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Social Enterprise News

October 11, 2004

How to serve on Non-Profit Boards

Have you ever wondered what happens on the board of a nonprofit or how you get involved?


Have you ever wondered what happens on the board of a nonprofit or how you get involved? Last Monday, the Social Enterprise Club was fortunate to have David LaGreca, CBS '89 lead a session on NonProfit Board Leadership. Prior to establishing The LaGreca Company (TLC) in 1999, David LaGreca spent eight years as a consultant at the Volunteer Consulting Group (VCG), a nonprofit organization that works regionally and nationally to strengthen the governing and management capability of nonprofit boards of directors. In addition to a varied career as a priest and a professor, Mr. LaGreca served on the boards of Hospice Care of Rhode Island and McAuley House (Providence, RI). He also served as Chair of the board of Body Positive of New York, a position he held for five years.

Professor Ed Henry kicked off the session by highlighting the changing role and increased responsibility of the board in a nonprofit. Highlighting issues parallel to the Enron scandals of the for-profit world, Professor Henry explained that the influence of legislation such as Sarbanes-Oxley is relevant to the nonprofit board, which also has a fiduciary responsibility and legal responsibility to the organization. "The need is greater now than ever for the skills and enthusiasm of MBAs on nonprofit boards," emphasized Henry, who teaches the course Strategic Management in the Social Sector.

Keynote speaker David LaGreca, who has spent the past five years running a consulting practice advising on operational board development, explained that the demographics of the New York nonprofit sector combined with the current market are prime for the skills of an MBA. New York currently has 30,000 incorporated 501(c)3 organizations that are facing an increasing demand for services with a tremendous downward pressure on public budgets. "The biggest lesson I learned at Columbia," explained LaGreca, "was from a professor who explained that the real policy can be determined by where the resources are allocated." LaGreca clarified leadership of nonprofits and their board are moving away from the typical seasoned social worker to someone who also understands industry analysis, organizational and financial soundness, motivation, customer satisfaction and product-to-market operations.

The rewards of board membership for the MBA alum go far beyond the prime benefit of giving back to society, LaGreca emphasized. "You will experience strategy development and team building beyond what you will experience in your first few years out of the program." LaGreca added that the people you add to your network expand and diversify in a way you would not get purely in a professional setting.

So where do you start?

The first step, La Greca explained, is to find the board that is right for you and then make sure you are an educated consumer in your selection process. He recommends the following guidelines:

1. Ask yourself what you care about

  • What am I interested in?
  • What kind of organizations would make me feel most comfortable?
  • What role do I want?
  • What pragmatic requirements do I have?

2. Figure out what you want to know about a board that interests you

  • Ask different people what the organization is about and see how consistent the answer is;
  • Assess the Financial Status;
  • Find Out the Formal Systems and Structures;
  • Find Out the Informal aspects of both the org and board and compare them to the Formal;
  • What is the structure of Board/Management relationships?
  • What are the values?

Once you feel comfortable with the board process and what your interests are, LaGreca explained that there are several resources available to find a board in need.

Ways to Find a Board to Serve:

  • Go to Fundraisers of your target boards;
  • Ask everyone in your network what they're involved with and use that network!
  • Reach out to an organization devoted to making connections between boards and professionals. Some of these organizations include:

  • - Minority Board Program at United Way: www.unitedwaynyc.org/?id=53
    - Business Volunteers for the Arts: www.artsandbusiness.org/programs/bvany.html
    - BoardnetUSA: www.boardnetusa.org
  • Be careful about directly approaching an organization unless you know the organization will be receptive.

LaGreca concluded by emphasizing that the demographic of nonprofit board needs fit the profile of MBAs - financially astute, above average technical experience, motivation, young with more diverse and varied backgrounds. "If you plan on serving on a nonprofit board," LaGreca advised, "you must treat this responsibility as you would any other job."

For more information about serving on a nonprofit board, visit the Columbia MBA Careers Resource Center which has several of the books and resources referenced by David LaGreca or visit www.boardnetUSA.org