• How the Economy and Virtual Volunteers Are Rapidly Making Traditional Nonprofit Boards Obsolete

    The days of somnambulant boards – “experienced” power elites – sitting around magnificent mahogany tables, resembling small flight decks, are becoming even more rare than the mahogany in the finely turned table or the Aubusson carpet on the floor. Nonprofits as charitable institutions, solely supported by generous benefactors dedicated to serving the poor are a thing of the past.

    Today, successful nonprofits cannot afford the luxury of patiently waiting for beneficence to fall in their laps. The economy has nipped benevolent dollars in the bud, and even those benefactors with a few blooming roses left have come to expect more of the nonprofits they support. They seek ways to optimize the dollars they invest: to increase the impact, as well as the fiduciary and operational functionality of the organizations they support.

    Donors expect to see the nonprofit run as effectively as any other for-profit business in which they have a stake.

    This means that boards have to stop posing as governing bodies and become governing bodies. They have to take a professional interest in the operation – and not just an “interest.” They must apply the same operating principles: fiscal, marketing, R&D and ROI that they would to run a for-profit venture. Yes, they are looking for a SROI (social return on investment) but that, too, is driven by capital and not just good intentions.

    The transition from inert to proactive board needs to be a transformative process, but time is of the essence. Fortunately there are three options available to inject new life into the nonprofit board: one is real, face-to-face time and the other two are virtual.

    Encore.org has successfully launched a fellows program which provides high caliber, experienced talent to San Francisco Bay Area nonprofits: “Designed as paid, temporary, high-level assignments, Encore Fellowships provide immediate communications, research, business development, program development, and human resources support to nonprofits, while providing the fellows themselves with a bridge to a new stage of midlife work known as the encore career… The first program launched in 2009 inspired a provision in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, passed last year, which calls for 10 new encore fellows in each state.”

    The two virtual volunteer programs are Catchafire.org and Extraordinaries.org.

    Catchafire connects professionals who want to volunteer their skills with nonprofits that need them. The organization helps nonprofits express their needs as short-term, discrete, and individual-based projects and packages those projects to create innovative solutions for basic nonprofit needs and to make it easy for actively employed professionals to find time to volunteer.

    Catchafire charges nonprofits a fee, but the services of the Extraordinaries is totally free. They, too, connect (via the web) professional volunteers with nonprofit organizations but their program is built on the concept of “micro-volunteering.”

    The Extraordinaries delivers micro-volunteer opportunities to mobile phones that can be done on-demand and on-the-spot. So instead of making a lengthy time-commitment to a single organization on a single day per year, you can volunteer for many organizations many times throughout the week.

    We do not mean to suggest that nonprofit boards can be completely replaced with encore or virtual volunteers, but we do mean that it is time for the old tried and true boards to gear up and take advantage of the resources available to put them in a proactive and productive mode. Mahogany and Aubusson rugs are endangered specimens – nonprofits play too important a role to let them fall into neglect or even become extinct.

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