Fundraising, Management Issues/Help with nonprofit board


After reading your description I want to just ask you for help on everything!

I'm with a group that is in the middle of trying to create a nonprofit.  We formed a board in early 2013, and have been trying to raise money to apply for our 501c status.  We've also been getting the word out looking for others who want to be involved.  

A few factors.  We live in a very rural area and there are very few nonprofits in our area, and none in our category.  Everyone involved currently has never served on a board or committee previously (not even PTO for school).  We are doing our best to research and try to run the way a board should, but I think the fact that many people involved are friends and it being a small town is causing some issues.  Also everyone is volunteering their time, and sometimes it seems no everyone wants to put in the time needed to keep things organized.  

We need help to organize our meetings in a way that new people wanting to be involved (or people just wanting to sit in on a meeting to know where their donation money is going) can come and feel invited without necessarily letting them make decisions for the organization. A recent issue that I'll use as an example.  We have 4 board members, who are listed under the state as the board for the organization.  But we had 2 volunteers who have been coming to meetings the last few times.  At one meeting we needed to decide where some money raised would be used, and instead of the vote being between the board only.  Everyone felt obligated to let the recent volunteers vote too because they were at the last few meetings and at this meeting (basically didn't want to hurt there feelings by not including them).  Then this ended up causing conflict in the board later because some people felt the vote was not valid because it included people who should not have voted etc.  

Any advice on how we can get our board more organized and also set up our meetings in a way that we don't leave people feeling ignored but also keeping major decisions only made by the board would be great!  This seems to be our issue at this moment, but we could really use any advice you could provide.  We want to make sure functioning and efficient before applying for 501c tax exempt status.  

Thank you!

Thanks for writing - and, unfortunate congratulations that you have gone down the rabbit hole after many, many others.  That rabbit hole is the desire to include others by opening up the board meetings to volunteers, members, or the general public.  It probably wouldn't surprise you to know that I recommend not including non-board members at board meetings.  (You've learned the hard way....and so have many others.)  There are two reasons for this:  (1) your organization needs crisp decision-making authority (not diluted with the advice and observation of non-board members) and (2) your board needs to learn together and, over time, trust one another to speak freely and without hesitation.  Your board members are under an obligation to keep the discussions in the board room confidential - your visitors have no such restriction.

So, given your situation (and assuming that it would be too abrupt for your board chair to decide now to "uninvite" these non-board members to your board meetings), I'd suggest dividing your meetings into two sections.  The first section is the "information/discussion section" - where presentations can be made, input (from nonboard members) can be received, and alternatives can be suggested.   You can invite non-board members to this portion of the meeting.  Then the second part of the meeting "decision-making and commitment section."  For this part of the meeting, you will clear the room of any non-board members after thanking them for their time and input.  You will start the official board meeting during this second section.  All board decisions are made during this time.

By the way, those volunteers might make very good board COMMITTEE members.  If you can get them to participate at that level (with a specific skill set or interest in a particular area of the board), they could have a larger role in your organization as it unfolds.  Additionally, they could make potentially-valuable board members down the road.  So keep thinking of ways to include lots of people in your non-profit as you are doing - but don't allow them to attend the
decision-making portion of the board meetings....reserve that for only voting board members.

I hope this helps - please let me know how things unfold, will you?

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Alyson Ball


Please send questions about nonprofit boards, nonprofit board committees, the relationship between board and staff, board governance, board roles and responsibilities, board recruitment, board orientations, board meeting and board retreats.


After a career in the private sector, I moved into the nonprofit sector and have been consulting, teaching and writing about nonprofit boards for the last five years. I teach at the University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies. I present and facilitate workshops to nonprofit members of associations and chambers of commerce.

The Center for Nonprofit Excellence, VANNO (Virginia Network of Nonprofit Organizations, WUP - Women United in Philanthropy

My articles appear in which are then picked up by state-specfic nonprofit support groups and others associations and organizations throughout the United States and internationally.

Certificate of Nonprofit Management - Duke University, Master of Business Administration - The Wharton School, U. of Pennsylvania, Bachelor of Arts - Cornell University

Awards and Honors
Selected as a guest speak in The Center for Nonprofit Excellence's Board Development Academy.

Past/Present Clients
Past clients include Service Dogs of Virginia, the Ixtatan Foundation, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, African-American Teaching Fellows, and the Brockbank Education Fund.

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