Board Training, Management & Governance


We’ve all heard these “job descriptions” for nonprofit board members:

  • Give! Get!! Get Off!!
  • Wit. Wisdom. Wealth.
  • Time. Talent. Treasure

And the list goes on.

In my opinion, these clichés do not adequately define the roles and responsibilities of nonprofit boards. They are more complex and include the following:

  • Fiduciary—Ensure that complete records are kept (as required by law).
  • Fiscal—Keep records properly; account adequately; use resources wisely; honor donors’ requests; practice responsible fundraising
  • Administrative—Hire and manage the CEO
  • Policy—Adopt policies that will help ensure that the board’s legal responsibilities for oversight are met.

What about stewardship, you wonder? That is the subject of this brief article, as it is perhaps the principal role of a nonprofit board.

Looking at this responsibility from a macro point of view, I think there are two broad tasks:

  1. Ensure that that the organization is operated for charitable purposes, not for private benefit.
  2. Ensure that the organization’s assets are held “in trust” to meet its charitable mission.

Kevin Monroe, founder of X Factor Consulting, is on the right track, I believe, when he breaks nonprofit board stewardship into four types.

  1. Assets and Resources: The board is responsible for protecting the organization’s assets and resources as well as ensuring they are used to advance the organization’s mission.
  2. Mission: Being the steward of the organization’s mission, it is the board’s responsibility to keep the organization focused on its mission and ensure that all organizational activities and resources advance the mission.
  3. Community Trust: The board has a responsibility to maintain the trust of those it serves (clients), those who partner with the organization (funders, stakeholders, partners), and those that benefit from its service.
  4. Reputation: The board’s stewardship also includes the organization’s reputation and image in the community.

Successful fulfillment of these duties requires the following personal qualities:

  1. Active participation: The board cannot fulfill its legal responsibilities without being active participants in the management of the organization.
  2. Informed participation: The board must ensure that it has enough information about the operations of the organization to determine if it is being operated in ways that fulfill its mission.
  3. Loyalty: The board must be focused on promoting the health and wellbeing of the organization, not any private interest. Great care must be taken to ensure that any transaction between the nonprofit organization and a board member, their families and businesses, are “fair and reasonable,” that there was full disclosure, and that the transaction was “clearly in the best interest of the charity.”
  4. Obedience: The board should also be thoroughly familiar with all other policies established by the board to govern the organization and adhere to those.
  5. Due care: The board must make decisions and carry out actions for the organization with “the care an ordinary prudent person in a like position would exercise under similar circumstances.”

Boards that are serious about their sustainability are also serious about their stewardship responsibilities. To paraphrase Josiah Stamp, there are some boards that dodge their stewardship responsibilities.

If you are interested in establishing or reinvigorating a Board, the experts at S. Sutton & Associates Inc. can help. Schedule a complimentary consultation, and in just a 30-minute call you’ll receive invaluable, actionable advice and much more.

Proposal Writing

They Don’t Grow on Trees (Non Crescunt in Arboribus): A Short Treatise on Foundation Solicitation

From many years as a writer, a successful recipient, an observer of nonprofits, and a teacher of grants development, I have reached several conclusions:

  1. Many who are affiliated with non-profit organizations, either as staff or volunteers, subscribe to the cherry tree theory. They feel that grants are like ripe fruit, hanging there ready to be plucked by anyone who wants.
  2. Others believe in the cure-all effect of grants. There is no problem, no need, no financial condition that a grant or two won’t fix.
  3. Members of an organization’s board of directors often feel that their agency is a can’t miss proposition, its cause so noble, its programs so appealing that a foundation would be doing itself a disservice by not giving a grant.
  4. Still others consider grants the base on which to build a complete development program.

There is an element of truth in all of the above theories. None of them, however, should be the sole criterion for a grants (“foundation relations”) program. 

  1. Grants do not grow on trees. 
  2. They are not a panacea for all an organization’s ills. 
  3. No organization is entitled to a grant per se.
  4. Grants should never be regarded as the basis on which a fundraising program rests.  Rather they should form the top—the “icing”—of a development “cake.”

This last statement is particularly important. Until a fundraising program is carefully planned and implemented, seeking grants more often than not is a waste of time. This adage applies both to annual fund efforts and capital campaigns.

What are the prerequisites for increasing the likelihood of receiving funding? This list is not exhaustive but includes:

  • Track record of non-deficit years
  • Solid, demonstrable support by the board and staff
  • High level of support (percentage and gifts) from other components of the organization’s “publics”
  • Careful research and screening of potential funding sources, looking at matches in geography, type of funding, program interests, etc.
  • A well written, persuasive, appropriate proposal (no “boilerplate” documents).

Even if an organization receives a 100% “grade” in all these areas, it is not guaranteed a grant. However, the closer it comes to meeting all these requirements, the better its chances are.  Conversely, except in some special cases, lack of success will occur if these are not met.

Stages of Grants Development

1.  Research:  To determine an organization’s funding (and fundable) needs and potential funding sources’ priorities, formats, submission guidelines, etc.

2.  Screening:  To narrow the field to foundations from which the possibility of funding is good. 

3.  Proposal Development: To create a generic proposal that will serve—with appropriate modifications for every foundation—as the basic request for funding. 

4.  Final Submission: Once all the prerequisites noted above are met, proposals are written and sent. 

In Conclusion

Grants development is an ongoing process. The cycle outlined above will be repeated as new sources are brought to the attention of those responsible for obtaining grants. At the same time, it is essential that the other areas of a newly created or longstanding Development Office continue to perform at a high level. Without their success, seeking grants becomes much more difficult.

If you are interested in expanding your grants program, would like help with grant writing or research, our experts are here to help. Schedule a complimentary consultation with us or contact us at [email protected] today.

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