“Somebody told me I just need a couple of people on the board to help me get started.”
“I want my friends on the Board because we are comfortable with each other and care about the cause.”
If you are starting a charity and have had these thoughts you are not alone. In fact, most charities start with a founder and their friends, even though it’s not the recommended best practice.
The board of directors serves many roles. In a perfect world, charities would be founded by a group of like-minded people who through research and consensus create the mission, vision, and bylaws, then find an executive director to carry out the mission.
This is not usually the case. More often, one person identifies a problem in need of a solution. They define a mission and put together a Board of friends and family with some degree of interest or support. The founder often has limited experience in nonprofit management. With limited access to affordable nonprofit start-up training, they figure things out through internet searches and intuition.
So, let’s create a better choice. Charities are still most likely to be founded by one person with a passion. If this describes you, think about creating your board of directors in two steps. First, share your idea with others, early and often. This is work that thrives when it’s built from problem-solving with others.
As you are planning, pull together a few confidantes and ask them to be on a time-limited advisory board. Use this group to help you:
Be sure these great friends are aware they will transition off the Advisory Board after incorporation and a election of a permanent Board. Then, be prepared to explain that FRIENDS DON’T ASK FRIENDS TO SERVE ON A BOARD OF DIRECTORS.
In a nutshell, Board Members should be free of conflict of interest. Close friends cannot provide true oversight, set a salary, and provide performance reviews for a peer (or family member).
The second major reason for keeping friends and family off your permanent Board is because of credibility. A Board of Directors lends trustworthiness to a charity. If your board is made of friends and family, you lose that credibility and can lose a significant amount of trust from donors. In the event of a mistake or problem, having a board with friends and family can make it difficult to rebuild trust with funders and donors.
There are several more major reasons not to have friends and family not to serve on your Board of Directors, but these are two reasons to consider immediately. Let them support you in an unofficial capacity and thank them sincerely for filling such an important early role.
Mentor Kimberly Massey
In addition to my work in the social impact field, I have a great husband of 27 years and an incredible 20 year old daughter. Our family lives in central Mississippi and we provide a loving, but sometimes chaotic home to two awesome dogs and a turtle.
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