Graduates of JVA’s October 2018 Executive Director Academy (above photo) got insight and advice from Cultivando Executive Director Erin Mooney (below right) and Extreme Community Makeover Executive Director Angela Bomgaars (below left).

By Sandy Wiegand, Copyeditor and Writer at Joining Vision and Action

If you’re starting a new nonprofit from scratch or rebuilding your board of directors, you’ll want to populate your board with a banker, a CPA, a real estate agent and other people with business knowledge, advanced degrees and impressive credentials—right?

That may be the conventional wisdom, but panelists from JVA’s latest Genius Bar say it’s flawed advice.

Angela Bomgaars, executive director of Extreme Community Makeover (ECM), and Erin Mooney, executive director of Cultivando, joined JVA Executive Director Academy participants on the last day of their recent weeklong training, to answer questions and offer insights on nonprofit leadership.

Involve people who care

What’s more essential in building an effective board, the EDs said, is recruiting people from the community—people who understand what the organization does and are already involved in it. You want people who are interested in doing more than coming to meetings to make decisions.

“Get people on board who are involved because they care about (the mission) and are willing to spend time being part of it,” Angela urged. Sometimes a potential board member might be very enthusiastic but not grasp the amount of time and level of commitment required. Remember, she noted, board members are volunteers. This can make for a delicate situation when an ED and a board member are not on the same page as far as time commitment.

Erin added that it has been important for Cultivando to build a primarily Latino board, to reflect the community the organization works with. “What do we value as expertise?” she asked, noting that lived experiences such as having navigated the U.S. immigration system can be more instructive for board members than having an advanced degree.

“If you come in knowing everything, you have to be reprogrammed,” Erin commented. “It’s never a challenge finding incredibly talented people from the community. If you can’t find them, it’s a reflection of you.”

Supporting your board

Angela lists two things that executive directors can do to help ensure they have boards that are engaged:

  • Provide clear expectations for board members’ time commitment
  • Facilitate relationships among board members

“They are volunteers, and it’s competing with a lot of other stuff to do. People are overcommitted,” Angela said. “One of the best things we can do as leaders is to put out very clear expectations of the time commitment needed, so they know what they are getting involved in.”

ECM’s board members also participate on separate “Extreme Teams” unrelated to the board and focused in areas such as communications, logistics, surveys and more. Additionally, they have participated in workdays together, completing neighborhood work projects as a team.

“As an ED, you have to facilitate the relationships among the board,” she said, adding that when board members speak about the organization, “I want them to have their own stories about who they have connected with doing this work.”

Check out JVA’s Leadership and Board Development page to learn how we can help you with board recruitment, development and fundraising training!

Next time, our panelists share advice on communicating outcomes, advocating for progress within the sector and self-care for nonprofit staff.