Category Archives: Nonprofit Boards

New Community Engagement Opportunity for Young Professionals in Akron

BVU YP Leader CorpsProgram Prepares Young Professionals to Grow, Connect and Lead Akron’s Nonprofit Community

BVU: The Center for Nonprofit Excellence today announced a new opportunity for young professionals to become engaged leaders in the community. The YP Leader Corps is an educational program designed to provide young talent with leadership development training that will culminate with each participant being matched to serve on an Akron nonprofit board. The program is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“Akron wants and needs more young professionals to get involved in community leadership to encourage long-term engagement and attachment to the city,” said Kyle Kutuchief, Knight Foundation program director for Akron. “This program will help to do just that by fostering talented workers and introducing them to new opportunities to contribute through board service.”

Participants in BVU’s YP Leader Corps will attend a monthly, half-day workshop for three months. Topics covered will include trends in the nonprofit sector, leadership styles, mastering effective meetings and BVU’s acclaimed Role of the Board program.The young leaders will then participate in BVU’s signature board matching program that will align them with nonprofit boards that meet their interests and seeks their skills.

“We are excited to offer the YP Leader Corps program for young professionals who want a leadership role in advancing the Akron community,” said Brian Broadbent, President and CEO of BVU.

Young professionals interested in participating in the YP Leader Corps must be between the ages of 25 and 40, and submit a completed application on or before August 30, 2015. Fall 2015 program dates are October 6, November 3 and December 1. A portion of the program cost is being underwritten by Knight Foundation. The program is being offered for a fee of $500, which may be paid by the individual, his/her employer or a combination thereof. Scholarships are available.

For more information and to apply, visit or contact Elizabeth Winter at  330-762-9670, extension 1 or


About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit



Nonprofit Merger and Collaboration: Open the Discussion


Post by BVU Staff:  Brian Broadbent, President & CEO

Two-and-a-half years ago Cleveland-based Business Volunteers Unlimited (BVU) and Akron-based Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE) merged into one organization, BVU: The Center for Nonprofit Excellence.  Looking back, this was a positive step for our organizations due to the strengths of each.  Although the merger process was not easy, we are enjoying the fruits of a vision led by our boards.  The CNE board reached out to BVU’s board to get the ball rolling.  A small task force of both boards and senior staff drove the process by openly discussing any roadblocks.  Because of its success, we have been asked to speak on the subject and help other organizations through the process.  Many community leaders want to see mergers happen but sadly they are a rarity.

Why are boards and staff resistant to explore options?  The Chronicle of Philanthropy published an article last month, “Mergers Might Happen More Often If Nonprofits Focused on Workers’ Needs,” authored by Katie Smith Milway and Maria Orozco.  This article gives valuable insights to what we have seen.  While the Great Recession of 2011 led corporations to pursue mergers at a fast pace, the nonprofit world did not follow suit.  They cite two facts: 1.) Few organizations exist to make matches between prospects, and 2.) Little money is available to ensure that the senior staff have financial incentives in that they may lose their jobs.  In 2009, Denise Zeman, President & CEO, St. Luke’s Foundation, and Deborah Vesy, President & CEO, Deaconess Foundation, invited 80 nonprofits in Northeast Ohio to discuss the spectrum of collaborations.  They were concerned about the decreasing availability of dollars from funders and the need to consider alternatives, one of which is mergers. These foundations offered to provide consulting support to nonprofits interested in exploring collaborations. The foundations’ leadership opened dialogue on a sensitive topic which resulted in three mergers and one consolidation.  However, since then it has been quiet.

Why the unwillingness to open this type of discussion?  Is it the loss of leadership roles for board and staff?  The daunting amount of work? Anxiety in negotiating with funders to prevent cuts in funding when two entities are combined with no loss of services?  Founders’ (board and staff) lack of flexibility? Name, mission, and branding of the new entity?  All are emotionally charged issues.  An unwanted outcome is that mergers could be reactive due to a depletion of cash reserves and lack of capacity — rather than being a proactive step.

