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A not-for-profit organization is governed by a not-for-profit board. Since it is an organization built on the concept of service and the propagation of culture and the arts. The members of the board can even be considered as volunteers. The organization cannot afford to pay them because the endeavor does not create a profit compared to a traditional business organization.
This is good for the venture because all the money that it earns from fees and donations goes back to the system instead of paying hefty wages to members of the board. However, this complicates the management of the organization because there is no way to demand full-time commitment. Therefore, members of the board must learn to collaborate with all the stakeholders of the said organization in order to achieve its primary goals.
The stakeholders are the members of the community, the supporters, the contributors, consultants hired to perform certain duties, management professionals, and the staff. In Nello McDaniel and George Thorn’s treatise entitled Leading Arts Boards: An Arts Professional’s Guide for Creating and Leading an Effective Collaboration with Board and Volunteers the focus is on the board and the volunteers but in order to develop an efficient non-for-profit organization for the arts, the leaders must see the big picture.
The members of the board must focus not only in the interaction between the leaders and the volunteers. In other words it is not enough to simply clarify the work roles and the power structures; it is also imperative to get everyone involved. This assertion is consistent with the realities of leading an arts board as discussed by McDaniel and Thorn.
The challenges faced by the board, volunteers and staff were correctly diagnosed by McDaniel and Thorn.
They pinpointed three major factors and these are listed as follows: 1) difficulty to raise contributed income; 2) the professional and personal difficulties that results in the selection process for board members and volunteers; and 3). Organizations are saddled by the need to sort out theories and myths with regards to what a board could, should and would do (McDaniel & Thorn, p. 10). These problematic issues must be dealt with using prudence and skill.
The leaders of a not-for-profit organization must realize early on that these are interlocking issues. For instance, the lack of funds forces the organization to look for more volunteers wasting precious time that could have been used for artistic pursuits. Depending on the services of volunteers also means that the leaders cannot rely on a steady and consistent talent pool. There are volunteers that lack the necessary skills needed to augment an already weak workforce.
The lack of funds also hinders the hiring of professionals either as managers, auditors or persons with specialized skills. The result can be a less than satisfactory output. For example, one can see a building that suffers from low-maintenance or a computer system that is outdated.
The lack of funds can also force an organization to be desperate to fill Board vacancies with people that have administrative skills. Although it is beneficial for any non-profit group to have accountants and CEOs as member of their board, there is also the possibility that certain members of the board will overstep their bounds and perform the duties of paid staff and volunteers.
Myths, Theories and Realities
The leaders of a not-for-profit group must be aware of the various myths and theories that can further complicate the present problems of the organization. Take for instance the myth that states: “the organization should identify the really important person out in the community, find a way to trick him into joining the board, hope he understands the very nature of what the organization does and needs, and then hope he will be transformed and go out and raise money” (McDaniel & Thorn, p.16).
First of all, it must be pointed out that this statement may have been exaggerated to produce a certain effect because there is perhaps no organization that has leaders that are as misguided and incompetent as described in the said myth. It is the height of ineptitude for leaders to trick another leader to work for a certain organization.
It is much more accurate to say that this myth focuses on the desperate need for a mutli-talented person that can save the organization. In this regard a non-profit group must realize that it is counterproductive to use their resources to a hire a person that is not interested in serving the organization.
Therefore, the only way to fill in board vacancies is to convince the members of the community as to the importance of having a museum or art gallery in the city. The members of the board must join because they are compelled by a worthy cause and not because they are coerced to become a part of the group.
Aside from shooting down harmful myths that abound in the not-for-profit world, leaders of similar type organizations must also be on guard when it comes to misguided application of theories. Consider for instance the impact of the following theory: “The traditional not-for-profit model must be seen as a three-legged stool: board, artistic, and administrative” (McDaniel & Thorn, p.14).
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It is easy to understand why there are leaders who advocate this model. At first glance the purpose is to create an efficient group of leaders that are able to deal with different problems at the same time. But in reality this model does not promote efficiency and instead of solving problems it is the root cause of problems. This is especially true when it comes to a power-struggle within the organization.
It is a wise observation that this type of model can only lead to the creation of “separate cultures within the organization that will tend to be competitive and may eventually become negative energy centers” (McDaniel & Thorn, p.14). It is therefore imperative to focus on collaboration instead of creating divisions. The change must begin at the top. The members of the board must realize that they can establish the correct culture that will result to collaboration between all the stakeholders. Recommendations
The most important step is for the members of the board, to fully understand the difference between a not-for-profit group and a profit oriented organization. The big difference is that the survival of the organization is based on its ability to raise income through donations and other forms of monetary contributions.
Funds have to flow into the organization to keep it sustainable. Thus, it is important for the leaders to be “transparent, constantly communicating to members, stakeholders and the public and making information available upon request” and to “ensure the board understand its role and avoids conflicts of interest” (Frei, p.2). All of the above can only be achieved through collaboration.
Even if the leaders are intent in becoming transparent, the mere desire to communicate and to provide information is not enough. Members of the board must tap into the talent pool made available through volunteer work. This also means that the leaders have established a relationship with the staff and the volunteers for them to know how to utilize their workforce in a much more efficient manner.
It is also imperative for the leaders to set long-range objectives and strategic plans, as well as to supervise the management and staff (Broder, p.46). It is important to set the long-range objectives and to communicate clearly the strategic plans of the organization. This is not merely for the sake of preventing chaos and promoting order but also to encourage more volunteers and attract good standing members of the community to apply as members of the board.
A not-for-profit organization is very much different from an organization that exists for the sake of making money. Nevertheless, a not-for-profit group cannot survive without the steady inflow of funds. It is therefore imperative for the leaders to communicate clearly their purpose and objectives to raise funds. It is impossible to do so without collaborating with all the members of the organization. However, members of the board must not focus only on the internal aspect of the organization.
Leaders must see the big picture and collaborate with all the stakeholders and not just the volunteers and the paid staff. It is only through collaboration that the not-for-profit group can accomplish its goals with limited resources at its disposal. Collaboration can only be achieved if the leaders learn how to deal with myths and misguided application of theory.
Broder, Peter et al. Primer for Directors of Not-for-Profit Corporations. Canada: Industry Canada, 2002.
Frei, Sibyl. Working with a non-profit Board: Tips and Tools for Cultural Managers. Creative Management Project, 2005.
McDaniel, Nello & George Thorn. Leading Arts Boards: An Arts Professional’s Guide for Creating and Leading Effective Collaboration with Board and Volunteers. New York: Arts and Auctions Issues, n.d.