Serving on Nonprofit Boards: It’s Like Parenting

On June 3, 1993, I watched as my wonderful daughter came into the world (and then I fainted).  It was the happiest day of my life.  Since that day, I learned a great deal about what it takes to be a parent, and all about the responsibilities that go along with that title.   Parenthood has brought me a great deal of joy over the years, and an occasional heartache, but it is probably the greatest thing that I have ever done.

In 1998, I started the first of two three year terms for a social service agency in my former home of Portland, Oregon.  Being a Board member took a good deal of my time, and it added to my busy schedule, but giving back to my community was also very fulfilling, and it helped shape me into what I am today.

I see several similarities when comparing being a parent to being a board member, so let me share a few of them with you.

First, being a parent and being a Board member takes time and commitment.  As a parent, you learn that your child is your priority, and the past times that you once enjoyed before your child came along take a back seat to things like driving your kid to dance class or girl scouts, attending school functions, or taking them to doctor and dentist appointments.  As a Board member, you must be prepared for your monthly Board and committee meetings, and you must attend various events like fundraisers, open houses, and volunteer recognition parties.

Another similarity I see as a parent and a Board member is you have to keep on top of what your child and organization are and are not doing.  If you are a parent, you have to make sure that your child is doing his homework, household chores, and piano practice.  As a Board member, you must make sure that your organization’s programs are staying within its mission, that they are keeping accurate records of who they serve and what they are doing, and they are using financial resources wisely and responsibly.  If you neglect these duties as a parent or a Board member, you do a disservice to those around you, and surely trouble will follow.

As a parent and a Board member, you must encourage your charges, and occasionally you must say no.   When your child finds a new interest like a sport or hobby, you cheer them on and help them achieve their goal, but if the new activity makes them neglect their other responsibilities or endangers their well being, you need to step in for their own good.  As a board member, you help your organization explore new ideas to help them grow, but if the ideas are counterproductive or not within the scope of the mission, you must take a stand and let it know why the activity or program should not go forward.

Another aspect is financial support.  As a parent, you must feed, clothe, and house your child.  You must pay for educational supplies and activities, and when possible, save for their college education.  As a Board member, you need to make your own financial contribution to the organization’s program, and you must actively increase support from those you know and others.  This can be the most difficult part of serving on the Board for many individuals.

Finally, when the time comes, you must let them go.  If you have done your job as a parent well, you have instilled your child with values they need to go out in the world and succeed.  You need to let them live their lives, make their mark in society, and choose how they make a living and a future for themselves.  As a Board member, your term will eventually end, and you need to step away and make room for another to step in to do their part for the organization.  As a parent, you can still send your child a gift at the holidays or their birthday, and as a supporter of the organization, you can still attend events and give to the organization annually, but your time of being in charge must come to an end.

Although there are countless books on parenting and Board membership you can read, you learn the most through trial and error.  You will have successes and you will make mistakes, but in the end, you will find great fulfillment when being a parent and serving on a Board.

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About greatergoodfundraising

Richard Freedlund has been active in the nonprofit sector in a number of ways, both professionally and as a volunteer. He is the founder of Greater Good Fundraising, a business that helps schools and organizations raise money for their programs while accomplishing something positive for the community. After living in Oregon for 27 years, he has returned to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois and hopes to make his mark on the nonprofit sector there. He is the father of a talented jazz musician and the son of philanthropic parents that continue to support multiple causes. To contact Richard for consulting, fundraising, or speaking opportunities, email greatergoodfundraising@gmail.com or reach him on Twitter.com @ggfundraise
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One Response to Serving on Nonprofit Boards: It’s Like Parenting

  1. Richard, I enjoyed this post. It reminded me of a brilliant office manager I met many, many years ago when I was starting out my professional life. I was so impressed with her management style and her effectiveness that I asked her to recommend some books on management that she particularly found worthwhile. She told me that she really did not read management books. The few management books she had read, she found not particularly useful. So, I asked her what she did read to build her management skills. She said told me she reads books on parenting. She found parenting and management to be very similar. So, your post really resonated with me.

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