In the next 10 years, hundreds of baby boomer nonprofit chief executives will retire.  This is an opportunity for new leadership to consider a merger or collaboration.  When conducting strategic reviews, we must always ask the question, “Are there better ways to advance our mission by working with another organization?  If so, what are the possibilities in aligning ourselves more effectively?”    It is up to the board and chief executive to determine if it a merger or collaboration is warranted. Remember that the act of an initial investigation does not equal commitment to moving forward.

The Foundation Center's nonprofit collaboration resource page provides a wealth of information on nonprofit mergers, joint programming, and other forms of collaboration.

The Foundation Center’s nonprofit collaboration resource  provides a wealth of information on nonprofit mergers, joint programming, and other forms of collaboration.

Considering a merger or collaboration?  Where do you start? Best practice is to look at complementary organizations serving different geographies or finding a continuum of services that could be expanded with the same constituency, with both leading to savings in administrative costs.  There are three stages of review.

1.  Feasibility – looking at the ‘fit’ of mission, service offerings, board structure, staff organization, geographic reach and culture.

2.  Due diligence – financial sustainability, HR policies and benefits, by-laws, etc. This is where the attorneys and accountants need to be involved.

3. Pre and post-merger integration – all of the steps that help the board and staff to integrate.

BVU and CNE addressed 66 integration steps.  Although daunting at the time, our merged organization has supported us in growing and delivering on our mission.  A valued, but unanticipated, outcome has been the respect of the community.

Get the Governance Right – It Matters!

Post by BVU Staff:  Elizabeth Voudouris, Executive Vice President

Governance = Strong Nonprofit BoardOne key element of a healthy nonprofit organization is a strong board.  A strong board:

1. Can clearly identify its work and its role for a particular nonprofit at any point in time.

2. Is comprised of people who bring the relevant skills, expertise, diversity, networks and passion to get the job done.

3. Doesn’t just happen. It requires a tremendous amount of attention, creativity, strategy and patience.

Through our work with hundreds of nonprofit boards each year, we see that the strongest boards continue to develop and evolve good governance practices in order to provide relevant leadership.

Strong boards:

  • Focus on the best way to achieve the mission.  A crisis nursery developed a strategic plan that included a significant expansion project to serve more children and keep more families together. The success of the plan was dependent on using the strong marketing and business background of the CEO together with the board, whose duties were to expand networks and visibility of the organization in the broader community. The board also provided sound oversight for the growing programs and finances.
  • Concentrate on the larger opportunities and challenges facing the organization, and allow staff to manage the day to day operations.   A board identified and pursued potential strategic partners to ensure that their mission was preserved; they formed a strategic alliance with a similar organization, and eventually they merged.   Board members with the relevant skills and expertise led this process and ensured their good work continued.
  • Understand the relationship between board and staff, and the significance of a positive and healthy partnership.   Establish structures and practices to work effectively together.  Monthly communications from the chief executive to board members, annual individual meetings to help board members identify new ways to engage with the organization, constructive and thoughtful annual performance reviews, and open and transparent communications to build a culture of trust.
  • Plan for the board’s future.  The board develops annual succession plans and is always grooming future leaders.  Future leaders serve as committee chairs so that they can demonstrate their leadership to the board and staff, learn more about an important aspect of the organization, and determine if they have the time and/or interest to move into leadership.
  • Build committee structures that utilize board and staff time effectively.  Meaningful work is accomplished in strong working committees.  Strong working committees have an effective committee chair, strong staff support, annual calendar of meeting dates, annual priorities, and relevant agendas and publish minutes for the full board to view.  Strong committees are comprised of people who bring relevant experience, expertise, networks and diversity to the work of the committee.
  • Ensure that there is a viable business model and financial systems in place.  If this is not already in place, consider engaging a pro bono consultant.   BVU engaged a pro bono consultant to help a local nonprofit, and the consultant restructured all financial systems and reports, and developed a business model to sustain the organization’s diverse programs.  The pro bono consultant worked closely with the chief executive and the board, and eventually joined the board. This project gave the nonprofit the ability to attract larger grants and sustain programs that meet the needs in the community.
  • Prepare carefully for board and committee meetings.  Agendas and materials go out 4-7 days in advance.  Board meetings do not consist exclusively of presentations by committee chairs or staff, but instead are used to engage board members in meaningful discussions around topics that are relevant to the mission and vision.  Board members leave these meetings feeling informed, engaged, and confident that they are vital contributors to the future of the organization.
  • Regard each board seat as precious. Written board member expectations are clear to all current and future board members.  Board members are held accountable to those expectations annually.  Board member terms are not renewed automatically, but considered carefully based on the changing needs of the organization and interests of the board member.

