Interview with a [Non profit] Board Member
(Note: This paper was written in the late 2020/early 2021 as part of a Non-profit management course)
How long have you served on the board?
The board member I interviewed serves on the board of an after school educational advancement nonprofit. The board member is also involved in various nonprofit activities such as a free tax clinic for low-income persons. While serving at the tax clinic, the board member built relationships with community members, including people from the after school educational advancement nonprofit.
The nonprofit focuses on immigrants and refugee populations from Africa and other immigrant communities. This population faces various barriers, including language barriers that can impact their ability to integrate into the community fully. The board member met another member of the board during his time at the free tax clinic and had invited him to serve on the board of the after school educational advancement nonprofit three years ago.
Why did you decide to serve on this board specifically, and any board generally?
The clientele in this nonprofit are children coming from a different part of the world. They are not conversant with how the educational system in the US works. Access to education is important for these children so they can graduate high school and prepare for college. Therefore, it is vital to have someone mentor the children and youth as they navigate this process because they have so many potentials in them to offer society. Suppose the children do not have the opportunity; in that case, the link will be broken. Those children cannot offer their gifts and intellectual abilities, which will be a loss for society.
Do you know the Vision and Mission of the organization you are serving?
The broad vision is to uplift children and provide every form of support through secondary education as the children and youth transition to college. The nonprofits also provide parents of the children with literacy classes and other legal support to be stable in the community.
What are the most challenging issues you face as a board member?
The role of the board is to support the management of the organization. The board is not to rubber-stamp (approve) or perform a role superior to the management. The board comes together and think about how to bring finances to the pocket of the organization. The board asks itself, “what are the strategies to bring more money in?” That is the biggest role, to ensure donations come in because the organization is not generating other income. Ensuring financial sustainability prevents situations where activities become streamlined because inadequate funds are coming in. Every year, there is the challenge of making sure that there are enough funds for programs.
What are the greatest joys of serving on the board?
Every year there is an anniversary, and students make presentations in various forms. Some students have gone to college and are doing so well. One student that passed through the nonprofit has come back to serve on the board. These show that the program is successful, that the program is working, and doing what it was created to do. Children and youth are not falling through the cracks but following through on their education.
What do you see as your greatest contribution to the agency that you serve?
I would not attach any contribution to myself. The board is a group of people who have come together to help the nonprofit attain its vision and goals. Even if a board member doesn’t attend meetings all the time, there is still that commitment and passion to serve on the board. In these times of the covid outbreak, board members come on zoom, irrespective of where they are geographically located, so the board can keep working together for this common purpose.
It is important for the nonprofit to partner with others in the community. This is the way to let the community know we exist and make our presence valid. There are operational issues that the management works on, and there are other issues where the board has to sit with and agree with the management staff. The board listens and decides on the way forward with the management.
There is no disagreement between the board and management or board members because we see one another as a group of people who have different ideas and willing hearts. We disagree to agree. We do not see anything as redundant. If a suggestion is not immediately relevant, it could be a keystone to another decision making process. The management presents us with activities, and the board asks questions to understand the rationale for going on that path. The board and management chaperone each other so we don’t stray away from what the common goal is.
Connection between interview and personal reflections
The board member was very fluent in articulating the vision, mission, and theory of change of the organization and why the work the nonprofit does matters for the population the nonprofit serves. Although the board member did not use specific words — “impactful programming, relationship building, and an integrative approach” — as stated on the nonprofit’s website, the board member was very conversant and engaged with the work. This board also recognizes the importance of understanding their customer and their needs for strategic planning purposes, creating programs for children, young adults, and their parents.
The nonprofit is also at the point where it is committed to a more effective mission. As the nonprofit continues it programs, it also engages in strategic planning on how to allocate resources to achieve optimum results. This nonprofit has grown beyond the entrepreneurial, collectivity, and formalization states. There is a clear direction, internal systems have been added, teamwork has been developed. Although this interview did not explore the intricacies of collecting monitoring and evaluation data, the interview flow shows that the nonprofit tracks participants in its programs and monitors the outcomes of its participants, for example, those who go on to college and graduate. The nonprofit keeps ensuring revitalization through ensuring resource availability and remaining focused on its vision and mission and is on the path of continued maturity.
The board members have great interest and a sense of ownership of the profit. They have been able to grow beyond the challenges of a divided board. The board works together as a team with the management. There is also a good flow of communication and interaction of ideas between the board and the nonprofit’s management. The board members are also very invested in the nonprofit’s financial sustainability so the nonprofit can continue to offer its full menu of programs. The board is at the governing/managing board stage. It has formalized decision-making processes. There is a balance of power between the staff and the board and the board is focused on policy, planning, and oversight responsibilities.
One main takeaway from the interview for me is that board members are willing to be accountable to the organization and each other. There is an internal team spirit that flows from within the organization outward. This sense of teamwork leads to partnerships and collaborations with stakeholders in the community and greater impact.