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A special column for emerging nonprofits and those who are “struggling”

(Re)building your leadership one person at a timeWhat do you do if you are a nonprofit board chair or executive director, and you know in your heart-of-hearts that your current board can’t do what needs to be done? We have observed a tendency towards several responses. One is to bury your head in the sand and hope the situation improves; another is to hope your term ends before the situation gets too messy; and another is to swear “I’ll fire them all.” We have another way: find one right person.

You want to find one person who understands and believes in your vision and mission. Think of who you know and start there. This is an interview process of sorts. You want to interview them, and you want them to interview you. You need to get to know each other: do you share common values? How do each of you think? Do you understand each other? Can you create an open line of communication that includes trust?

Be open and honest: share your strengths, challenges, weaknesses and the opportunities that lie before you. Don’t paint an unreal rosy picture. You want someone who can complement your strengths, help find ways to address challenges, and identify areas where you need professional development. You won’t know if you are talking to “the right person” if you’re not honest.

You need a person who shares the same vision and values that you do. But, you don’t want a clone of you – you want someone with experience, resources, and contacts that can help your organization grow to the next level. You want to extend your circle and increase your knowledge and resources.

This is not a “task” to be delegated. Don’t depend on others to find your leadership! If you do this, you will find yourself with leadership that others are comfortable with, but who you may not be the right fit for you. Don’t farm this out. You don’t have anything more important to do! If you can’t attract one person, how can you attract and build a new board?

Don’t be pressured by funding agencies and other outside groups to “do something about your board” immediately. If your board is dysfunctional, or the organization needs access to different perspectives, skills and relationships, the change won’t happen overnight. This is a growth process. You will need to let the people who provide funding and influence know that you want to take your time and find the right people – one person at a time. Don’t try to build your board by Friday. You may find yourself locked into a nightmare.

Before you ask someone to serve on your board, ask them to work with you as an advisor. Over time your advisors may become board members. Or they may provide the advice you need to bring out the best in the board you already have.

Copyright 2018 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

Mel and Pearl Shaw help nonprofits grow their fundraising and increase board engagement. Visit or call (901) 522-8727.

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