There is no magic bullet or “one size fits all” solution for stronger boards.  BVU’s work with nonprofits over the years has given us great insight into effective practices and policies that can help strengthen an organization.  Strong boards take work, but by staying focused on your mission, the work of your board, and ensuring that you have the right board members sitting around the table,  your nonprofit can position itself to navigate today’s challenges and leverage future opportunities.

Without a Succession Plan, The Mission of Your Organization is in Jeopardy

Post by BVU Staff: Brian Broadbent, President & CEO


What is succession planning, and why does your organization need it?  Succession Planning is  “replacement planning” for key staff roles in your organization. Succession planning for nonprofits is routinely overlooked and yet a vital HR process.  So, why is it often overlooked?

Nonprofit boards often don’t want to consider losing their outstanding chief executive. Also, there may be reluctance on the part of the chief executive (especially if he or she is the founder) to think about transitioning leadership of the organization to someone else.  Whatever the reason, in the end, often neither the board nor the chief executive address it.  However, the day will eventually come when the chief executive retires or resigns and then the scramble will be on to fill the void.

A study sponsored by Washington’s Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation found that 66% of chief executives are planning to leave their job within 5 years.  Only 17% reported that their organization had a written succession plan.  Ironically, 33% of chief executives believe that their nonprofit board will hire the right successor when they leave.  I recently spoke with a chief executive who is adamant that he will not prepare a succession plan because he is fearful that addressing his succession might hasten his departure.  Bad answer!

Why should your organization prepare a succession plan?

  1. The mission of the organization is in jeopardy without thoughtful leadership transitions. Strong leadership is a critical component of an organization’s success or failure. The board must be prepared for the inevitable.
  2. The board needs time to choose a successor with not only the right leadership capabilities, but also someone that will fit into the culture of the organization. A broad list of candidates should be considered in advance of a transition. Boards have a responsibility to find the best candidate and conduct a thoughtful ‘non-urgent’ review. They need to be comfortable that no stone is unturned and that internal and external candidates are considered.
  3. Internal candidates need time to develop. My personal bias is to give a person who is already employed at an organization the opportunity to grow professionally for a couple of years. Statistics show that nonprofits chose an internal candidate only 40% of the time because boards fear they don’t have the fundraising or financial review expertise. Nonprofits that commit to succession planning give their current staffs better opportunities for advancement.
  4. Thoughtful community connections need to be developed with organizational staff beyond the chief executive.  I have seen organizations where all of the key donor and foundation relationships reside solely with the chief executive. If the chief executive leaves, the organization may suffer a reduction in funding until the next chief executive builds donor and funder confidence.

At BVU: The Center for Nonprofit Excellence, we recommend a succession plan that addresses all of the key leadership positions with candidates for both short-term and long-term succession as well as a process to implement the plan with time for professional development. Sorting this out early prepares your staff and board for orderly transitions.  Succession plans should be prepared for key staff that have deep institutional knowledge and/or are in complex leadership roles.

Don’t put off addressing this critical process.  It is vital for your organization and helpful for your funders, staff and board to know you are prepared. And most importantly, consider the consequences of not putting your organization in the best possible position to serve those that depend on you.


Engage the Next Generation of Leaders: Attracting Young Professionals to your Nonprofit Board

Post by BVU Staff:  Julie Clark, Sr. Director, Leadership Programs

KeyBank’s Millennial KBNG met with 16 nonprofits in a speed-dating event, where groups of Key employees rotated around the nonprofits.  Participants learned about direct service volunteering, associate board, young professional group, and committee opportunities with a variety of nonprofits serving Northeast Ohio.

KeyBank’s Millennial KBNG met with 16 nonprofits in a speed-dating event, where groups of Key employees rotated around the nonprofits. Participants learned about direct service volunteering, associate board, young professional group, and committee opportunities with a variety of nonprofits serving Northeast Ohio.

