Thoughts from the Coach Boat

Maintaining a Mission Driven Board Culture

Boards can retain the mission commitment of their founding culture while structurally transforming from a hands-on “Founding Board“to a differentiated “Sustaining Board.” *

The New York Common Pantry (formerly the Yorkville Food Pantry), one of the winners of this year’s Non Profit Excellence Awards, 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 board members serve as Food Pantry volunteers, they also maintain very strong governance practices, including:

  • Developing a strategic plan that includes goals for the board to:
    • Reduce its size, by creating an Advisory Council to continue to engage board member who could not provide financial resources at the expected give/get level;
    • Create a “Bread and Butter” group for supporters who can make significant contributions but do 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 Board Chair and the Chair of the Nominating Committee
  • Establishing a three-year term for the Chair with a transition process that begins at mid term
  • Creating active board committees including a Program Committee to work closely with staff to monitor program outcome
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 to an Advisory Committee where they could continue their 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

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