciary duty doesn’t mean that every board member needs to have an accounting degree. However, it does mean that board members should be aware enough about accounting practices and procedures to ask the right questions of the people in the know.

Education on nonprofit fiduciary duties, as well as other board roles and responsibilities, is provided by Nonprofit Leadership Center. Both classroom training and online resources about fiduciary duties are available. Whether you are new to board responsibilities or if you are contemplating serving on a nonprofit board soon, you can benefit from the knowledge of fiduciary responsibilities, the experience of others like you in the classroom, and the expertise of the presenters.

Fundraising and an Indie Record Label

Sara Leonard News, Stories

WUSF, our local NPR station (, had a great story about XL Recordings and for just a minute I thought they were talking about fundraising. “A Record Label With a Midas Touch” tells the story of XL Recordings, a British independent record company owned by Richard Russell. Though I’d never heard of XL Recordings, I’d certainly heard of their biggest recording artist: Adele. Last year, Adele’s 21 spawned three chart-topping singles and won six Grammys. Full disclosure: she’s on my iPod.

In the NPR story, Russell talks about his desire to concentrate on great music and leave the other parts of the business – selling records and paying people – to others on his team. XL-signed artist Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij describes it this way, “That same philosophy – know your limitations, work with people who can do things you can’t, and let them do their job – extends to the label’s musicians.” That is a great philosophy for development work.

Know your limitations – Every day we are called on to do work that is beyond the scope of our jobs. In an effort to “never say no” we take on tasks that distract us from the ultimate goal of bringing together people who will invest in the mission of our organization. We have to know when to call on others – board members, volunteers, other staff, consultants – to provide the added capacity to accomplish great things.

Work with people who can do things you can’t – With each recruitment, be it paid staff or volunteer, we have the opportunity to surround ourselves with talented people who can do things we haven’t learned to do. For instance, many of us are stymied by social networking. Chances are that someone in our organizations loves that and would be excited to put their talents to use.

Let them do their job – Our nervousness to let others take a project and run with it can hinder our ability to get more done and ultimately raise more money. When we allow others to do their jobs, everyone benefits: us, them, and ultimately the community that benefits from the work of our organization.

More full disclosure: three Adele songs played on the office Pandora during the writing of this blog. I think that’s proof that XL Recordings is onto something.

To hear the full story on

Marketing with the Form 990

Maureen Butler News, Stories

Don’t make them search for your successes!

Have you ever wondered why nonprofits are required to file the Form 990 with the IRS? It is a monitoring tool used by the IRS to ensure tax-exempt organizations are appropriately using their tax-exempt status. Nonprofits, however, can use what may seem to be an onerous regulatory requirement to their advantage. According to the Form 990 instructions, this document is the primary or sole source of information for some members of the public and possibly some external evaluators of nonprofits. Therefore, it is influential in shaping the public perception of not-for-profit organizations ( Unlike corporate and individual tax returns, the Form 990 provides the opportunity to describe the mission, programs and achievements of your organization. Don’t just fill in the numbers and check the boxes. Take advantage of this annual opportunity to articulate what you do so that lay people understand and to convince others that your organization is worthy of their donations. Here are a few suggestions of items to include:

  • The number of clients served
  • Descriptions of the results of your programs
  • The number of volunteers involved in your programs – What It Can Do For Your Nonprofit

Lorraine Faithful News, Stories

Everyone knows that most nonprofit organizations must stretch limited dollars whenever possible, so you will be pleased to know how TechSoup can save you money in a big way. TechSoup is a nonprofit online resource that can help you save thousands of dollars on your technology products. You save money because more than forty large software companies such as Microsoft, Adobe, Intuit, Cisco, and Symantec donate 400 or more of their software products to TechSoup, and TechSoup provides you the software while charging you a nominal administrative fee.

Taking advantage of this great resource is very simple. Your nonprofit joins TechSoup using an easy, online application at no charge. Once registered and approved, you can begin to order products. The only glitch is that each TechSoup donor has its own rules. Some limit you to one donation request per year while others allow multiple requests throughout the year. is a project of TechSoup Global, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that was founded in 1987 on the belief that technology is a powerful enabler for social change. Since then, they have assembled a worldwide network of individuals and organizations that share that conviction. The network includes foundations, corporations, government and NGOs (non-government organizations), social entrepreneurs and volunteers. Together, these allies developed sustainable, community-driven technology solutions to meet today’s most urgent social challenges.

Join today and start saving money now. Visit to learn more and to register.

Nonprofit Budget Planning Made Easy

Lorraine Faithful Uncategorized

In my agency, I am partially responsible for creating, implementing, maintaining, analyzing, and reporting against the company annual budget, and I am always looking for ways to make the process smoother and more meaningful for all involved, and to give it the attention it deserves. Since I know how important sound financial management is, as it is a core principle and best practice we teach, this year I am spending more time and thought into the budget planning process to find ways to improve it and make it easier. Jessica Logan of Clifton Larson Allen states, “A well planned, well documented, and well executed budget can help you monitor, predict, and maximize the activities that support your mission, ultimately making you more effective and successful.”

