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Board development getting attention

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In recent surveys, Charlotte-area nonprofits have said one of their greatest needs is strengthening their boards, a need that a new collaborative initiative aims to address.

With $150,000 in foundation grants, the Center for Nonprofits at the Foundation for the Carolinas and the Executive Service Corps of the Charlotte Region have teamed up to offer “Building Better Boards,” an 18-month process designed to equip board members to be stronger leaders and improve their nonprofits’ effectiveness.

“Nonprofit boards of directors want to serve with excellence the mission that they have signed on for,” says Donna Arrington, executive director of the Executive Service Corps. “And they know they need to develop some additional skills and learn some more about nonprofit governance.”

Modeled on a program at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation in Venice, Fla., the Charlotte initiative begins May 4 with a free kickoff breakfast at the TIAA-CREF auditorium at 8500 Andrew Carnegie Blvd.

The breakfast will feature an overview of the initiative, and a presentation by consultant Sandra Hughes, who helped design the Gulf Coast program and will provide training for the Charlotte initiative.

Hughes says nonprofits need boards that will provide strategic leadership for their organizations and their communities.

With growing regulatory scrutiny and donor expectations that nonprofits operate effectively, she says, that leadership is critical, particularly in the face of rising demand for services and increasingly complex social problems.

“Boards need to become active and engaged, rather than passive,” she says.

Based on an online survey of board members to assess their work, nonprofits will get a confidential report on their board governance, plus an overall summary of board governance at other nonprofits.

Nonprofits with at least 75 percent of their board members completing the survey can apply for 15 slots in a two-day leadership-skills institute in November that will address challenges the survey identifies.

Each of the 15 nonprofits will be able to enroll its executive director, board chair and chair-elect in the institute, and also will get 16 hours of free consultation and facilitated board sessions, retreats and training, plus facilitated peer-support sessions.

Each nonprofit also will get a one-year membership to BoardSource, a national organization for nonprofit boards, plus $300 in vouchers for BoardSource publications.

The effort also will involve training up to 10 local consultants to build their capacity to work with nonprofits.

Board development in the Charlotte region also is the focus of two web-based efforts.

boardnetUSA, a program of Volunteer Consulting Group in New York City that matches board volunteers and nonprofits, in August launched an effort to increase the use of its website at boardnetusa.org by African Americans and Latinos in Charlotte and the Triangle, says Todd Day, its Charlotte-based director of national programs.

And it soon will launch a board-matching service for a partnership among United Way of Central Carolinas, Foundation for the Carolinas and the Arts & Science Council.

Holly Welch Stubbing, senior vice president for client services at Foundation for the Carolinas, says the growing focus on board development aims to address a critical need voiced by nonprofits.

“They’d like to have a better board,” she says, “a more effective governance structure, a board that’s active and fundraising, a diverse board, a group of committed people who show up and are interested and effectively work with each other.”

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