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Mel Gravely

Successfully Staffing Your Non-Profit Board

Serving on a nonprofit board can be immensely rewarding. A common approach to staffing a nonprofit board is to invite seasoned business men and women who want to give back to the community. In this approach, business-savvy executives are expected to leverage their for-profit business success and replicate it at the nonprofit level. However, running a nonprofit is remarkably different from operating a for-profit venture, and engaging in strategies that commonly work in the business world may not yield positive results towards achieving the nonprofit’s social mission. When staffing a nonprofit board, executive directors would do better by seeking out leaders who above all, value curiosity. The ability to think outside the box, or “take the brain for a walk” is a significant asset to nonprofit leadership.

A great board member is one who demonstrates curiosity about everything that pertains to a nonprofit: its history, operations, finances, social mission, growth, and future. He or she values asking the hard questions: who, what, when, where, how, how much, and why. By seeking out answers to these questions, a trustee creates a “whole” picture panorama that is so crucial to the success of a nonprofit. Curiosity drives innovative approaches to problem-solving. Sometimes, this means leveraging personal experiences over theory. For example, learning how to handle conflict from a trustee who spent time in prison can be far more significant and helpful than learning the process through workshops and development training opportunities.

Successful board members envision that active membership on a board goes far beyond just “giving back.” A high aptitude to scaffold ideas and goals, remain objective in spite of working around emotionally-charged social issues, and envision long-term social impact should all be valuable criteria throughout the process of selecting a nonprofit trustee. It’s important for nonprofit leadership to have the capacity and desire to think creatively and curiously so that they may help the nonprofit ultimately achieve ambitious socially-minded goals.

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