Nonprofit Boards are Transforming: Is Yours?

Nonprofits are changing and adapting all the time, but is your Board changing? Join us as we hear from Sharon Danosky of Danosky Associates what Boards need to do to transform.


0:00:01 Cynthia Rojas

Hi, everyone, Welcome to Coffee Time with Mastermind. We are still doing our series, Everything About Nonprofit Boards. And boy, has it been interesting. And nonprofit boards have existed for as long as nonprofits have been around or very close to that time. And while nonprofit organizations have done an enormous job at adapting and changing war boards, not so much, except that these are new times, and they’re being forced to in many, many ways, and today, our guest, Sharon Danosky has dedicated a lot of her professional life, working with boards of directors and she’s going to tell us today what it is you need to do to have a more effective board. Join us!

0:01:08 CTMM Jingle

0:01:34 Cythia Rojas

Hi, everyone. Welcome back. And thank you for joining us, we welcome our viewers across the US and around the world. And if you are joining us, please put your name in the comments and tell us where you’re from. We also want to welcome our listeners in Australia, and really appreciate you listening to our show. Well, I am excited today. Although I am writing solo, my co-hosts are away. I have an amazing guest and we’re going to talk about how boards of directors for nonprofit organizations should be thinking about transformation, and really adapting to meet the needs of our nonprofits. For today. I am so happy and excited to bring in Sharon Danosky. Hi, Sharon.

0:02:23 Sharon Danosky

Hey, Cynthia! How are you? Thanks so much for having me. This is fun. My favorite topic.

0:02:28 Cynthia Rojas

Yes, yes. I know that. I know that. You know, in New Haven Connecticut, you are known as the person to call when we have issues with boards. You’ve been at it a long time. You just told me you’ve been running your companies, Danosky and Associates for 16 years. That’s a long time.

0:02:50 Sharon Danosky

You are making it feel old, Cynthia,

0:02:52 Cynthia Rojas

No, no, I don’t mean like that. But so much has changed. Right? We’ve had a pandemic. What else have we had? We’ve probably had a couple of economic crises, we’ve probably had some hurricanes. Yeah, a lot has happened.

0:03:06 Sharon Danosky  

And I think the biggest thing that has happened is the focus on equity and social justice. That’s having the biggest impact on boards, but not in a way that you would want to see them transform yet. So that’s probably one of the biggest challenges we’re facing among boards today.

0:03:28 Cynthia Rojas

So,I love that coming, not the way you would want them to transform yet. Tell me a little bit about what those challenges are?

0:03:35 Sharon Danosky

Well, when you look at the traditional board, traditional boards are focused on what’s best for the organization. You know, we are the decision makers, we know what is best, and it is our duty to make sure that our nonprofit is number one, people are aware of it, and we’re doing good works. And that is the traditional perception of boards.

And where boards are going, or at least with a community. And many executive directors and people who are working in the nonprofit are in a much more collaborative approach. Boards need to be purpose driven, they need to be aware of that ecosystem, they need to be aware of equity, and they need to be aware of where their authorized voice and power should come from.

0:04:34 Cynthia Rojas

And so, I know there’s some organizations doing it well actually, we’re gonna have an ED who has an extraordinarily diverse board and has parents on her board and she has people that she serves on her board, and she’s going to talk about what that’s like, but some organizations are really struggling. And so what do you think, is hard about making the leap aside from it hard changes overall?

0:05:02 Sharon Danosky

Well, I think part of it is that they know this change, but they don’t know what it is. I mean, let’s look at some of the data. So 70% of CEOs are nonprofits across this country. See the most important thing is fundraising, it’s higher than any other board responsibility. But you really have to question if fundraising is more important than your mission, and boards are responsible for mission. Half of the CEOs in this country say they don’t have the right board members on their board to establish trust in the community.

Only 32% of boards place a high priority on knowledge of the community served, and only 25% of boards consider knowledge of the organization’s work a high priority in board recruitment. And so while boards recognise the need to change, they don’t know how, and they don’t have the infrastructure or scaffolding to lead that in the direction that it really is going with or without them.

