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One of the things that distinguishes a nonprofit organization from a for-profit is a volunteer Board of Directors. Nonprofit boards are diverse — some are large, some are small, some involve a significant number of recipients of the nonprofit’s services, some include government officials.

In every case, the role and function of the board is to oversee the governance of the organization, to hire the executive director or chief executive officer and to approve the budget. Governance includes responsibility for the mission and the strategic plan, assuring that the resources of the organization are being used in pursuit of the mission, and that the mission is making a meaningful difference in the community.

I have now been a CEO for almost 48 years, and I have always valued the opportunity to work closely with my board. Boards in general should have a set of skills, talents and abilities that maximize their ability to offer expertise to the organization. In addition, it is an imperative that the board members be well connected in the community. This doesn’t always mean having significant influence, but rather understanding community needs and connecting the nonprofit to resources that may be helpful to the achievement of its mission. The Hale Kipa board has historically been relatively small. We have 11 members who meet on a monthly basis, excluding December and July. There are active working board committees, and a board member is expected to participate not only in the monthly meeting, but also in some form of committee involvement.

A good board must be able to engage in thoughtful conversations, have access to adequate information to make effective decisions, and be respectful of the diversity of opinions that facilitate a robust conversation. It is my understanding that the best nonprofits are those where the board chair and the CEO or executive director have a strong working relationship. Open communication and trust are imperative to ensure that the board is aware of issues, and that the CEO has access to the expertise of the volunteer board members. There is a presumed objectivity about a nonprofit board (that does not have a financial interest in the organization) that allows it to make decisions that are most appropriate for the mission and sustainability of the nonprofit.

Hale Kipa has a rich and long history of excellent, active, engaged board members, many of whom have been very involved in the community. All have been able to contribute their time, energy and expertise to enhance Hale Kipa’s work. Our board is extremely active, sharing a respect for the input of others, a willingness to leave egos at the door, and an authentic passion and commitment to the mission of the organization.

I would not understate the importance of the commitment to the mission, because in the end, that is what will align the board with the work of the professional staff, who most typically come to nonprofit work from a deep desire to make a meaningful difference and to facilitate change in those whom we are privileged to serve. This synergy between the board’s commitment to the mission and the professional staff’s commitment to the work is important.

Equally important, none of us who are professionals in the nonprofit field — no matter how many years of experience — have the depth and breadth of skills necessary to ensure that the nonprofit has all of the resources it needs. That is where a volunteer board comes in. Successful in their personal and professional lives, nonprofit board members bring a wealth of expertise and value to the organization, and their volunteer hours contribute an enormous amount of in-kind support at the highest level. Board members at Hale Kipa are essential to our success.

In the next several issues of this newsletter, we are featuring our board members, simply because they too often go unacknowledged, and in my mind, they are often unsung heroes of the work that nonprofits do.