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Why Board Development?

We asked our CEO, Bonnie Duncan to share her thoughts on the importance of leadership development through board building and how they are mutually beneficial.


Throughout my career at United Way of Hunterdon I’ve engaged in board building both for our organization and as a member of other nonprofit boards. During my conversations with colleagues I often observed that there was a lack of clarity as to who was responsible for what; CEOs and Executive Directors would comment that their board members were not doing their job, and board members would question if the Execs were doing their job. 

During one of United Way’s board evaluations a common theme that came from new board members was that they weren’t clear on what they should be doing, even though we had tried to establish a mentorship between new/seasoned board members.  So we developed our Board Primer series in 2012. 

We decided all our board members would take the class as part of their onboarding.  Even though some members had been on boards before, there is always something to learn or re-affirm.  Seasoned members could also provide context to interactive discussions by sharing past experiences.  A real win-win.  After piloting with our own board members we expanded the audience to include agency directors and their boards as well as community members who had an interest in learning more, whether or not they had any board experience. 

In addition, the nonprofit landscape has changed with greater focus on transparency and accountability. The fiduciary responsibilities (it’s not just about the budget!) are not always presented when interviewing board candidates. 

Takeaways I’ve experienced are:

·         While challenging at times, having individuals with a broad range of experiences really provides a richness to the series and makes the interactive components relevant to what most agencies need to handle day to day.

·         Great volunteers don’t necessarily make great board members.  They may know your programs inside and out and they will be your best ambassadors – but some need additional training to take on a board role that is often more strategic than tactical.

·         Nearly all of the participants express that the course time is very well spent and meets their expectations.

During this stage of my career my passion and desire for investing time in this arena are twofold:

To be able to give back to the community what I have learned along the way and to pave the way to help develop high functioning boards with strong community leaders.