Category Archives: board of directors

Key questions to understanding a nonprofit.

People before profit

but both are important

In looking to quickly understand the nonprofits that I was meeting with at San Francisco Board Match, I found myself coming back to a few questions over and over. Before you make the big commitment to join a board, you need to understand the “bigger picture” of how the organization works, and how it fits into the broader community.

“Who do you work with and how do they find your organization?”

I was talking with Maria Nicolacoudis, the ED of TransAccess, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities get training and employment. It would seem straightforward enough to understand who they work with, until I learned that the lion’s share of the people they work with have no physical disabilities. Then I really got curious about what disabilities they mostly work with and why.

In asking the “how do people find you?” question, I learned that they do a lot of proactive outreach in high schools, a key point I might have missed otherwise.

“What impact are you looking to have, and how do you measure your success at having that impact?”

Everyone in the nonprofit world is working with the impact question, and so it’s quite interesting to hear how different nonprofits think about it. For The Bread Project, job placement is a key statistic they track. Which naturally led me to ask “where are the jobs for your graduates?” which kicked off another great discussion of the many opportunities that are finding for their people.

“How do you actually create the impact you have?” which if you’re technical is similar to asking “What’s your theory of change?”

I talked with the Dagmar Schröder-Huse, ED of The Bread Project, a nonprofit that trains disadvantaged people in bakery skills. The actual skill of baking is relatively straightforward compared to skills like reliably showing up for work on time, working effectively as part of the team, and efficiently dealing with interpersonal conflict. And so it was very interesting to talk with Dagmar to find out how they actually create the change through hands-on learning and experience rather than through class-room learning.

“How are you funded? How cumbersome is it for you to receive that funding?”

I spoke with André Chapman, the very dynamic leader of the Unity Care Group, which provides a broad array of services for foster children. It turns out that much of their funding comes from a number of different government agencies. And that they have to be very efficient about how they comply with the paperwork and reporting requirements of those agencies, so that there’s as much money as possible to apply to programs!