What board leaders want from their organizations

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Paulette Vinette, CAE and Jack Shand, CAE collaborated on an original research project in 2008 to identify what board members want from their not-for-profit organizations. This article summarizes their findings, which were presented at the Canadian Society of Association Executives national conference in Vancouver on October 2, 2008.

The research involved sending a bilingual online survey to numerous association executives known to Shand and Vinette who were asked to invite their board members to complete the confidential, five-minute survey. Over 150 volunteers from small and medium size organizations representing professional, charitable and industry groups responded; these included national, regional and local groups.

Key findings of the 2008 survey

1. Criteria for belonging to the organization

  • 75.4% mentioned professional developing and training
  • 73.8% mentioned opportunity to network with peers
  • 55.6% mentioned advocacy; looking for effective representation

Also often mentioned: quality of information, meetings and events.

Why board members belong to the organization - primary criterion

"I want to contribute but the quality of the experience must help me grow personally and professionally".

"Who is at the table" (quality of network) matters.

2. Tangible benefits/cost-savings are no longer a major driver, but where they are provided, the ones that matter most are (prioritized):

  • Discounted fees for conferences and events
  • Access to publications and research
  • Group buying/volume discounts

The benefits that mattered least were:

  • Credit card discounts
  • Travel discounts

One-fifth of respondents said tangible benefits are not even considered.

3. Why board members chose to volunteer:

  • 74.8% mentioned my own growth
  • 67.7% mentioned giving back
  • 65.4% mentioned corporate/professional responsibility

Also often mentioned: Interacting with peers and other key contacts (e.g. suppliers).

4. Issues of importance:

  • Increase in regulation/legislative impacts
  • Skills development:
    • sectoral (e.g. labour force implications) and
    • individual (their own employability)
  • Worker shortages and changing demographics
  • Economic pressures and globalization
  • Impact of technology

External influences/pressures on their work - government policy and labour market issues - are primary concerns.

5. Where NPOs need to improve (prioritized):

  1. Advocacy/influence
  2. Membership (recruitment/who’s at the table)
  3. Communication
  4. Marketing
  5. HR - governance and staff competencies
  6. Revenue generation

6. Characteristics of “Best in Class” not-for-profit organizations:

  • Strong advocates for those they serve
  • Strong marketers with a powerful brand
  • Strong links with the communities they represent
  • Understand and accommodate member needs

In 2007, Vinette and Shand interviewed more than 20 of Canada’s top CEOs to understand why they join and support not-for-profit organizations. Their needs were slightly different, as illustrated by the following chart:

2007 – CEOs of Major Companies in Canada 2008 – Board Voluntary Sector Board Members
We most value effective advocacy We most value professional development/training
We join organizations that are aligned with our values and interests We join for skills development and career training/growth opportunities
I volunteer to be with other leaders/my CEO peers I volunteer for the opportunity to learn and grow personally
Best-in-class NPOs have high-quality governance and boards that set goals; they have a powerful brand Best-in-class NPOs are strong advocates and have a strong brand
Associations need to be more effective marketers Associations need to be better advocates/more influential with key decision-makers

For more information or to measure your organization against these factors, contact us at paulette@solutionstudioinc.com and/or jack@jobexperts.com.

Paulette is president of Solution Studio Inc., a consulting practice that serves the not-for-profit association community. Paulette co-authored two manuscripts on risk management & not-for-profit organizations and regularly conducts risk management, strategic planning and board development workshops. She can be reached at 1-877-787-7714 or Paulette@solutionstudioinc.com.

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