Don’t check your business hat at the door

Most nonprofit board members serve because of a passion for the mission. And while many nonprofit boards carry a certain amount of prestige, status or cachet, most board members would eventually quit if status were the only motivation.

Along with passion, fundraising is essential, so most board members are expected to give or get financial support. Unfortunately, that’s often all that is asked or expected from nonprofit board members, which is a far cry from what is expected of a for-profit corporate board member.

Worse, many business representatives are so busy with their day job that they simply cannot or do not chose to engage in the functioning of the nonprofit board. Indeed, many seem to check their business hat at the door and attend meetings as almost a passive observer. That’s if they attend at all. 

This lack of engagement is a tragic situation for nonprofits. The failure to capitalize on board members” business acumen diminishes the value of the very people who can be true strategic assets to the nonprofit they passionately support. 

Here are five topics where business thinking makes a difference:

1. Ask about controls. 

Your nonprofit, nongovernmental organization (NGO) may not have net income, but it still has a statement of revenue and expense. Ask questions about the sources of revenue and what kinds of expenditure controls are in place. Who is authorized to spend? Financial controls are often the lowest priority in the mind of a passionate NGO staff member or leader. 

2. Ask about staffing levels. 

Most NGOs are heavily reliant on staff and not necessarily on a lot of capital equipment. Ask about the mix of volunteers vs. paid staff members. Every NGO needs volunteers, and the right ones can inject passion and save money. The wrong volunteers can damage the brand and actually cost more to attract, retain and train than paid staff. 

3. Ask about forecasting.

Many NGO leaders and staff are eternal optimists about revenue-raising success. Make certain you watch the forecasts carefully. Spend time evaluating the planning process: How does the executive director or president do the budget and the actual forecasts? Start watching carefully how successful the staff is in forecasting and hitting budgets. Revenue shortfalls are common in NGOs. Will you get early warnings in time? Are you paying close attention?

4. Ask about fundraising.

In most businesses, product sales generate revenue. Sales management and selling skills are the keys to success. In NGOs, fundraising requires superior selling skills, yet not all NGO leaders have sales experience. Often, too much attention is paid to the passion of the leader and not enough on the selling skills. Shortfalls here, and in the development function, can almost always foreshadow revenue shortfalls, and even organization failure.

5. Ask about management. 

Drill down on how much leadership and management skill the president has. Even if a president has the passion and skills to effectively fundraise, he or she may have little or no experience in actually leading and managing an organization. If you want success, evaluate this quickly. 

Gerry Czarnecki is founder and chairman of the nonprofit National Leadership Institute (nationalleadershipinstitute.org), which helps boards of nonprofit organizations become strategic assets to the leadership team. His extensive background as a C-suite executive and CEO is coupled with current board leadership of corporate and nonprofit organizations. He is also chairman and CEO of the Deltennium Group. Contact him at 561.293.3726 or gmc@deltennium.com. ?

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky



Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.