I hope that some of the following information to streamline your budgeting planning process will assist you:

Do your agency strategic planning first. Your annual budget should match and mirror the goals and initiatives set forth in your strategic planning session which of course should include all key stakeholders – board members, staff, and volunteers or others as appropriate.

Create a budget timeline. Map out an annual timeline for the budget process months before a preliminary or final budget is needed to be presented to your board or finance committee for discussion and approval. Schedule your strategic planning first (see above.)

Define expectations from all key people. Keep participants knowledgeable about their roles and responsibilities in the planning process. Include everyone involved so that they understand ahead of time what you expect of them. Provide them reasonable due dates and deadlines.

Document everything. Write down all ideas, assumptions, plans, projections, etc. Perhaps you won’t use every idea proposed, but you will want to capture everyone’s contributions.

Determine what tools you need. Most small organizational budgets can be effectively managed using Excel spreadsheets. Larger agencies may consider special budgeting software. A simple Google search results in many options.

Collect your data and check for accuracy, including all Excel formulas and assumptions. It is very important that your agency budget be accurate as it will be shared with funders and other donors who will rely on you for correct and accurate information.

Here are some excellent, detailed budget tips from Kay Snowden of Third Sector New England.

Finally, remember that your budget should reflect and fully support your agency’s mission and vision. I hope that some of the above tips will be useful in your next annual budget planning process.

Governance is Not a Dirty Word

Grace Armstrong Uncategorized

I recently had in interchange with a very experienced member of the board of a well-respected local nonprofit organization. I was suggesting to a group that having a Governance Committee of the board was a best practice. This belief was substantiated for me during my training in board education at BoardSource in December, 2011.

Towards the end of the conversation, this board member said he was skeptical about having a Governance Committee. He said governance had such a negative connotation. He said it sounded punitive. He said it felt like a committee called governance would be looking for all the bad things that an organization might have done.

I thought this was a great teachable moment and took the opportunity to describe the very honorable and positive role that governance plays on a board. After all, governance is what a board does. It is the board’s highest calling to provide oversight, vision and direction, and to insure that the organization has the resources to fulfill its mission. The process of governance insures that an organization is true to its mission and stays on the right path. It is an honor and a privilege to govern. The word should evoke thoughts of best practice and high quality process.

Unfortunately, language has bestowed an unclear connotation to the word governance in some circles. I hope this experienced board member changed his view of what governance really means. I hope he understood the role of the board but just had never called it governance.

And the lesson to be learned from this interchange is that when board members are trained in their roles, they are much better prepared to govern an organization and help it become a high performing organization.

Sometimes an Apology is the Best Place to Start

Ashley Pero Uncategorized

I act as a mentor to a high school student as part of the Take Stock in Children program. A few weeks ago my mentee and I were talking about her grades and it came up that she was doing poorly in one of her AP programs. After some more discussion it became clear that her poor performance was due to lack of preparation and care on her part. More importantly, she came to this realization and accepted that she had earned her poor grade. It was at this point that I encouraged her to talk to her teacher and start with an apology. It took a little convincing on my part that this was the right way to go, but as a firm believer in taking responsibility for your actions, I wasn’t letting up so easy. At our most recent meeting I asked if she had a chance to talk to her teacher. Her face broke into a smile and she told me how nervous she had been to approach him, but how glad she was that she did. Her teacher was so surprised and elated about her apology for her poor performance, acceptance of her responsibility in the performance and her request for help in doing better. And, I’d like to think my mentee learned a valuable lesson in taking responsibility for your own actions.

Sure, it is easier to blame someone or something else for our mistakes. Taking responsibility and saying I’m sorry is sometimes really hard. I’ll be the first to admit that I hate to disappoint people. But, I can also tell you that I’m not ashamed to say I’m sorry, admit that I dropped the ball and immediately do whatever I can to fix the issue to my best ability. Rational people understand that mistakes happen (because we all make them), and in my experience are always so surprised when you take responsibility and just happy to have the problem fixed and not have to deal with excuses.

So, next time you’re tempted to find an excuse — take a step back, figure out what went wrong, what you can do better next time, and most importantly, apologize!

“The price of greatness is responsibility.” – Winston Churchill

Teaching Philanthropy

Grace Armstrong Uncategorized

I recently served as a panelist representing the nonprofit sector. The audience was a chamber leadership group. As might be expected, I was asked what advice I would give the audience about nonprofits. That is a big question and one that could be answered in so many different ways.

What I answered that night was: Teach your children philanthropy. I think it is important to think about the future and what we can do today to keep the future promising. The fact is that 83% of charitable giving is from individuals (this includes bequests). The best way to insure that this number grows is to teach our children about giving.

The latest trend in philanthropy indicates that more people are giving but they are giving in smaller amounts. The reason for this is likely the opportunities to give through social media. Gifts given through text message are limited to $20 per gift. There are more opportunities now than ever before to give in different ways. Our children hear it on television. We want them to hear it and see it modeled at home. We want children to learn to share their treasure and give their time at an early age. The best way for that to happen is for children to learn from their families.
That is one way for the nonprofit sector to thrive and continue meeting needs beyond those of us here today.