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Smart Giving: Look Who’s on the Board

Whether you’re an individual, company or foundation, making a significant contribution, you can get a good idea of an organization’s vitality and prospects for success by taking a look at who’s on the board.

Whether you’re an individual, company or foundation, making a significant contribution, you can get a good idea of an organization’s vitality and prospects for success by taking a look at who’s on the board.

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As the editor and co-Founder of the Corporate Library, Nell Minow said in a recent Financial Times article about for-profit boards, that “in the years before its collapse…as with most of the banks, Lehman’s board had almost no expertise in the kinds of financial instruments and transactions that were an essential part of its balance sheet.” She gave an example of an audit committee of a company that in 1986 had just two members; “neither had expertise in accounting or finance; and one was O.J. Simpson.”

For nonprofits as with for-profits, it is essential for the board of directors to be highly purposeful in considering the mission and goals of the enterprise and to identify and recruit a group of individuals with the diversity of experience, expertise, and perspectives to create an ambitious vision, establish and achieve a vital revenue model, and build and implement high impact programs that address vital community needs.

When deciding where to make your charitable contributions, you should be able to find a list of board members on the nonprofit’s website, which should include their professional titles and affiliations, and ideally, brief bios. The board should be comprised of people with relevant and diverse backgrounds, and you should be able to see the logic. Generally speaking, there should be a mix of people with expertise in business and strategy, law, finance, accounting, and the substance of the work of the organization.

In many cases, you will be asked to make a substantial contribution by someone you know who is already supporting the organization. In those cases, you have an opportunity to ask your friend or colleague how they became involved and about their familiarity with an organization. And do consider how you, your company, or your foundation might even help the nonprofit become stronger by contributing expertise as well.

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About the author

Korngold provides strategy consulting to global corporations on sustainability, facilitating corporate-nonprofit partnerships, and training and placing hundreds of business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards for 20+ years. She provides strategy and board governance consulting to NGO/nonprofit boards, foundations, and educational and healthcare institutions.

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