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Service finds matches for openings on nonprofit boards

When the Twin Cities Housing Development Corporation has a board opening, it struggles to find volunteers with the financial and real estate savvy needed to help guide multimillion-dollar housing deals.

Last year, TCHDC executive director Barbara McQuillan turned to the Management Assistance Program for Nonprofits (MAP) and its Best on Board program. It’s part-headhunter and part-dating service, an effort to find people with the technical skills a board needs and a shared passion.

After several months, Allen Black and Janet Rudie joined the TCHDC board: Black of Presbyterian Homes & Services brings a real estate development background; Rudie of Ernst & Young brings risk analysis and accounting expertise. 

“I understood it would take a while,” McQuillan said. “The key was that I got the right person.”

MAP’s efforts to connect business volunteers with nonprofit boards in the metro area dates to 1984; it was free then. Over the years, the program itself has needed an infusion of business smarts.

Dealing with donors’ mood swings
Like many nonprofits it serves, MAP increasingly needs program fees to cope with philanthropy’s mood swings. The Best on Board service costs nonprofits $300 to $600, depending on their budget. The fees don’t cover program costs, but they help.

Like many nonprofits, MAP is trying to figure out how to grow its program.

Potential volunteer board members far outnumber nonprofit requests. Last year, Best on Board placed 78 people on boards for 50 different organizations, but it had 653 volunteers interested in serving on boards.

“Right now, our challenge is not in finding candidates who want to serve on boards,” said Judy Sharken Simon, the program manager. “We have more than 650 people and more coming in daily. It is helping nonprofits see the value of having this kind of customized help and access to people.”

MAP’s 2008 goal is to double the matches.

Efforts to improve service have taken a page from headhunters and dating services. After hearing rumblings from some nonprofits that board matches hadn’t stuck, last year MAP began offering its own customer satisfaction guarantee: Participating nonprofits get two qualified board members who stay at least six months.

The pitch
It seems like a no-brainer. There must be lots of nonprofits needing help with marketing, finances or other specific business skills. They should tap the program.

So why not more matches?

Sharken Simon says she doesn’t think it’s the fee. Nonprofits just don’t know that hundreds of qualified people want to serve on their boards.

It could be that cash-strapped nonprofits actually do flinch at a few hundred bucks, especially if they are teetering into the red.

At the risk of being seen as a shill for MAP’s marketing arm, here’s the pitch.

According to a 2006 survey, more than 80 percent of volunteers have at least mid-level management experience, more than half work in corporations and more than half have six-figure incomes.

And they tend to have connections.

Ross English, technology relationship manager with Wells Fargo, got placed with the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota Board in February. He has already provided an entree to Wells Fargo philanthropy and other help, he said. “They needed work on some of their databases. I was able to bring in a contact of mine to help them out.”

Steve Antenucci, executive director of Theater in the Round, said his board is 50-50 theater and non-theater people, and it has used MAP to get its treasurers for the past 15 years. “You want someone who can go over the financials and present it to the board,” he said.

MAP has provided new blood and people have stayed, he said. The theater has three box-office volunteers who started out as MAP treasurers.

More diverse leaders
The Best on Board’s ongoing challenges include recruiting and matching more professionals of color, a role it recently absorbed from the YWCA of Minneapolis.

In 2003, the YWCA and the Urban Coalition found that of 383 Hennepin County nonprofits surveyed, board members were predominantly white (84 percent) and male (57 percent).

That led to the YWCA’s Leadership Registry, an effort to increase board service by both women and people of color. MAP partnered on the program.

The YWCA ended its role late in 2007. Sharken Simon said the YWCA couldn’t sustain funding and transferred it to MAP. The Y did not return a phone call from MinnPost. According to its website, the program is “evolving into a new phase of implementation.”

Approximately 30 percent of MAP’s board candidates identify themselves as racially or ethnically diverse, Sharken Simon said, adding that it is an area that needs more focus.

Interested in volunteering? As of early April, there were 32 openings, from African American Family Services to West Bank School of Music. Here’s a list of current board openings.

To start the volunteer process, go here.

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