Jana Murdock is one of 15 emerging nonprofit leaders who attended the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum in early October as a Judith O’Connor Memorial Fund Scholar. Her conference learnings are the focus of her comments here.
The recent BoardSource Leadership Forum was quite an experience! As a novice in the world of governance, I was amazed at the resources and support that are available to make nonprofit boards something worth having.
I was excited to learn the basics of building a board, finding out what kind of people you might need, and what they should be doing. I spent a lot of time at sessions learning about the relationship between the executive director and the board — this is such a fragile connection, especially if the ED is also the founder...which mine is! Building that relationship, strengthening it to the point where neither side feels threatened and everyone is able to contribute: That's my goal. It's lofty, this is true, but the most effective nonprofits have solid leadership, both in the day-to-day operations and in the oversight and long-term planning realms.
As one of the leaders of a very small organization, my first step will be clarification. We need to determine how many staff we need, what their roles should be, and how they will be funded. To begin this process, we need to separate out executive director tasks from operations tasks from maintenance tasks...the list goes on and on. With only 1.5 staff, you can imagine how muddy those waters have gotten!
Once we have that figured out, we need to decide who wants to do what. My ED is basically doing everything, but it's time to figure out what it is she actually likes doing, and what role she wants to assume when we start hiring more staff. As she works through that process, we will be able to discern what roles actually need to be filled, and prioritize them. At the conference, I learned that evaluations can be an extremely useful tool for this!
The board is, of course, an integral part of this process. Before we can do anything else, we need to look clearly at the board and see how it is operating now and decide how we would like it to operate in the future. Although the members are doing a lot of hands-on work at the moment, which is fine for a start-up, we need to develop a plan to transition them into the oversight role. Hiring more staff is a certainly a part of this process. The board should help find funding to hire these people.
It's a big job! I'm trying to transition my organization from a start-up to a growing organization. I was able to get a much better handle on what needs to happen and how at the conference. I feel much more confident going forward and talking to my board now that I have some solid knowledge! I'm looking forward to this chance to help my organization grow!
Interested in learning more about the Judith O’Connor Memorial Fund Scholarship program? Click here.