A new organization designed to help nonprofits select and train board members was announced by Leadership Fort Worth and United Way of Tarrant County at a crowded meeting at Lena Pope on April 9.
Called BoardBuild, the organization – which will itself become a nonprofit – started as an Issues Initiative group study by members of the 2018 Leadership Class of Leadership Fort Worth.
“One of the concerns that was identified was lack of support for nonprofit boards of directors,” said Harriet Harral, executive director of Leadership Fort Worth.
“As you all well know, we have had a number of different efforts to help nonprofits with different board banks and different kinds of board training, but they have not been sustainable,” Harral said.
At issue are two important concerns – identifying people who are willing and want to serve on boards of directors and making sure that they understand their role in the organization.
BoardBuild does both using a proprietary platform.
TD Smyers, president and CEO of United Way, says to think of it as LinkedIn meets match.com.
People who serve on nominating committees will tell you that despite their best intentions, it is hard to diversify a board because the members simply may not be aware of new and willing prospects for board membership.
BoardBuild will let people who wish to be considered for board placement register and require them to complete a six-segment training program on the duties of a board member taught by Four Day Weekend, the wildly popular improvisational comedy troupe from Fort Worth.
Smyers said things happen when you have the right people in the right places.
“And this is what happened with BoardBuild. When Harriet came and talked to me about it, we had already been exploring our own process, Blueprint for Board Service,” he said. “It's OK. But it wasn't what we needed. It wasn't what we were looking for.”
What both organizations were looking for, he said, was a “world-class method of training board members on governance, ambassadorship, philanthropy and their role in it, how to be an engaged board member and an effective board member.”
Initial funders for the project are The Morris Foundation, the Amon Carter Foundation, the Sid Richardson Foundation, Texas Health Resources and Fidelity Investments.
Todd Liles from the Morris Foundation said his parents set up that foundation in 1986 with the belief that they could help people in Fort Worth most by helping the agencies in the community.
“BoardBuild is an expression of one of our values in the foundation, which is leadership,” Liles said. “Sixty-five percent of organizations tell us that they don't have strong boards and they need a lot of work, and part of the work they listed was diversity of experience, diversity of knowledge, and diversity of demographic background [so] they could attain their outcomes and their objectives more easily and more readily.
“So, we thought this was actually a great fit with our values and what was offered by BoardBuild,” Liles said.
Pete Geren, head of the Sid Richardson Foundation, says that foundation sees BoardBuild as an extension of its own goals of trying to help this community realize its potential.
Geren said his board wants him to look for leaders who have potential, who are accountable, who are passionate and who are committed to making a difference and then try to put resources behind them.
“Harriet and TD are two of those leaders in our community,” he said. “So, when they come to the Sid Richardson Foundation or the Morris Foundation, they have a track record of producing for our community. Just from the moment they walk in, we know this is going to be something good for our community and our foundation. If we knew little about BoardBuild, we knew we wanted to put resources behind Harriet and TD because they have continually made a difference in our community.”
BoardBuild plans a soft launch in July and a hard launch in the fall.
Nonprofits will pay for searches to find candidates that match their needs and/or training for existing board members, but agencies that sign up before Oct. 1 will have their first annual fee underwritten.
There is a charge for individuals not already on a board to sign up, take the board member course and list themselves for consideration, but two supporting foundations say they will cover tuition for the first 100 people signing up with a $25 co-pay.
Dan Buhman, assistant general manager at the Tarrant Regional Water District and a member of the 2019 Leadership Class, said nonprofit executive directors surveyed by the organization Leading with Intent are convinced that diversity of their boards is a central and critical issue.
Leading with Intent has been doing national surveys of nonprofits since 1994 and has found that boards are no more diverse today than they were a few years ago despite the effort that goes into it, Buhman said.
“What they found is that with current recruitment strategies, it's unlikely that that's going to change. And that's despite the executive directors reporting that they want that diversity on their boards,” he said.
“We need good governance,” Buhman said. Boards need people who understand nonprofits and can support executive directors to bring the most benefit to their communities.
Pam Cannell, staff lead for BoardBuild, answered questions from the audience, saying that one reason to sign up now, in addition to getting a first-year waiver of the annual fee up to $1,000, is that the staff wants feedback on the system as they test it.
She said that the group eventually wants to offer the program nationally, because nothing like it exists now.
Geren sees BoardBuild as building capacity, identifying young leaders and helping them grow, expanding their impact in the community and emerging as community leaders.
“Heaven knows where that's going to end up,” he said. “But there will be TD Smyers come out of that and Harriets come out of that.”
People have been shut out of the opportunity to take the next step and have the impact they can make, Geren said.
“I know it is going to make a great difference in our nonprofit world. It is going to be a capacity builder that's going to make a difference,” he said. “But I'm most excited about the leaders that it's going to surface, the responsibility it's going to give them and the difference they're going to make in our community over the years ahead.”