0:06:15 Cynthia Rojas 

Yeah, and I think you brought up fundraising. And I want to talk a little bit about that. And I’ll tell you why. I have this idea. And I tell it to people. And some people are shocked when I say this, but I really truly believe it. I don’t think board members should fundraise. Fundraising is a science. And we have channels that do it. And they should do it. And it’s off putting to people. And I’m not sure that they’re the right people to do the fundraising. And, it’s creating barriers to include people who don’t have that wealth capital or that social ethic.

0:06:53 Sharon Danosky

I think you have hit on the biggest barrier to creating a purpose driven board. And that’s philanthropy. And if you look at the roots of philanthropy and philanthropy on boards, it is this whites, you know, white elitist savior mentality.

Now, I think in all fairness, many boards do not see themselves in that vein, and they really reject that. But the underlying premise is there, and there is a real difficulty, because if you want a truly inclusive board, that is representative of the communit. You have to address the philanthropy issue.

The other reality is that, I mean, it’s in and out that we’re in right now. Because the other factor in that is the fact that nonprofits need to raise money. And, you know, and I have been fundraising for nearly 40 years. True that strong boards do fundraising, I teach boards how to raise money. And I really, I agree with what you’re saying, I think we need to look at this differently. But I think boards can play an important role in connecting donors to the community. If they recognize that, you know, that power dynamic in the community, and helping donors to connect with that.

And that kind of takes us a little bit further that says, you know, understand your ecosystem. And it’s okay, if a donor gives to two organizations in the community, that doesn’t dilute your ability to do well. So, There needs to be a kind of a re-thinking of how we look at boards and their responsibility. And boards are on a spectrum. I mean, some, like your executive director, are much further along on that spectrum. But I would say 70- 80% of boards are not.

0:09:17 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah, and so I think what you said is interesting about how boards can connect donors to the community. And so that’s interesting. I do want to mention, so you have another superpower. You are a fundraiser Another thing people reach out to you in New Haven, Connecticut, because you are known for helping organizations raise lots and lots of capital.

0:09:44  0:09:44 –

And so, what are some successes you see in terms of boards transforming when it comes to the individuals that are serving on the board, and yet still somehow being connected to the fundraising that needs to happen, or the philanthropy work that needs to be done?

0:10:06 Sharon Danosky

Okay! Thank you for asking that. I don’t think you have to be a wealthy board member. I don’t think you have to give a lot of money. And I don’t think you have to go out asking people for money. I think there are two things, a few things that you can do as a board member, that will help you raise funds, probably the biggest thing is thanking donors, you know, the, what donors really want is, you know, to be appreciated for the gift they made, to know that it’s being put to good use, and to know that it’s having an impact.

Board members, if they connect with the communities they serve, absolutely can call a donor, can meet with a donor, can send an email or a text to a donor, telling them the kind of benefit that their contribution had. And when you look at and I liked the fact, Cynthia, that you mentioned, you know, there are professionals who can do that. But if you have, you know, 100, 200, or 1000 donors, no one, two, or three people in a development office can reach that many donors. But if you look at, you know, 10 people on your board, and each of them make a phone call to thank five donors, and to let them know the impact they have. And to be aware of that impact in the community they’re serving, that can be really transformational.

0:11:37 Cythia Rojas

Yeah, yeah, I love that. You also mentioned purpose driven boards. Tell us what that means.

0:11:44 Sharon Danosky

So, Anne Wallestad, who was the CEO of BoardSource, wrote an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, back in February of 2021. And it really said, kind of the nonprofit world, you know, upside down and really up ended things. And then she talked, that there are four things that are critical to boards today, purpose driven, that means mission above all else, mission above the organization, the most important thing is, what is the purpose of your organization? And how are you fulfilling that mission?

The second is the ecosystem. And the ecosystem you’re working in means that you can collaborate with other nonprofits, you’re not a silos. You don’t have to grab market share, you can be part of a collective good that is making a difference in the community. The third is everything should be looked at with an equity mindset. And that means inclusion. well beyond diversity, we should just make sure that we are including every single person’s voice on that board in the decision-making process.

