Maintaining a Mission Driven Board Culture

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By Michael Davidson, Board Coach

One of the winners of this years’ NPEA awards presents an instructive example of how a board can transform itself from a hands-on “Founding Board” to a more differentiated “Sustaining Board”, while retaining the mission commitment of its founding culture.*

The New York Common Pantry (formerly the Yorkville Food Pantry), was created in 1980 by community volunteers who formed its original board. It has grown into a sophisticated organization serving thousands of New Yorkers with data systems that link information on food pantry utilization with case management data to achieve its mission of reducing hunger throughout New York City while promoting dignity and self-sufficiency. It has shared these systems with other providers.

While almost all of the 22 board members serve as Food Pantry volunteers they are simultaneously engaged in very strong governance practices, including:

  • Developing a strategic plan that included goals for the board to:
  • Reduce its size, initiate a defined level of giving, and develop an Advisory Council for those that do not or could not meet current requirements for membership but wish to remain actively engaged.;
  • Create a “Bread and Butter” group for supporters who can make significant contributions but did not have the time for board service;
  • Recruit a Junior Board to engage younger professionals.
  • Creating board recruitment guidelines and criteria
  • Implementing annual performance reviews for each board member with the Chair of the Board and the Chair of the Nominating Committee
  • Establishing a defined three year term for the chair with a transition process that begins at mid term
  • Creating active board committees including a Program Committee which works closely with staff to monitor program outcomes

In this case, continuing the volunteer culture of the board not only does not interfere with board members being able to “change hats” from volunteering to governing, but actually strengthens their commitment to their board responsibilities.

In fact, this deep commitment enabled them to cycle almost 50% of their board onto an Advisory Council where they could continue their mission driven engagement while allowing for the board to strengthen its fundraising capacity. 

*Board Passages: Three Key Stages in a Nonprofit Board’s Life Cycle. Karl Mathieson, III

Michael Davidson, Board Coach, is a consultant specializing in nonprofit board development, management support, strategic planning, leadership transition, and executive coaching for nonprofit managers.

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