Because So Much is at Stake: Governing Boards Are Vital

Governing Boards are Vital Stewards for Our Community’s Best Resources

by Reid Lehman

South Carolina’s nonprofits—universities, medical providers, human service agencies, the arts, etc. are some of our state’s best resources.  Donations provide their operating support, or strongly supplement it—reflecting the trust and hope the community places in the good work they do. Without effective nonprofits, the quality of life in the Upstate would diminish; there would be unnecessary deaths and human suffering. Children would fail to develop to their potential, and many adults who have suffered setbacks would not receive a second chance.

“With so much at stake, it continues to amaze me that that many governing boards, the top leadersfor nonprofits, fail to take their jobs seriously.”

The nominating process is haphazard; expectations for board members are undefined or set low, and even if set, not enforced.  There is little if any board orientation.   Board meetings are led poorly, and agendas look backward—approving what has already happened, instead of being future-focused.

Greenville is known for its strong, vibrant nonprofit community. More than 550 Greenville County nonprofits file an annual 990.  We easily assume each nonprofit has integrity, is effective, well-led and appropriately staffed.  Although true in many cases, it should never be taken for granted.  Governing boards must ensure each organization has a compelling mission, stays mission-focused with metrics that measure success, has the right staff leadership and that daily operations remain solvent within the boundaries of acceptable behavior.

Years ago a generous business owner joined Miracle Hill’s Board, attending only two meeting in six years.  We found a face-saving way to ease him off, and to our relief he continued giving.  “If he likes us,” I wondered, “why doesn’t he attend Board meetings?”  I now realize most MHM Board meetings wasted time.  Agendas were staff-controlled and contained few major decisions.  The Board had not defined its job, and board members found little fulfillment in a monthly meeting that accomplished little.  A few years later, training and effective facilitation transformed Miracle Hill’s Board and launched the organization forward.

If you, like me, think there might be something more for the board on which you serve, consider attending Shine the Light’s Developing and Engaging a High Performing Board on July 16, 2014 from 8am–12pm at the Kroc Center.  Susan Meier, principal of Meier and Associates in Washington, D.C., is the keynote speaker who brings over 26 years of governance and nonprofit experience to her work.

Now in its fifth year, DNA Creative Communications’ Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums is a training series developed in partnership with United Way of Greenville County, the Community Foundation of Greenville and the Hollingsworth Funds. This year’s four-half sessions, targeted at nonprofit executive directors and board leaders, will focus on leadership. Each session will look at leadership through a different lens. Following the July 16 session, subsequent sessions will focus on expanding leadership (September 9) and leading for sustainability (November 19). Each session will include a nationally known keynote speaker and a panel of local leaders.

Hundreds of organizations that form Greenville’s nonprofit and philanthropic community spend their days tackling tough issues and enhancing the quality of life for all who live here. We couldn’t do it without the unwavering support of many thousands of Greenville residents who give their time, talents and resources to the causes about which they care. Leadership development through DNA’s Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums will enhance the value of those investments and increase the chance that together we can create the Greenville County to which we all aspire.


Reid Lehman has served for 29 years as President/CEO at Miracle Hill Ministries, a nonprofit that provides housing and other vital services for up to 600 homeless men, women and children daily in the South Carolina Upstate. 

Posted July 15, 2014 in: Blog by Debbie Nelson

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