And the fourth is authorizing your voice. Where does your power come in? It does not come because you are the wisest people and know what is best from the community. It comes from the community, who is telling you what they need, and how you can make a difference in that community. And those are the basic four principles of purpose driven boards.

0:13:21 Cynthia Rojas  

Wow, really different take from what your traditional boards are, you know, have been defined, and when we think about boards, and, I can’t help myself to ask about diversity, inclusion, equity. I mean, some of us stop at the D. And then you know, we checked off that we diversify the board. And now we have a new issue. How do we become a welcoming board?

0:13:58 Sharon Danosky

But you know, the funny thing is, it is 70%, so board source publishes and all the periodical every couple of years leading with intent with a survey of boards all around the country, and the latest one has barely changed. 78% of all board members are white. 19%, almost 20% of all boards are exclusively white. So we haven’t done a good job with diversity.

But I think that’s a double-edged sword because what happens is when you bring people of color onto a board, you know, the board members who have been there are, you know, it’s kind of implicit bias, it’s some discomfort. And so they’re not really including people on the board. And you know, it’s not just people of color. I mean, how many times I’m sure you’ve seen it. You know, and if you’re a chairman of the board, pay attention to this. All right, we’re ready for a vote. Anyone have any comments? All right, hearing none, I’ll take the vote.

You want to be inclusive. You need to pause. You need to be silent and let people speak. And if people are not speaking, you need to say, hey, “Cynthia, what do you think? What’s your take on this? How are you feeling about this discussion?” That’s not happening. And we’re not training our board chairs, how to do that. And so when the board chair comes on there, and understandably, they’re concerned about running the meeting, they’ve got an agenda, or they’re going to get through this or the actions are going to be taken. They’re not taking that step back that says, you know, I need to hear you.

And so, you’ve got diversity, you’ve got a revolving door of people of color, who are coming on saying she’s not, this board chair is not seeing me not hearing me. And so they’re revolving or not wanting to be, you know, just a token, none of us want that. So, you know, we’re kind of recycling people on the board.And we’re not taking the time to make sure that they are included in the discussion that they are recognised that their voices are heard. So we perpetuate the same cycle.

0:16:29 Cynthia Rojas 

Yeah, and one of the things that I learned from having someone else on the show is that a lot of times, board members are charged with finding other board members. And we tend to hang out with people who are like us, if you saw most of my friends, right? They have a lot of similarities to me. And so, if your board is not already diverse, then you’re asking a non-diverse group of people to look into their network, which is probably resembling them. And so how do we get around that?

0:17:08 Sharon Danosky

My best advice is go to the churches, go to the faith-based groups in every community. You know, I live outside and I do a lot of work in the greater Danbury community. And there is a church in the Danbury community, the New Hope. This church, I mean, they’ve got a huge congregation, and that congregation, primarily people of color, but there is such diversity of people in that congregation.

And so you know, seek out the churches, seek out the pastors, you know, haven’t had a conversation. I was just speaking with a CEO the other day, and she said to me, won’t they be, you know, insulted if I say anything like that? And I’m like, no, just be honest, say, look, I’ve got a white board. It is not the right board to lead us into the future. None of my board members have a network where there are people of color, can you help me because I desperately need to diversify my board. I need more perspective.

I need the perspective of the community, And my current board can’t give it to me, and they can’t recruit it for me. Will you help me? I mean, that’s the conversation, be honest, be authentic, be upfront, and have that conversation, and then list people to help you recruit board members who can and then be sure that you’re being inclusive, and that you’re including them in conversation, you’re seeking their opinion, and don’t put them in charge of going into the community to seek the opinion, you need to make sure that you are treating everyone with respect and dignity and authenticity.

0:19:03 Cynthia Rojas

Yeah, and there’s a lot of work to diversity, right? Like, we think about different cultures. And there’s some cultures where speaking up or saying something that might be perceived as a negative thing is not acceptable. And when you understand that, then you know that you might need to have more one-on-one conversations with this person, because this person is never going to speak in a room and share something that could be perceived as negative. So that’s one thing that I know about. I know some cultures where being direct and straight to the point is part of how they communicate. And for some of us, that’s perceived as rude. Like what’s? Did you just say that but that’s how they speak right? And so we also have to do our homework if we’re going to be truly welcoming.

But I also like what you said about being honest to why we’re asking someone and the way you said it. Sharon, you said, I need your help. Right? I have a lot of conversations with individuals, because my work requires me to get the insight and thoughts of leaders and board members. I have to tell you, Sharon, it breaks my heart.

Every time I talk to a board member, I ask them, Why are you on the board? And they say, Oh, come on. Are you kidding? Because I’m black? Because I’m Hispanic, right? And I’m like, Oh, wow. So we know, even if you don’t say it. So be honest with us. Because we can help. Because we want to be at the table. Right. But if you’re acting like you’re asking me because you think I’m the best thing since sliced bread. I’m going to question that. Right? And so let’s be open and honest. So I love that. I love that. That’s why you’re advising people.

0:21:03 Sharon Danosky

You know, it’s interesting. I was working with this one group, and there was a young black man on the board that was a very small board. He never said a word. I mean, I’d have to always ask him, never say a word. Ironically, I was working, I started working with a different group. And he was always on that board. And he was extremely forthcoming, and talkative. And so I invited him to be on a panel discussion that I was hosting. And we had a great conversation. And I actually said to him, why, what is the difference between these two boards?

And I loved how he answered me, he said, the second board, you know, reached out to me, and I met with them. And we had an hour and a half conversation, about our values, about our beliefs about how this organization feels about these things, and whether that met, and after that conversation, they asked me to join the board. And I just, you know, so often, when we go to recruit board members, we’re looking at the matrix. Well, are they black? Are they from this neighborhood? Are they this age group? Are they in the tourney? Are they a CPA or whatever?

And that was not the approach this organization took. They said, “We think he’s going to be good, you know, because he does have these skill sets. But let’s have a conversation.” And that conversation when he joined that board, he felt so comfortable, because they understood. He understood their values, and what they were trying to do. And I think, yeah, I think you know, there’s a lesson there, that have a conversation, a real interesting conversation with people and share values. You know, one of my favorite questions to ask someone is, what are the two values that guide your life? Two! Not five, not eight, not ten. What are the two most important values to you, and give the person a little bit of time to think about it, and then start your conversation. Thatgives you so much more insight to a person, then a laundry list of qualifications.

0:23:33 Cynthia Rojas 

I love that. I love that! I have to ask because I love this age group. They have turned us around and helped us look at things a different way. But let’s talk about millennials. And our entering the millennials who are coming into the workforce, and joining boards as well. Now Millennials have changed many things by how we see things, and how we do things. And I’m just interested in your experience in how they’re transforming nonprofit boards.

0:24:10 Sharon Danosky

To be honest with you, I don’t think they are. for two reasons, One is they get on those boards, and they’re off. They’relike, I’m not going to sit here and be talked down to or my opinion isn’t respected, or they’re not, you know, and so they just and unlike, you know, a lot of people who would just sit down, they’re probably my generation. Your baby boomer is the next generation. They’re not going to tolerate it. They’re doers. They’re action oriented.

And I think the other thing is that they just don’t have the tolerance. They’re much better workers. Ironically, they’re also fundraisers. They invite all of their friends to give, to participate, to come to do things. I do think though, the future of boards and board work will be transformed by this aspect of millennials and Gen Z. And that is collaboration. I think the older board members, you know, baby boomers, and on up really looked more competitively. They have that market share, we’re the best, we are the best known, we’re doing the best product.

 I think the biggest transformation, you know, Gen Z, and millennials were not trained that way. We’re trained in teams to work in teams to collaborate. So they are much more adaptable to a thought of purpose driven boards, I don’t need to beat out this nonprofit organization, I can work with this nonprofit organization, and look at what we can do together. They are willing to open up doors, they’re willing to have discussions. I think the challenge is that many of our existing traditional board members are uncomfortable with that.

