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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

5 priceless gifts board members can give their nonprofits

Board members sometimes stand in the way of what their nonprofit needs most. I’ve written before about the meaningless at best and destructive at worst distinction between “overhead” and “program” dollars. And board members often are as bad as donors at forcing nonprofits to ignore the very real costs of the work they do and their very real need for organization building dollars.

But board members could break this pattern by helping their nonprofit uncover, plan for and fund the staffing, technology, expertise and systems required to make the organization more effective at creating change. Board members need to put their weight behind organization building. And they can start by giving their nonprofit these five priceless gifts:

Permission to talk about real costs. Stop asking your nonprofit staff to get by with less and less. Stop telling your executive director to lower the salary they can offer a talented development director, not to spend money on technology, or to use volunteers when they need experts. Instead, start asking what the real costs of the work are and how much you truly need to raise to accomplish your ambitious organizational goals. 

The support of the board. Once you start talking about real costs, you need to marshal the rest of the board to support organization building. Boards are often led by a vocal few who convince the rest to go along with their plans. If you can be that vocal member who articulates the need for organization building, how it will result in greater results over time, and how the board must be the champion of and seed investor in organization building, you can create a stronger, healthier nonprofit.

A capacity plan. With the board in support of organization building, it’s time to put an organization-building plan in place. Ask the head of your nonprofit to spend some time coming up with a capacity building plan that will take the organization to the next level. Then present that plan at the next board meeting for a substantive conversation about what is truly holding the organization back and what it would take to move forward.




An organization building investment. Instead of asking that your annual donation go to your favorite program, be the lead investor in this new capacity building plan. Organization building dollars are very difficult to find. So those closest to the organization should be the first to step up and invest in capacity. And don’t just give the required amount. Make an investment that is significant to you. If you truly believe in this organization, take out your checkbook and make it hurt.

Access to more building dollars. But don’t just stop there. Think strategically about who you could convince to join you in strengthening the capacity of the organization. Then make the case for why a development director, or a strategic plan, or an evaluation study, or new technology will grow the results your nonprofit is achieving. If board members start making a compelling case to their friends and colleagues about the importance of capacity building dollars, the sector could be transformed.

Board members can be an instrumental driver of stronger, healthier, more effective nonprofit organizations. But in order to get there, board members have to understand and embrace their leadership role in making organization building a reality.

If you want a roadmap for making your board more effective, register for the How to Build a Groundbreaking Board webinar.

Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity, a management consulting firm that helps nonprofits create more social change through strategic planning, financing planning, board engagement and management coaching. Prior to Social Velocity, she held management positions throughout the nonprofit sector nationally. She led teams and strategic planning efforts, raised over $5 million annually, recruited and trained top talent and won national awards in nonprofits such as PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) the Oregon Children’s Foundation and the Capital Area Food Bank. She holds an MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog