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Civic Impact

Matchmaking between nonprofits and board hopefuls, and training, are Boardswork's missions

Nonprofits need training on how to find and use their boards wisely – and potential board members need training on how even to get started working on a board.
That's why BoardsWork!, a program of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University, is collaborating with the Forbes Funds to bring together 10 nonprofit organizations and potential board members for customized training in the process.
"You hear all the time from executive directors and board chairs – they're always looking to grow their boards," says Lulu Orr, program director of BoardsWork! "It is really difficult to find board members who not only want to hold a board seat but have the knowledge for what is entailed in sitting on a board.
"It's a learning curve on both sides," she adds. "We hear a lot of frustration from people serving on boards who say they wish the board meetings were more effective, and how they use board members' skills and talents.
"In this region, there are approximately 6,000 nonprofits. If an average board is 10 people, 60,000 people are needed to fill all those seats. It's a great opportunity for the whole sector."
The nonprofits taking part will first meet to discuss their common issues, since many such organizations haven't had opportunities to learn how common their problems are. Board chairs, who work as volunteers, don't necessarily know other board chairs with whom to exchange information, she says.
Each nonprofit will then take part in a custom board retreat focusing on whatever issues are most pressing for the organization. Next, they'll be linked to one or two new board members from a pool of executives chosen by Boardswork! among more than 150 executives from such businesses such as Alcoa, American Eagle Outfitters, Bayer, Huntington Bank and PNC. They all received special Boardswork! training on financial oversight, fundraising and nonprofit planning.
"There's great interest in serving on boards," notes Orr. "But a lot of people don't know how to go about it. What's been wonderful to see is how many of these business people want to serve on a board but had no idea how to do it."
The chosen nonprofits are Allegheny Family Network, Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh, Mainstay Life Service, New Hazlett Center for the Performing Arts, Pulse, South Hills Interfaith Ministries, Northside Christian Health Center, Shady Lane School, Spina Bifida Association and Just Harvest Education Fund.
"We were looking for organizations who demonstrated that they really need more direction and more time to be spent with their boards," says Orr. "It's not that these organizations aren't functioning well … but we looked for, where are their holes? Where can they benefit from Boardswork!'s training, and who can benefit from coming together with the other nonprofits?"
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Lulu Orr, program director of BoardsWork!
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