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Opinion/Philanthropy Journal of North Carolina – Boards can do better


By Todd Cohen

Charity boards fall down on the job.

Stressed in normal times, charities face even tougher hurdles than usual in a tough economy, and need all the help they can get from their boards.

But many board members do not take their board work seriously.

Some serve on boards to pad their resumes, gain access to other board members or feel good about themselves.

Still others park their common sense at the curb, denying to the charities they serve the thought and investment they devote to their own business.

In choosing new members, charities should pick people with expertise the board needs who care about the charity’s cause and are ready to pitch in.

A critical qualification for serving on a board should be an individual’s willingness to contribute money and expertise to the charity, and to work hard to enlist money and expertise from other donors.

Board members also must help the charity take stock of its operations, assess its strengths and weaknesses, develop a business plan and find partners the charity needs to sustain itself.

Board members also need to help the charity tell its story, push for policies that will help its constituents, raise and invest money and work to ensure the charity’s future through planned giving and wise investments of its endowment.

Board members must lead by example, bringing to bear their experience, knowledge and professional expertise.

Serving on a charity’s board is a privilege rooted in the responsibility of acting responsibly.

Between monthly or quarterly meetings, board members need to be thinking about and working for the charity, drumming up external support and lending a hand to the staff.

And instead of using their board membership simply to push pet causes or private agendas, board members should be thinking about the overall needs of the charity and its constituents.

Just as charities exist to help fix and change our communities, board members must be committed to fixing and changing the charities they serve.

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