Millennials are tech savvy, ambitious, team-oriented, creative and generous with their time. Based on our work with nonprofits and businesses, we hear many times that nonprofits are looking for ways to reach Millennials to build a future base of supporters and volunteers for their organization and its mission. At the same time, businesses are trying to figure out the best way to meet the requests of their younger employees to give back and make a difference, something that the millennial generation has grown up with and is part of who they are.

The Millennial Impact Research is the most comprehensive research on Millennials age 20-30 and the engagement preferences of the next generation of donors, volunteers and leaders.  Based on their research, Millennials want to see more opportunities to lead on nonprofit boards and committees.  They feel that young professional groups and events provide a great opportunity to get to know an organization.   Also, they found that engaging Millennials requires hands-on relationships and long term commitments.

So, how can nonprofits connect with the next generation of supporters?

  1. Learn how Millennials connect and engage with a cause:  Millennials are tech savvy and the first place they run to is Google to find out more about your organization. Make sure your website shows up on search engines and don’t forget about Facebook, 55% of young professionals reported going to social media (a close second to web searches) to find out more about a cause.
  2. Take a look at your current volunteers.  Are you utilizing them to their fullest potential?  Could you use a young professional’s perspective on your board?
  3. Try to connect with the Young Professionals groups in your area.  Young Nonprofit Professionals Network has an interactive map to locate chapters in your area.
  4. Make sure that you are engaging Millennials in a way that they will respond.  BVU has a long history of matching professionals to nonprofit boards.  When we were thinking of ideas to recruit young professionals, we tailored our board matching process to them.  We started hosting our Linking New Leaders event in 2008 which is a “speed dating” event to introduce young professionals in the business community to nonprofit leaders in short order and quick succession, spending 5 minutes with each to learn about the organization and their opportunities for getting involved.  We have matched more than one hundred young professionals to nonprofits that can use their skills and expertise in a variety of roles.  Just last month, close to 80 individuals started the process and were introduced to amazing organizations within our community.

In the end, it’s about individuals connecting with nonprofits that both meet their passions and need their skills and perspective.

Nonprofit Board Member Recruitment 101

Post by BVU Staff:  Julie Clark, Sr. Director, Leadership Programs

how-to-recruitThe February 28th issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy featured an article titled, “Nonprofits Go All Out to Find and Recruit Stronger Board Members.”  In the article, a number of tips are suggested for how nonprofits can build their boards to more effectively serve their missions.

The key to board recruitment is defining what you need and using ALL available networks to spread the compelling message about your work and the need for board members.  A few key steps along the way:

FIRST — Determine your ideal board composition based on the important work your organization is undertaking right now.  What are the skills, constituent representation, diversity, access to resources and networks that you need to accomplish your work?  For example, if you are an organization that focuses on helping young people be prepared for the workforce and higher education, you would probably want to ensure that you have business professionals in those industries as well as representatives from higher education so they can help you keep your programming and services relevant.  Identify the gaps so you know what skills and attributes you’re seeking.

NEXT — Use your networks to develop a list of potential board members to contact.  You never know who is out there who might have a passion for your work and the skills to help you advance your mission!  Ask board members to suggest individuals who meet the needs you’ve identified so that your Board Development Committee can reach out to them.  Professional associations, universities, and young professionals’ groups can all be resources as well.  And of course, we would suggest that you contact BVU regarding our board matching services.  We learn about your needs and then play “matchmaker” to try and find candidates from Northeast Ohio businesses that fit those needs.  Our process is painless for the nonprofits and can be another resource for you as you build and refine your board over time.

AND THIRDLY — Be very open in your conversations with potential candidates. Invite them to coffee or for a tour of your facility and have a very candid conversation with them about the organization and what’s going on, how their skills/background fit into what you’re looking for, and share a full overview of what you expect out of board members.

LASTLY — Once you have individuals “on board,” be sure and provide a full orientation and continued ongoing education about your organization.  Maybe even have them “buddy up” with a current board member who can guide them along through the learning stage as they join the board.

The “care and feeding” of board members (potential and current) is serious business.  Building the board is one of the most important duties of board members, and done right, can immensely impact the effectiveness of your organization.