Nonprofit Board Development Trains, Equips Community Leaders

ballot for neighborhood nonprofit board officers

Nonprofit board development training sessions for your neighborhood and community leaders should be a regular occurrence. Always include finding and training new leaders who can think strategically and engage youth and diverse groups in your planning for such events.

If leaders are well-liked, groups take a well-functioning board for granted. But people change, households move, and leaders often burn out or fall in love with a new interest. You need geographic community leaders waiting in the wings.

Whether you have actually formed a not-for-profit corporation and applied for IRS tax-exempt status or not, this page is equally relevant. Almost every community or neighborhood could use more leadership development.

Why You Need to Train More Leaders

My experience as a frequent neighborhood participant and a consultant suggests that often a group could accomplish much more if more leaders were available to chair another fundraiser, organize a committee, serve as a block captain, or initiate newcomers into how to fight City Hall more regularly.

From that perspective, almost all of you need to be engaged in nonprofit board development of some type every few months.

As we talk with community organization founders and leaders in our own communities, and as we hear from you our web visitors, we are increasingly impressed (and depressed!) about how many of you are operating with vacancies on your board. That represents missed opportunities for additional types of representation.  Therefore we're recommending that you consider offering  board training to additional potential leaders. Of course, if you may want to train future leadership at a different time and place so that your nonprofit board development exercises become a bonding experience for the official board.

You particularly should consider a nonprofit board development program if you have elements of your community that are under-represented in your organization in general or in leadership roles in particular.

Elevating one or more members of the under-served group to leadership can bring your organization a broader perspective, wider involvement, and greater respect as a more politically potent organization.

This might apply to young people, minorities, newcomers, women, men, or whoever in your community is less likely to be active. But these new folks will need some training.

The book we recommend to the typical visitor to this site is Community Leadership Handbook: Framing Ideas, Building Relationships and Mobilizing Resources.

For a wealth of online resources on board development, you could start with material from the National Council of Nonprofits. In larger metropolitan areas you will find one or more organizations dedicated to nonprofit training, and some universities offer these opportunities as well.

Nonprofit Board Development through Mentoring

A common method of developing new leaders is by giving them a minor leadership role, or a major one if you're desperate for a warm body, and giving them a little extra advice, support, and assistance along the way.

Often you can appeal to ego to persuade a person with experience on other boards to serve on yours. Often you can encourage them to volunteer for you if you stress the mentoring opportunities.

Mentoring is most effective if one of you has specifically volunteered for this duty and takes it seriously. Some people will need mentoring for a year or more, and others can draw on previous life experience to catch on in a month or two, depending on the difficulty of the task.

Look for opportunities to do this. Many boards struggle with how to include underrepresented groups without diluting their effectiveness.

Mentoring can be an answer; simply take the leap of faith, find a member of the under-represented community who is motivated to learn, and take a chance. Most neighborhood associations with a lively program have several new leadership roles available each year, so why not spread out the leadership and develop new options for yourself?

But this is important: Some tasks are more critical to your mission and survival than others, so don't appoint an untested person to do the annual fundraiser. But they might be great at representing you at a table at a citywide fair.

If you conscientiously develop new leaders even when you don't see an immediate need for them, two things will happen:

• When you need a leader on short notice, you'll have some good choices.

• When someone emerges as a leader, you may suddenly notice a new need that could be filled by a program requiring a good leader. Voila; you've added program without too much pain.

Evaluating a Nonprofit Board Development Program

When leaders don't have time to mentor, the mentoring process doesn't seem to be doing the trick, or you want to take your game to the next level, you may decide you need to send someone, or several folks, to a formal training program.

Not all programs that purport to develop your board members actually deliver an up-tick in leadership skills. Too often, especially when the program is lecture-based, it serves merely as a refresher course for people who already are leaders.

In an urban area, you probably can find an appropriate leadership training course through a civic organization, United Way, or even a community college. Some rural areas will find that an extension service does a good job in this respect.

But in many locations, you have to either watch for particular events that would highlight some aspect of being a board member, or maybe send people to a three-day seminar out of town.

To evaluate a training program, ask these questions:

• Does the program include participatory experiences so that people learn by doing or through role play?

• Does the experience emphasize sharing these experiential learnings?

• Was the program soundly developed as a cohesive whole, or is it merely a series of disjointed talks or lectures?

• Does the curriculum lend itself to neighborhood or community work, or is it so business-oriented that your organization will see only indirect benefits?

Related Articles:
chessboard strategic planning
SWOT Analysis

people pyramid graphic
Start a Community Development Corporation

neighbors meeting on grassy lawn
Start a Neighborhood Association

If you can find a great nonprofit board development program, gladly sponsor attendance by people in your neighborhood, and then give them important roles after they finish.

