Ideas Can’t Change the World… (Part 3)

February 28, 2012

This is part three is series about how to turn ideas into reality. Simply put, we do need great ideas, but those ideas must be paired with action to create change. Part one was about assessing a need and how to best meet it. Part two was about the importance of clarifying your mission and vision.

People matter! It is no secret that it takes great people to carry out any great idea. Once you’ve got clarity on your mission and vision, you need to build a team around you to carry it out. For most non-profit ventures, the building of a team starts with creating a board of directors. The reason is because you must declare at least three board members when becoming incorporated by your state or becoming tax exempt by the IRS. Also, for most non-profit startups, the board is going to do the work that hired staff members would do in for-profit venture.

I am forever grateful for the people who agreed to serve on my board at the start of CARE for AIDS. They were wise counselors, incredible prayer partners, and hard workers for the ministry. But, at the end of the day, all of them would have simply volunteered that help if their board spot could have been more strategically filled with someone with a higher capacity to give to the ministry. It has been an ongoing process to raise the bar and set higher expectations for our directors. Instead of filling spots with close friends or mentors who believe in me personally, I am looking for people who believe in CARE for AIDS so much that they are willing to put their resources and reputation on the line to see that the vision is carried out.

It has been interesting to hear the different philosophies on how to build and manage a successful board. If I had to boil it down, I really think there are really only two legitimate reasons to select someone to serve on a board of directors:

1. They can help fundraise. Whether it is through their own personal giving or the access to other funding sources, the person can help in securing the resources the organization needs. I was in denial about this for a while and refused to staff my board in such a way to help raise money. I felt as if it was my responsibility to raise money as the Executive Director while reserving them for higher level strategy decisions. I was naive to think that I did not need their help fundraising. If your board truly does believe in the cause, they need to be giving generously themselves and challenging others to do the same.

2. They provide a specific skill or expertise that the organization needs. This doesn’t mean that you select someone who has been to Africa one time before, so they are qualified to speak with authority on African culture. This is in reference to professional skills that would cost the organization significant money. For example, you may bring on a lawyer who can provide free legal counsel to the ministry and help in the IRS filing process. You might select an accountant who can provide financial services, help setup your systems, and file your tax returns.

In the process of staffing your board, don’t confuse a great volunteer or great mentor with a great board member. People will still give of their time and counsel without having a director position. Take the time to get the right people around you on your board. It will make your life so much easier and the organization will be stronger for it.

Have you served on a board before? What was required or expected of you?