Why you need to know about working with a board - even if you don't work with one (yet)

“If I don’t work with a board, why do I need to know what boards are all about?”kay-sprinkel-grace-2016-new

A participant in a workshop I was doing asked me this. I could tell he was reluctant about the relevance of the topic, and I suspected that someone, perhaps his boss, had told him to attend — a command about which he was clearly less than thrilled.

“Well,” I asked, “what is your role?” He told me he was in data management for an organization and that he would NEVER (caps indicating his voice level) have to work with a board.

“Really?” I said. “What if you’re asked to make a presentation to the board? What if you’re audited for some aspect of your donor records and have to work with the board to provide them with information they may have to provide?”

He squirmed. “I’d ask my boss,” he said. I responded that he might, in fact, want to be the boss someday. He smiled, revealing some aspiration for the future.

As NGO and nonprofit fundraisers or related staff, we may feel very far removed from the board. But in truth, none of us is that far away. Any of us – even if we do not aspire to be the top leaders in our organization or the sector, are well advised to learn as much as we can about boards … how they work, what they do, and how we (as part of the machinery that keeps the organization they represent in the community strong and high performance) can turn to them either directly or through our leaders for support.

I have reflected on that conversation often, principally because in my first nonprofit position of responsibility I had never worked with a board. I didn’t even know what a board did! And yet there I was, expected to prepare reports, interact with committees, and understand the tremendous role they played in our overall success.

If you’re not now working with a board — and even if you have no current aspirations to move beyond the role you are in and be selected by an organization for a different kind of position — take it from someone who began with no knowledge and wished she had known: It is never too early to think about how you might interact with a board when the time comes.

Kay Sprinkel Grace is principal at Transforming Philanthropy, LLC. This October, you’ll find her at the IFC, where she’ll present a masterclass on board development with Lucy Blythe and a session on the impact of nonprofits partnering across sectors with Ana Koeshall, and also be part of the Back to Futurology Big Room Session.

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