Some might say that an organization is just as good as its board. After all, without a strong, supportive board backing you up, reaching your goals may be a lot more difficult than expected. With the right expertise in your corner, your organization should run like a well-oiled machine. But to get the most from your board members, you must first understand their roles and responsibilities and why it’s so important to cultivate a positive working relationship. On February 15 at the Foran-Greene Room at St. John’s City Hall, David Gibbs and Kendra MacDonald (Deloitte and Institute of Corporate Directors) will tackle these topics and more in their session “Nonprofit Governance for Arts Organizations.” Business & Arts NL recently caught up with David and Kendra for a sneak peek.
Business & Arts NL: What are some common misconceptions that people have about a board and the work that it does?
David & Kendra: Too often people look at board members as outsiders slowing down or shutting down exciting new plans, activities and initiatives. The board is meant to be a steward for the organization and a sounding board for management. Board members ask lots of questions to make sure direction and approaches proposed by management make sense and strengthen the organization for the long run. People also see boards as being a “cushy” role participating in a periodic meeting. Being a board member is a lot harder, riskier and more time consuming than it used to be and board members need to invest significant time to prepare to tackle increasingly complex issues like cybersecurity, changing charities legislation, reduced government funding, etc. Spending time on a board is often a significant commitment and one that goes unnoticed by most, and is at the same time very rewarding!
Business & Arts NL: Why is it so important to cultivate a strong and supportive board?
David & Kendra: Because the board and management must continually work together, a strong and supportive board is preferable to one that is adversarial – otherwise, very little would get done! In smaller organizations, board members are sometimes also hands-on volunteers within the organization and can also use their network to help get things done. How do you get there? Open, transparent and honest communication with board members. This builds the foundation for trust and support. And when an organization is setting goals and strategies, trust and support from the board is critical for buy-in, help and acceptance.
Business & Arts NL: There are many different types of organizations that work with boards (nonprofit, business etc.) Speaking of those who work in the area of the arts specifically, are there any special considerations they should make when putting together and working with a board?
David & Kendra: Look for skills, experience and connections you don’t already have. A passion for the objectives of the organization is definitely a plus. Skills like accounting, finance, human resources, leadership, legal, risk management, strategy and information technology may be limited, or not present at all, in your organization. Recruiting board members that bring these skills and qualifications will contribute to strengthening the governance of the organization and help you get easier access to these skills.
A strong board is a key component to a good governance system. Good governance systems are designed to help organizations focus on the activities that contribute most to their overall objectives, use their resources effectively, and ensure that they are managed in the best interests of their stakeholders. Board members are giving their personal time to help the organization succeed, don’t forget to try to make it fun!
For more information on David and Kendra’s session “Nonprofit Governance for Arts Organizations,” click here.