ADVANCING YOUR CAREER AND HUMANITY: 6 BENEFITS OF JOINING A NONPROFIT BOARD

By James D’Ambrosio

JamesProfile1TwitterHaving written about major news items lately, I’ll devote this column to professional development. A few years ago, earning a certificate in nonprofit management, one of my best instructors told the class that if you really want to learn about how nonprofits operate, join a board of directors. Sound advice, both then and now. (I’ve served on the board of a small PR association and plan to eventually join a nonprofit board.)

Learning on the job and/or earning an advanced credential — M.S. in nonprofit management, MBA, nonprofit management certificate, etc. — is good, but can only take you so far. Case in point: Some years ago, working in PR for a large school system, one responsibility was covering board meetings. Here I learned about larger issues facing the district and how key decision-makers guided the school system  — something far beyond my regular job responsibilities.

6 BENEFITS OF JOINING A NONPROFIT BOARD

1) LEARN GOOD GOVERNANCE: The board’s job is to govern the organization by discussing and making decisions on big-picture issues — strategic plans, business/fund-raising strategies, staffing, agency planning, etc. It’s NOT about managing daily operations or specific projects; that’s for the executive director and staff. Not understanding this can create problems and hinder a board’s effectiveness.

2) APPLY SKILLS IN A MANAGEMENT CAPACITY: Within your areas of expertise, you’ll have opportunities to join committees and take on projects applying your talents to further the organization. For myself, it could be developing a communications plan or outlining a series of special events for the year.

3) LEARN BUSINESS PROTOCOL: One of the first things I learned at board meetings was formality — following “Robert’s Rules of Order,” a book of rules designed to be adopted and used by a deliberative body. This included voting procedures, a transcriptionist documenting discussions/decisions, executive sessions for personnel matters, annual meetings, new business, old business, unfinished business, etc.

4) LEARN FROM EXECUTIVES: Board members are often professionals at the top of their field, sharing expertise and giving back. Much can be learned from those with more experience or holding positions we aspire to. 

5) EXPAND YOUR NETWORK: In today’s environment, it’s crucial to have a network of professionals with strong knowledge of work, skills and abilities. By demonstrating your value, over time, people will notice and respect your talents. This can lead to more professional references, learning about unadvertised job openings, new networking opportunities, etc.

6) INCREASE FUTURE VALUE: If you’re planning to move into management, the experience is invaluable. You’ll bring more to the table than others who haven’t made this professional investment: you’ve been tested in dealing with core organizational/strategic issues and better equipped to honestly say “been there, done that.”

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QUESTION TO READERS:

Care to share your experiences serving on a nonprofit board?

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NYS LEGISLATURE PASSES NONPROFIT REVITALIZATION ACT; KEY PROVISIONS OUTLINED

By James D’Ambrosio

JamesProfile1TwitterOn June 21, the New York State Legislature passed The Nonprofit Revitalization Act of 2013, the first major changes to the State’s charity laws in 40+ years. The legislation is designed to reduce red tape, enhance oversight/governance, and make New York competitive with other states in attracting, retaining and growing a vibrant nonprofit sector. At this writing, it awaits the Governor’s signature. If approved, it takes effect January 1, 2014.

The Act was a collaboration between Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, elected officials, and the Leadership Committee on Nonprofit Revitalization — a group of 32 nonprofit leaders statewide convened by the attorney general. Last year the Committee presented the AG with a report including 38 recommendations to boost the nonprofit sector, providing a framework for the legislation.

NONPROFIT LEADERS WEIGH IN

Michael Clark, president of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York, noted: “Attorney General Schneiderman’s bill benefits from having been fully informed by the best ideas of New York’s nonprofit professionals, including those of us who served on his Leadership Committee for Nonprofit Revitalization.”

Doug Sauer, CEO of the New York Council of Nonprofits, noted, “Many of the reform measures passed were long needed and the AG’s Office is to be congratulated for their vision and perseverance.”

HIGHLIGHTS OF KEY PROVISIONS

♦ FISCAL OVERSIGHT: Nonprofit boards have to retain independent auditors and examine the audit’s results. Larger agencies — those with over $1 million in annual revenue — will need additional oversight procedures. Boards must know of and take action on risks identified by auditors.

♦ CONFLICTS OF INTEREST: Boards/board committees must conduct an independent review of transactions between an agency and related entities and determine if such transactions are in the best interest(s) of the nonprofit. Amendments provide clearer authority for the Attorney General to remedy self-dealing.

♦ BOARD INDEPENDENCE: Prohibits any employee of a nonprofit from also serving as chairperson of its board. This provision aims to ensure clear lines of accountability between management and the board, and promote independent board leadership.

♦ GOVERNANCE: Requires all agencies to adopt a written conflict of interest policy. Nonprofits with $1 million+ in annual revenue and 20 or more staff must also adopt whistleblower policies.

♦ COMMUNICATIONS: Allows electronic/facsimile transmission of board and membership meeting notices, waivers of notice, and votes requiring unanimous written consent. Amendments allow board members to take part in meetings via videoconference, Skype and other types of video communication.

♦ ATTORNEY GENERALS’ ENFORCEMENT POWERS: A) Permit the AG to begin proceedings to reject a related-party transaction, including compensation for an officer, director, trustee or key employee if it violates any law or is judged not in the best interests of the organization; and B) grant specific authority to find other means of dealing with related-party transactions, i.e., damages, restitution, removal/accounting, etc.

MAKE YOUR OWN CONCLUSION

To be sure, some nonprofit leaders have concerns about the expanded powers of the Attorney General and provisions not included in the bill. That’s understandable. But on the whole, I believe the legislation benefits New York nonprofits far more than it detracts. As with any piece of legislation, there’s compromise — rarely does one party get everything they want. Make your own informed assessment by learning more:

READ A MORE DETAILED SUMMARY HERE

READ THE COMPLETE LEGISLATION HERE

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QUESTIONS TO READERS:

A) What is your take on this legislation? B) If signed into law, how will it impact your agency?

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