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Down and dirty Featured

9:07am EDT January 31, 2003
A widespread misconception about serving on the board of directors of a nonprofit organization is that the entire board tackles the myriad issues that face the nonprofit. This isn't necessarily the case.

While the full board is responsible for approving all decisions that fall outside the day-to-day operations duties of the executive director, most of the down-and-dirty work occurs at the committee level.

I learned this shortly after joining the boards of Friendly Inn Settlement and of the Center for Employment Training, through Business Volunteers Unlimited. The committees, I discovered, are comprised of only a few board members and key staff members. As a subgroup, the committee develops the detailed plans that the full board approve and the executive director and his or her staff execute.

As with any nonprofit organizational board structure, at regular full board meetings, progress from each of the committees is reported by the committee chairman. If any of the committees' actions require board approval, the issue is discussed and voted upon.

At Friendly Inn, I joined the marketing and development committee. Gerri Burns, the organization's executive director, suggested that my background in journalism and understanding of public relations would be an asset in helping Friendly Inn better get its message out to the community, as well as to improve upon its marketing materials and ability to raise funds.

Our first task was to redesign a presentation about the organization, which was to be given in front of a funding group that supports Friendly Inn and its mission. The committee met three times in the two months prior to the presentation.

Between meetings, committee members analyzed organizational data, information and previous presentations. We e-mailed ideas and comments back and forth, then compared notes during the meetings.

The final product was an updated presentation that not only succeeded in projecting the organization's mission, programs and accomplishments, but also received high praise from the prospective funding organization, which remarked that our executive director arrived more prepared than many of her peers.

At CET, I volunteered for the annual fund committee although I had never engaged firsthand in fund-raising. But because my wife has spent more than a decade as a professional fund-raiser, I figured if I ran into trouble, I lived with an expert who could help me get through it.

Our committee met monthly from July through November to develop the first real annual fund campaign that CET had undertaken in its short history. We discussed realistic fund-raising goals, potential targets for donations and potential strategies for accomplishing our goals, and worked together to draft a letter and supporting materials to send to prospects.

In December 2002, when we had finally agreed upon and developed everything for the campaign, we launched it to high expectations. The results will play themselves out over the next year.

Next entry: A breakdown of typical committees and their responsibilities.

Editor's note: Executive Editor Dustin Klein is chronicling his experiences of involvement with Northeast Ohio nonprofit organizations. SBN will publish excerpts from his diary on an ongoing basis.