I recently attended the 2012 BoardSource Leadership Forum as an honored receipt of a Judith O’Connor Scholarship for Emerging Nonprofit Leaders. The Forum aims to increase the impact of nonprofit boards by convening nonprofit, foundation, and government leaders from across the country to discuss innovative practices in governance. After a two-day conference featuring nearly 35 different sessions, I left feeling inspired and anxious to put ideas into practice. Though I learned far more than a blog post could do justice to, here are a few high-level takeaways.
- Even nonprofits should take risks. It’s natural for nonprofits coping with unstable and depleting funding sources to tighten their purse strings to “get by,” instead of investing in their programs. However, under-staffing and underfunding programs won’t ever lead to growth. Instead of starving your programs, consider growing them by swallowing some short-term debt, and (hopefully) improving their long-term impact. It’s risky and a bit scary, but if your mission is critical and your programs impactful, it’ll pay off.
- Reframe your value proposition. Sure, everyone wants to feel warm and fuzzy by donating to your animal shelter, but that won’t always pay the bills. In addition to doing social good, have you framed your work in terms of the long-term economic benefit your services provide? Can an individual or organization ultimately save money through your organization’s successes? It has become increasingly important to find ways to “sell” our ideas, and, dare I say it…think like a for-profit.
- Give yourself time to think! How much of your day is spent thinking? I mean original, innovative, deep thinking? According to Daniel Patrick Forrester, it’s 5%. That means the other 95% of your time is spent reacting, responding, or searching. We need to create space for ourselves and for our boards to do deep thinking, because if we don’t allow ourselves to think, how will we ever generate new ideas? I am excited to read Mr. Forrester’s book, Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in your Organization, for even more inspiration.
- Nonprofits can lobby. Your eyes do not deceive you. Nonprofits are allowed to lobby, so long as the resources spent on lobbying are “insubstantial.” But what constitutes “insubstantial,” can be fuzzy, unless an organization takes the 501(h) election. By taking the election, the organization will be subject to clear regulations on how much time and money they can spend on lobbying, without raising any red flags.
- Embrace intergenerational boards! YNPN National Director Trish Tchume and two fellow YNPN-ers presented an awesome session on how to build intergenerational boards. The audience was comprised of both young and not-so-young attendees, all passionate about increasing the prevalence of youthful nonprofit board members. It was a rousing conversation about the strengths young people bring to the boardroom table, and it highlighted an important governance gap that YNPN can help to fill.
Slides from some of the sessions have already been uploaded on the BLF site, with more to follow, so please check them out. I’m already excited for next year’s conference in Los Angeles.
Lindsey Fila serves as Finance Co-Chair for YNPN Chicago and Director of Administration at Resolution Systems Institute. She entered the non-profit sector after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, and she believes that efficiency and collaboration is the key to success for non-profits. In her free time, she enjoys exploring new restaurants and new music.