0:26:15 Cynthia Rojas

Yes, yes, I do see that. And when I work with boards, where everyone is younger, and belongs to one generation, It’s interesting. It’s fast. It’s usually very value driven. And you said something, they are doers, they get things done. And now I’m thinking yeah, they do. Right. And they don’t want another meeting. They’re like, okay, and they’re just delegating tasks and getting stuff done. So, if we don’t transform, we’re gonna get left behind, because they don’t just change the nonprofit sector.

0:26:57 Sharon Danosky

That’s just absolutely, absolutely. They look at things differently. And I think that is so much. I mean, I’m a baby boomer, I was brought up, you know, I mean, I have a background in marketing, you know, market share. That’s not the right way to look at nonprofit work.

You know, there are so many problems that, you know, that our world is facing, that our communities are facing, and no one organization can solve it. And no one sector of the organization, if you’re looking at housing, it’s not about housing, it’s about food. It’s about land, it’s about community, it’s about workforce. I mean, all of these organizations need to be at the table to solve these problems.

And boards need to recognise that power of collaboration, you know, be a catalyst or be part of a group that is looking to solve those problems. And don’t say, well, that’s just one of our initiatives, that should be one of your primary initiatives. How can you work as a collective to make a larger impact?

0:28:05 Cynthia Rojas  0:28:05 –

Yes. My final question, because I get this all the time, and I don’t have an answer often is, how do I get rid of board members who just need to go?

0:28:20 Sharon Danosky

I think there are a couple of things. I believe, I think when board members don’t show up for meetings, so they don’t do what they need to, that’s a problem of more engagement. I think how boards work, I mean, many boards are still functioning on an operational level. And they’re following Robert’s Rules of Order, throw out Robert’s Rules of Order. They weren’t meant for nonprofit boards, you know. Change up your agenda, and start with discussing strategic issues first.

And then go into your actions. When you do that, you find people show up, are engaged and are interested, and you don’t need to worry about, you know, getting them off the board. The other thing to do is, you know, have a board service agreement, people who have been through any of my workshops now I talk about this all the time, and have every board member rate his or her own performance, against the expectations you set for them. Trust me we are when we evaluate ourselves, we are usually brutally honest. And if you’re giving yourself a bad score on all the things that were expected of you, I find most boards do one of two things. They come forward and say look clearly, I don’t have the time for this. I need to get off the board. Or they say I want to do better. I love this organization. I’ll start showing up.

So I don’t believe in the punitive “three strikes, you’re out”. I don’t like making people have uncomfortable conversations if they don’t need to have boards. Number one, make sure your meetings are full of good discussion around interesting things that are going on about the nonprofits, future collaboration place in the community. When you do that, you’ll find your board members are showing up and are engaged, and they learn.

And suddenly they learn when you bring in data from the community and people from the community, their minds expand, they learn more, and they love it. So take a proactive approach to your agenda, take a proactive approach to your discussion, and find ways to engage your board members. And that way you’ll have a lot stronger network around you that will encourage diversity in all ways, shapes, and form.

0:31:00 Cynthia Rojas

I love that! I love that! All mine, Sharon, I could talk to you for hours. This has been so helpful. I have so many more questions and wow. So we may need to bring you back because this has been a really, there’s been so much learning on this topic. And you know, one question I didn’t get to ask is, Where does an executive director begin that transformation? Right. Like what’s the role that they play, but that’s why we’re going to ask you to come back.

0:31:32 Sharon Danosky

Alright, I got to.

0:31:33 Cynthia Rojas

Well, I want to say thank you to Sharon and for impacting your wisdom and also to our viewers and our listeners. We will see you again next week at the same time, same place. Take care everybody. Have a great weekend! Bye Bye

Pieta Blakely

About Pieta Blakely

I help mission-based organizations measure their impact so that they can do what they do well. I started my nonprofit career as a teacher in workforce development and adult basic education. It was important work and I was worried that we didn’t really know if we were doing it well. In the process of trying to answer that question, I got a Masters in Education and a PhD in Social Policy, and became an evaluator.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.