Creativity, Flexibility, & Resiliency: Necessary Skills for Nonprofit Board Members

Drexel University’s Gupta Governance Institute and Grant Thornton’s biweekly Nonprofit Directors Dialogue Miniseries features nonprofit leaders and board members as they share insights and strategies for turning today’s challenges into tomorrow’s successes.

What are the lessons learned from the tumultuous events of 2020 that nonprofits and their boards can carry forward into 2021 and 2022?

I think we’ve learned a lot about the importance of creativity, and flexibility and resiliency. I think all of those three things. We’ve learned a lot about the importance of speed and making sure that we are communicating often, even more often perhaps than we were before, because we are all in remote situations. we are not physically together.

I think transparency is another really important thing. In other words, being clear with internal and external audiences about who you are, what you stand for, what you believe, how you behave and potentially what the obstacles and opportunities are. And I think being transparent about that in a way that other people can jump in.

It’s not just about leadership and what they can do for an organization and how they can drive an organization. I think the front lines and the people up and down the chain, however you want to say it, I think everybody needs to be involved and participate, but they need to know what those obstacles and opportunities are and give them an opportunity to weigh.

I believe that a board is really about oversight and strategy, and that organizations should be focused on operations and execution and that is important for organizations. In other words, I shouldn’t be in the day-to-day or telling a CEO of a nonprofit what it is they should be doing.

But at the same time, we, as board members should be sounding boards. And perhaps we should also be responsible to be asking some of the tough questions that maybe we have been reticent before, or we’ve been waiting to ask. I think now it’s really important to ask those questions of leadership and staff.

So that, again, as an organization, you can be really clear about who you are and what you’re doing and who you’re supposed to be serving, because I think that alignment now is going to get you there faster, farther. And I think your donor base and the people that you are responsible to create results for, they’re going to be more in line with what you’re doing and they’re going to understand it better.

Quite frankly, they may be bigger investors as a result of that. And some people get uncomfortable with this word competitors when it comes to nonprofits, but that’s the reality. And I think if you’re not clear about what your mission is and who you serve, there may be another organization that does that better and therefore donors may want to invest in that.