What IS It About Boards?

I simply cannot understand why groups of people who care about nonprofits flat out refuse to acknowledge that they have some learning to do.

We as nonprofit leaders owe all that we do in the board room to the community our nonprofit serves. We are entrusted with the public’s money, and we have a commitment to make our communities better places. We must be responsible, accountable stewards of that trust and that money. We must take care to do the best possible job of leading our nonprofits effectively. This is embedded in nonprofit corporate law; it’s the Duty of Care. If we don’t do this, we’re disobeying the law. It is that simple.

So why, then, did members of a nonprofit board recently say, “We need to be in better shape before we learn what we are supposed to be doing.” Members of another struggling board protested, “We don’t want to spend time on this training.” Am I the only one who sees the flaws in these arguments?

If you don’t know what you are to be doing (and many do not), how in the world can you “get in better shape?” And if you don’t take time to learn, how will you ever become better leaders?

I have a little book in the editing stages called “Seven Keys to Successful Governance.” One chapter is devoted to Learning. Here’s why. Most people are aware that attorneys, insurance professionals, CPAs and others are required to take part in continuing education. The requirements to do so are imposed on these professionals in part because they must be trustworthy in their advising on financial and life issues. They must learn in order to keep their jobs.

If there were ever groups of people that need to be up to date in their knowledge, it is those who lead nonprofit organizations. After all, nonprofits are supported by public and donated funds. We all have an interest in making sure those funds are appropriately spent. Many nonprofits provide services that have life-altering impact. Their leaders must be qualified to guide their organizations well. After all, you would not entrust $100,000 or $1 million or more to someone who doesn’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. Or would you?

I know that the chances of required Continuing Education for nonprofit board members are slim to none. But I think it’s a good idea. What do you think?

© Elizabeth M. Heath 2012

Published in a 2012 issue of “Perspectives”, an irregularly published newsletter from Sound Nonprofits. To receive this newsletter, go to the Contact Us page.