Nonprofit boards focus of online matching service

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — Serving on a nonprofit board can be a tough job: Boards ultimately are responsible for the organization and its work, finances and staff. They also must recruit new members, and anticipate and adapt to change.

And boards often fall short of their responsibilities and the roles they should play.

Many nonprofits lack a formal, professional process for selecting board members and are “not concerned with leadership development and succession planning” for their board, says Trudy Smith, executive director of Executive Service Corps of the Triangle, a Durham nonprofit that enlists retired and active executives to provide pro-bono consulting to nonprofits.

To connect the more than 2,200 nonprofits in the Triangle with individuals wanting to serve on a board, and to help companies find opportunities for their employees to serve on nonprofit boards, Executive Service Corps is launching a free web-based board matching service for nonprofits in Chatham, Durham, Orange and Wake counties.

Built over the past year-and-a-half by Brian Breneman and Nic Versmissen, two information-technology professionals working as volunteers, buildabetterboard.com invites nonprofits and individuals to complete short profiles about themselves, and uses an algorithm to connect them.

The website provides private, internal communications between nonprofits looking for board members, and individuals looking for board positions, until the individuals opt to reveal their identities to the nonprofits. The parties then can continue their communications through typical channels.

The website features resources about boards, written by experts, that address issues such as what it means to serve on a board, questions to ask in interviews for board positions, and how a nonprofit should market its board.

Demand for board development is among the highest for the services Executive Service Corps provides, Smith says.

“We help nonprofits identify gaps in their board membership to help them fulfill their strategic mission,” she says.

Depending on a nonprofit’s mission, size, field of interest, and programs and services, and the role the board should play based on the organization’s stage in its “life cycle,” she says, the board will need members with specific talents, expertise and experience.

Yet too often, she says, nonprofits limit their recruitment of new board members to their own networks of acquaintances and colleagues.

buildabetterboard.com will expand the pool of prospective board members by marketing itself to larger employers such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, which provided a $20,000 grant to Executive Service Corps to develop the online matching service.

It also is working with five partners — Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Triangle NC; Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce; The Triangle Nonprofit and Volunteer Leadership Center; North Carolina Center for Nonprofits; and Triangle Community Foundation — to promote itself to their networks and members.

And Executive Service Corps representatives will be speaking to civic groups, chambers of commerce, and other organizations about the new service.

While it plans to keep the matching service free in the Triangle, Executive Service Corps hopes to sustain it  financially by rolling it out to other communities throughout the state and U.S. and generating income through corporate sponsorships.

Over 60 nonprofits and over 60 individuals already have completed profiles on the website, which currently lists over 50 open positions on local nonprofit boards.

Charles Brown Jr., pro-bono commercialization manager for buildabetterboard.com and a pro-bono consultant for Executive Service Corps, says the web-based matching service also will appeal to younger prospective board members because much of their communication is online.

For-profit companies want to support nonprofits, help develop their boards and build a brand tied to corporate social responsibility, says Brown, retired chief administrative officer and senior vice president for Eastman Kodak Co.

He says companies also recognize that their own employees with high potential to become members of their management team can develop their leadership and decision-making skills through service on nonprofit boards.

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