Try to find unlikely or inexperienced leaders who have some personality trait that makes you think they might be able to inspire others.

But avoid people who are so cranky or contentious that no one wants to be around them. Nonprofit board development courses aren't a substitute for therapy, and a strong but unpleasant person likely will still be a grouch after even the most sophisticated course.

How to Grow Your Own Nonprofit Board Development Program

An alternative to consider is banding together with other likely groups and finding the talent to put together a course or workshop series on the subject.

If you live in a rural area, you might think that's impossible, but if you consider your entire county or a couple of counties, you could probably find church groups, women's groups, farm groups, school boards, conservation boards, subdivision trustees, parent-teacher organizations, 4-H clubs, and a few individual businesspersons who would like to participate.

Turn to an extension service, college, or wherever you might find expertise to ask people to speak and lead.

An interesting option for you if you can't find teachers for your nonprofit board development program would be to study a book together, and rotate the leadership of the week's discussion and activities among the members.

If you're clear that there should be an activity, as well as talk-talk-talk, this could be quite a productive course. We recommend Smart Communities: How Citizens and Local Leaders Can Use Strategic thinking to Build a Brighter Future by Suzanne W. Morse.

If you're in an urban area, call on business or outstanding community leaders, university professors of communications or urban studies, and any groups that give technical assistance to community groups, which might include an urban extension service or a center at a university.

Many universities and community colleges will offer courses or one-day workshops applicable to nonprofits and community organizing. In a large city at least one university will have a continuing education center for nonprofits.

Urban participants can be recruited through civic organizations, service clubs (a generic name for the Rotary Club, Lions Club, and so forth), articles in newspapers and local blogs, radio shows, notices sent to large organizations and networks, and mailings to neighborhood organizations.

A television station might be interested in talking about your leadership development program on a magazine format program, especially if you can talk them into being a co-sponsor. Talk to your public television management.

An advantage for your group in putting together the nonprofit board development series is that it might become a minor money-maker for you, as you charge a fee to other groups.

Content of Neighborhood Board Development Retreat

Here's our choice of what should be included in a board development process aimed at quality neighborhood leadership:

  •  Helping participants identify and celebrate leadership skills and experiences they already have. Everyone who's ever been a parent has some leadership skills. Confidence building and debunking the myth that leadership is a secret set of highly specialized skills are important first steps.
  •  Understanding the dynamics of communities enough to identify the assets of the community, in line with the work of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute.
  •  Learning to conduct meetings, participate in meetings, and manage activities in a productive manner.
  •  Understanding group dynamics and how to deal with difficult people, including domineering individuals.
  •  Managing the inevitable conflicts, including both systemic inter-group conflicts that will never go away, and the personal conflicts that can threaten the peacefulness of the group.
  •  Getting plans into action, or you might say DOING SOMETHING! This is a stumbling block for many if not most groups at some point. But a leader has to be able to inspire others to just try something if the path ahead is not clear. If we all jump off the cliff together, and choose a cliff that isn't too high, we can do this.
  •  Evaluating the results of the actions taken and programs presented.
  •  Communicating internally and with the outside world, and understanding the impact of both positive and negative neighborhood publicity on your work.
  •  Enhancing local government relationships whenever possible, and building partnerships with other likely and unlikely allies within the community that share the same goals, or have the potential to do so.

Learning how to fundraise and the responsibility of board members to contribute money themselves or see that there are sufficient funds should be added.

Then depending on your pool of interested groups, you may decide to add to the above soft skills by providing specific topical education in the substantive problems that your groups face. For instance, in a city, you may want to add professional training on topics relevant to city neighborhoods.

Or you might want to just stay home and read and participate in this website a lot! Learn the specific knowledge that gives you credibility as a leader.

If you are in a sophisticated organization or are attempting a complex project, you'll need specialized training for your own leadership and staff.

I'd recommend the workshops, webinars, and so forth of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management as a starting place for exploring what is available.

Lastly, you may need to devote some time and energy to transitioning people from ordinary faithful board members to key leaders. People may lack confidence, experience, or merely the opportunity to step up. If you aim to upgrade the leadership skills of women, we suggest a good free resource, the Nonprofit Leadership Workbook for Women.

  1. Community Development
  2.  >
  3. Community Organizations
  4.  >
  5. Nonprofit Board Development

Subscribe to our monthly e-mail newsletter, called USEFUL COMMUNITY PLUS, which provides you with short features or tips about timely topics for neighborhoods, towns and cities, community organizations, rural environments, and our international friends. Unsubscribe any time. Give it a try.