Service connects nonprofits, board volunteers

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Four years ago, Wake Teen Medical Services was looking to fill an opening on its board of directors with someone who had technology expertise.

The position went to Michelle Ruskay, manager of channel operations at Cisco Systems, who now chairs the group’s board.

Two years ago, when the nonprofit needed a new board member with financial skills, it named retired banker Mike Davis, who now serves as board treasurer.

Wake Teen Medical Services found Ruskay and Davis through Triangle BoardConnect, a program of the Executive Service Corps of the Greater Triangle that matches nonprofits looking for board members with volunteers who want to serve on nonprofit boards.

Launched in November 2006, the service lets nonprofits and individuals in Chatham, Durham, Orange and Wake counties create their own online profiles, including their needs and interests.

Triangle BoardConnect, in turn, notifies nonprofits when volunteers register who might meet their needs and, if a nonprofit is interested, provides it with the volunteers’ contact information.

“It’s like an online dating service for nonprofits” says Joyce Wood, executive director of Wake Teen Medical Services. “It’s a way for us to reach a whole universe of people we would not know about otherwise.”

In the 12 months ended July 31, 181 individuals had 434 contacts with nonprofits through Triangle BoardConnect.

As of the last day of July, the group’s website listed 247 board positions nonprofits were looking to fill, and 365 candidates wanting to serve on boards.

But Ed Rose, a retired partner at KPMG in Cleveland who serves as volunteer director of Triangle BoardConnect, says the use of the service likely has declined because of the recession.

And that trend is troubling, he says, because the economic downturn only has underscored the need for nonprofits to be smarter about recruiting board members with the expertise their organizations need.

“I think the nonprofits have their hands full and are not focusing on what they should be,” he says.

Traditionally, nonprofit boards “use the old boys’ network to find board members,” says Rose. “So the sources are limited by the network of the current board members.”

Triangle BoardConnect aims to help nonprofits expand their prospect pool and find candidates with areas of expertise, such as law or accounting, that the board needs, says Rose, who has served on numerous nonprofit boards, including a current stint on the board of the Executive Service Corps, a group that matches volunteer consultants with nonprofits that want to strengthen their internal operations.

This summer, for example, the Triangle chapter of the American Red Cross needed 10 board members, including one with public-relations expertise, and another with software experience.

Using Triangle BoardConnect, the chapter filled those two board positions with Kyle Breischaft, president and CEO of Emergency Technologies, a company that develops emergency-response software and formerly served as a Red Cross disaster-response volunteer, and Kendall Barnes, a public-relations veteran and active member of the Junior League of Raleigh.

“We used Triangle BoardConnect because we knew we could cull through their information to find prospects who met our needs,” says Barry Porter, executive of the chapter and regional executive director for Central North Carolina.

Rose says finding the right members should be an ongoing, year-round task for nonprofit boards.

“Boards should be critically evaluating the skills that they have and the skills that they need,” he says, “and then be strategic about how to find the people with the skills they need.”

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