“Because we have to chase him. Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now, so we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it, because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a Dark Knight.”

From “The Dark Knight” 

Maybe you’re wondering what this confusing yet oddly memorable quote from the Dark Knight has to do with Board Development for nonprofits.  Actually a lot. When you set aside all the hero and chase stuff and focus on the idea of needing vs. deserving, it’s quite simple and relevant…  Just like Gotham City in 2008, too often charities start with the board of directors they need at that moment. Yet, they now find themselves without the strong and effective one their admirable work deserves.

I was reminded of this recently when I was working with several new charities on maximizing the effectiveness of their board.  All were in the startup to growth phase and speaking with them, I identified three consistent trends:​

  • The “starter” board was comprised of friends, family and contacts that didn’t necessarily have an interest in the mission; 
  • Often these new members lacked capacity, commitment to, and understanding of the organization’s work; and 
  • In most cases, these board members joined the organization with either a promise that they will not be called on to do anything including contribute and /or fundraise

These characteristics for new boards may be all too familiar to you.  To make matters more difficult, founders of these organizations are often reluctant to ask these new members to step up or step off.  This is understandable since often these members are part of their inner circle.  Let’s face it – starting a nonprofit is hard enough.  It requires extraordinary commitment, passion and perhaps above all, perseverance (popularly known as Grit).  So, don’t go it alone. Here are three suggestions to organizations that find themselves in this place:

  1. Start where you are:  Talking to founders of nonprofits, I’m always amazed  at how hard they can be on themselves.  Hey, you started a nonprofit!! That in and of itself is fantastic! So, appreciate it and accept that where you are today is the best starting place.
  2. Take a Breath and Assess (also known as Taking Inventory):  Once you’re legal and know what you want to achieve, time to figure out what skills, experience, networks and resources you’ll need to succeed.   The cool surprise is that when you look at your current board – even if you started with your inner circle – you probably have some of it. But you also need to figure out what you don’t have and where you can find it.
  3. Re-stock:  I’ll stick with the inventory metaphor.   Now that you know what you’ve got and what you need, time to build the powerhouse store.  How do you do it? BIG HINT: Very different than how you arrived here. Break out of your comfort zone.  Let people OUTSIDE your board know you’re looking.  I”m suggesting OUTSIDE because depending on your current board will attract peers much like them. Seek out new and untried opportunities i.e. intermediaries like USA Boardnet or Linkedin’s Board matching service. It’s time for new blood, new ideas and a new pipeline.

If you build it, they will come…We’ve gone from Batman to Field of Dreams!  If you need some help on this, feel free to reach out at robert.grabel@yournonprofitnow.com or 917-733-8569.  




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