New for the 2015 MNA Conference is a special registration rate for board members of nonprofits. Board members who are not otherwise employed by a nonprofit are invited to attend the main conference (Thursday and Friday) for a discounted rate of $150.
MNA Board Chair Russ Cargo, CEO of Helena Industries, and Vice Chair Mary Peterson, Executive Director of Eagle Mount Bozeman sat down with Liz Moore, MNA Executive Director to discuss the return on investment for board members attending this year’s conference.
Liz Moore: We’re offering a special board rate this year that nets a 25-60% discount for board member registration. Why should an organization consider sending board members?
Mary Peterson: Here’s the thing I know, if there are 7,000 nonprofits there are at least 21,000 people in the state who are board members . . . working their hearts out for good causes. Probably closer to 70,000. Then we know that at least 40,000 are working with no staff; it’s just the boardmaking it work.
Russ Cargo: And no one can be expected to do a job unless they know what their responsibilities are and what the objectives of the job are. I always believe that professional development for board members is just as important as it is for any other kind of job, paid or not.
Liz: How would you approach a board member about attending?
Russ: We often come onto boards because of an interest in the mission, and I don’t know that people who are not employed in the nonprofit sector have an appreciation for the body of knowledge and depth of understanding that exists. Seeing the scope of the nonprofit sector, in addition to access to knowledge, makes a much bigger impression.
Mary: And, executives understand that their work doesn’t happen in isolation, but for the board member . . . it’s harder to get a sense of the larger context. There is a whole network supporting your work. It lets board members appreciate you more.
Liz: We know it’s difficult for board members to find time for professional development.
Mary: This is a question of if you only have one day, what day do you do? Find the day that speaks to your most urgent need. I look at the Thursday lineup and see there is so much there for boards.
Russ: The time really has to do with the commitment to the organization. If you are serious about being a board member – I think it’s important for you to recognize that is going to take time. It should be part of orientation and recruitment process. Having a resource like the MNA conference would be easily justified because of the value. Someone that is serious is willing to devote a day or two a year.
Liz: In your involvement with boards over the years, what training needs have you seen?
Mary: It’s always advocacy and fundraising they (board members) mark themselves down on. This is a way to increase the board’s comfort level with their responsibilities.
Russ: Understanding the financing of nonprofits . . . and beyond reading financial statements to thinking about the asset allocations. Are we using our assets to the greatest advantage? What are the strategies behind either spending or not spending money? So few boards have received the training they need to provide this kind of leadership.
Liz: As a CEO, what would you see as most valuable for a board member?
Russ: It’s difficult for an executive to move the organization as aggressively as they might want to without the support and buy in of the board. I always go back to that friend of mine who grew up in Choteau. He used to say “two heads are better than one even if one is a cabbage head.” When you have a group together discussing almost anything the outcome is so much richer when there are multiple voices.
Mary: Three things –
- Board members are concerned about liability, good practice, whether the organization is staffed or not. They need to assure themselves that their organization is operating in the legal and ethical bounds. Just to reduce your fear and stress level.
- Every board I’ve been involved with – the board feels like “I wish we were better at advocating for this cause.” This whole conference is on story – how to tell the story. If you had just one board member go back and train the others, fire them up, you will be ahead of 90% of other nonprofits in the state.
- Board members are the movers and shakers in our communities. You ought to just go meet the other movers and shakers.
Liz: Anything else?
Mary: When both staff and board are able to attend, the returns are huge. You are on the same page. Your organization has a big move to make, and you have a huge advantage if you’re both on the same page. You’re learning together, and in between you’re talking together. This is the gift of time that will propel your organization forward.
Russ: For an executive, that old saw that its’s lonely at the top is true. Though there are some that might rather be left alone (laughs) having a team operating creatively and generatively is so much healthier.
A Sampling of Concurrent Sessions Recommended for Boards
A3 Building the Leadership Bench: Succession Planning for Boards and Staff – one of the country’s pre-eminent nonprofit leaders will engage board members in the topic of planning for leadership succession.
A5 Mile-High Ethics: Elevating Standards in Philanthropy – board members will gain an understanding of their role in maintaining an ethical framework and culture.
B6 Collective Action Under the Big Sky – this will give board members experience interacting with foundations and government on topics Montanans care about.
C6 Stand for your Mission: Mastering Board Advocacy – this session is ideal for the Executive Director and board member to attend together; it gives board members tools to speak up on behalf of the mission.
C6 Fundraising Compliance: 4 (or More) Things to Master – this will show board members the information they need to help the organization maintain legal compliance in fundraising.
D1 The Central Asia Institute Story: A Case Study on Responsibility, Accountability, and Transparency – learn what every board member should know about their legal responsibilities in upholding the organization’s accountability and transparency.
D2 Building Blocks for a Better Board – this is an ideal session for the first time board member, and a good pick for board and staff to attend together.