Being Board Strong
By: Craig Dresang, CEO
The weighty work of a nonprofit board is no small thing. A board holds the power to make an organization live up to its highest calling and to shine its brightest light, but it can also threaten an organization’s purpose and even its very existence.
High-functioning boards know how to harness the best energy and goodwill in a community and use it for good … to create something meaningful and lasting. According to BoardSource, a global resource for nonprofit leaders, “An exceptional board operates on a higher level.” Their time may be spent more wisely, their skills and social networks better leveraged, and their treasure more strategically deployed. Exceptional boards measure organizational impact and evaluate their own performance, discuss and debate issues, and open doors and connections.
The difference between responsible and exceptional lies in thoughtfulness and intentionality, action and engagement, knowledge and communication. A board that is populated with the right people holds the capacity to harness the best energy, and the best intentions in a community and to create something meaningful and lasting.
Sonia Johnson, a civil rights activist and feminist author who once ran for president of the United States, said, “We must remember that one determined person can make a significant difference, but a small group of determined people can change the course of history.” Her words are in keeping with the founding spirit of many nonprofit organizations including YoloCares. Our agency sprouted as an idea from a tiny group of concerned citizens who eventually breathed life into a seedling agency that evolved into both a critical safety net for the most vulnerable members of our community and a State model for community-based palliative care.
In the 1990s when I worked for the president of a Chicago-area university, all university employees were mandated to participate in rigorous and regular leadership-development education. One year, our educator was Millard Fuller, a self-made millionaire, founder of Habitat for Humanity, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom which was given to him from President Bill Clinton.
He told a packed auditorium, “For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people’s love and concern for each other.” He then turned to, and addressed, the university’s board of directors and said, “Be sure you are serving for a cause and not for applause. Fulfill your service to express, not to impress. Don’t strive to make your presence noticed, just make your absence felt. Make a difference. Make your world better. Be a healer, a reconciler, an educator, a servant, a creator of opportunity for those who need it most. Be a spreader of justice and goodwill.”
It was in those sessions that I learned how important it is for a nonprofit board chair and the organization’s CEO to act like co-pilots in the cockpit of a twin-engine jet. It requires both of them working in tandem to steer the plane safely, arrive at the intended destination, and to be able to make a smooth landing in the worst of weather.
When I arrived at YoloCares (then Yolo Hospice) in 2014, I was filling a vacancy created by the recently retired executive director, Keith Volkerts. He had served as the organization’s chief financial officer for a number of years and then as its chief executive. After a few years, once I found my sea legs, I asked Volkerts to consider coming back to the organization as a board member.
Some of my colleagues thought it could be a risky proposition to ask the previous executive director to essentially become my boss. However, the organization has been better off by having access to his experience, perspective, and love of mission. My own ability to lead has also been helped by his support and counsel.
The strength of any organization is rooted in the effectiveness of its board. YoloCares has benefited from exceptionally strong boards and their ability to work with its leadership team, thoughtfully discuss and debate important issues, and anticipate what the organization may need in the future. For nearly 45 years, boards have steered this community treasure through all shapes and sizes of challenges and opportunities.
In the coming year, the communities served by YoloCares will hear much more about the board’s plans for its future.
For information regarding YoloCares board of directors, contact Craig Dresang at 530-758-5566.