Would you like to join our board?Editorial, Top Highlights Thursday, October 13th, 2016
This is a question that is asked by leaders of our non-profit organizations across San Diego. It is flattering to be asked because it implies that a person possesses the skills necessary to help move an organization forward. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Non-profits, particularly in the LGBT community, often have a board of directors or trustees that do not possess the requisite business skills necessary to serve. Non-profit organizations are important community service organizations but are also businesses. People who are on a board should be able to advocate for the non-profit to help raise money, advocate with political leaders and get sponsors, as well as provide direction to the executive director who reports to the board.
I was one of the leaders of a $1.8 billion hospital board. While it was an operational board with no fundraising responsibilities, selecting board members was based upon the business skills that the group needed to function properly. Obviously, doctors and lawyers were critical for a health care organization. But the board was also comprised of entrepreneurs who specialize in solving problems creatively, leaders of large corporations who understand the importance of organizational structure and accountants who understand finance. There was a clear list of required roles to have effective leadership for the hospital.
Small, and many large, non-profits often do not have a clear understanding of what type of people should be on their board. Many LGBT non-profit board selections are based upon the high school principles of who is most popular versus who would bring the experience needed. The result is one scandal after another concerning finances or contention among board members that sub-optimizes the performance of the non-profit.
The Pride organization spent $1.4 million on a building they did not need creating financial difficulties and now has unceremoniously dismissed its executive director. Mardi Gras, put on by the GSDBA Charitable Foundation and the Hillcrest Business Association, is no longer. Neither is the $40,000 raised annually for college scholarships from the event. Tens of thousands of dollars were embezzled from Auntie Helen’s. There have been scandals over the years concerning people embezzling money from AID’s organizations. In 2000, $750,000 disappeared from the LGBT March on Washington. Now we have the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation scandal. What do all of these events have in common? Board leadership that was selected not based upon skill but based upon popularity and influence within the community. Moreover, some of the board leadership had personal agendas other than making the non-profit the best it could be. Non-profit board of directors are simply caretakers of the community’s money not owners, as some act and think.
Donors, you also have a responsibility to understand who is managing the money that you contribute to any organization. Do you review the financials and meeting minutes before you write your check? Do you look at the board leadership? You should before opening your heart and checkbook.
Executive directors of LGBT non-profits are embraced each time they are hired. Unfortunately, they are given carte blanche to run organizations with little financial oversight. The average board director could not pass a management accounting test if their life depended upon it. Yet these boards are responsible for managing millions of dollars annually. Worse, the executive directors choose their board members, who they report to. It is time that EDs have no say in who is selected for their boards to ensure accountability.
Isn’t it time that the LGBT community take a real hard look at who is on our non-profit boards? Does a millennial have the requisite skills to run a board of directors? I looked to Silicon Valley to answer that question, the bastion of successful young wunderkind, and what I found is the chairman of the board of most organizations is someone who has experience running large organizations. Not the young geek whiz who invented the app or software.
Our next test of non-profit leadership in San Diego will be the selection of the new executive director of Pride. Who will be on the search committee? What should their backgrounds be? The selection of the search committee should not be driven by who is popular within the community but who has the skill and intellect to make a well-thought decision. If, as some predict, the whole process is a sham to insert someone that Pride has already identified, I for one will end my support.
It is time for LGBT non-profits to exercise discretion when asking the question “Would you like to join our board”? Existing boards need to take a hard look at who comprises their leadership and begin the process of selecting board members based upon talent. That will prevent the crisis that the LGBT non-profits are experiencing in San Diego.
So if you have great talent or experience that could help our non-profits, throw your hat into the ring. Unfortunately, I doubt that you will be selected. You may not have 10,000 friends on social media.
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