Get on Board

By Hannah Wallace March 31, 2005

It sometimes seems that the same dozen community leaders sit on every nonprofit board in town. But with well over 850 nonprofit organizations in Sarasota alone (not including religious institutions), a vast need exists to fill board positions with a fresh crop of knowledgeable volunteers.

That's why the Nonprofit Resource Center, Young Professionals Group, and Leadership Sarasota County have teamed to train the next generation of board members.

"Lots of organizations are telling us they're having trouble filling board positions, especially the smaller grass roots organizations," says Christie Lewis, director of the Nonprofit Resource Center, part of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. "And we've found there's not enough diversity [on nonprofit boards] in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and culture."

They've started a series of two-day "leadership engagement" seminars called Get on Board, which address board governance and accountability-best practices, fiduciary responsibilities, fund-raising, ethics, the board's role with staff (do not micromanage!) and a host of other critical issues that can make or break a nonprofit's relationship with its board of directors.

The pilot project launched in February drew 35 participants, mostly recent newcomers to the community and many Generation Yers (those born in 1979 or later). Some say they want to get involved in their community for the first time; others already serve on nonprofit boards or subcommittees and are looking for better skill sets.

"We had a great dialogue," Lewis says of the first two-day seminar. "A lot of responsibility and accountability falls on the board. We were not only building that foundation of skills, but also having meaningful dialogue on subjects such as fund raising: Is it ethical to have major donors on the board, for example?"

Lewis says YPG-ers are eager to come to the table to talk about board governance because they realize that, beyond the personal sense of satisfaction of working toward a good cause, serving on nonprofit boards brings young businesspeople increased visibility in the community, as well as sharpening their leadership skills and expanding their community networks.

In return, "A lot [of nonprofits] are looking for YPG-ers specifically because they want fresh new perspectives and they acknowledge that demographic is a growing force in our community," says Lewis. "YPGers have resources and a new perspective to bring to the table."

Angela Massaro-Fain, whose company, Grapevine Communications, donated $116,000 in pro bono services to local nonprofits in 2004, participated in Get on Board because, while she's served on many nonprofit committees, she wanted to get a fuller sense of what being a board member really entails.

"I found it a very enlightening experience," she says. "I didn't know some of the things that take place on boards, such as the legal responsibilities. I know it's not just donating our time, but what am I really signing up for?" I left there quite hyped up.and I made some friends from it."

The next step, says Lewis, is to launch a "board bank," a pool of people interested on serving on local boards.

The Get on Board series will be repeated in September. To participate, contact Lewis at the Nonprofit Resource Center, 556-7102.

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