New trends for managing nonprofit Boards | npENGAGE

Expectations: don’t manage your Board without them!

By on Oct 11, 2012


Board of Directors

Early in my career, someone shared a great pearl of wisdom; set expectations for your staff that are specific and succinct.  Over the years, we’ve been told set “SMART” goals, understand leadership styles, and gather buy-in. But at the end of the day, it all boils down to the same thing – make sure everyone know what to do!

Yet, in one of our most critical executive roles – managing Board members – we seem to miss the boat.

As I was preparing, I looked up the definition of volunteer.  I found one definition that said “somebody who works for nothing” often doing something “undesirable.”


The very important work of our society is governed largely by a voluntary Boards of Directors.  Nowhere else in our society do we trust a group of well-meaning people to do such a job with little training, supervision or guidance.

So many times we are just happy to have them; we dare not scare them by telling them what we want them to do.

But wait.  It seems that there are some waves of change in the news recently that tells me there may be new hope.

Create a society that serves for the sake of others

Servant leadership refers to someone who understands their responsibility to the needs of the people then asks themselves how they can help solve the problems.  In San Diego, the Servant Leadership Institute is partnered with local leaders to create a collaboration where the nonprofit, corporate and faith communities come together to create advisory boards who will serve the local civil society.  This is a paradigm shift from “come help us” to “here is the problem. We think you can make something happen”.

Training at the highest level

At the Presidio, a former military post in San Francisco, a new program is emerging.   Instead of training people to protect the country, the National Center for Service and Innovative Leadership is “committed to developing … cross-sector leaders … pioneering new solutions to social challenges”.  There are other initiatives in other parts of the country with the same mission – looking at current problems and training community leaders on how to collaborate and serve.

Can I get a big hurrah!?  By focusing attention at the highest level – looking at the current social challenges – and then developing leaders who will see these problems with a fresh perspective.  If successful, we can create a whole new generation of nonprofit champions.

These two initiatives are very exciting.  First of all, we must create a society of people who WANT to serve and really understand what that means. We must train them on what the nonprofit needs.  Then help them serve by matching their skills with organizations whose missions have been refined with up-to-date research that fully documents the community needs.

I can’t wait to work with that group of volunteers!


Debbi Stanley is manager of the Blackbaud client success team. As certified fundraising executive, Debbi has raised more than $15 million for nonprofit agencies and is a recognized expert in strategic, succession and resource development planning. During her nonprofit career, she served in many positions including development director for health and human services agencies and she was a successful consultant teaching nonprofits approaches to organizational development that properly leverage resources for project sustainability. Her expertise in situational leadership and her knowledge of funding strategies has helped hundreds of nonprofits do more for their communities. An avid fan, Debbi is blessed to have two sons who are great athletes at both forms of football – the American and the International version.

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