CINCINNATI — As a nonprofit founder and CEO, Noah Kling is always looking for potential board members to advise his organization, Proud Scholars.
Proud Scholars provides educational services, resources and supplies to LGBT youth and their families in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Kling said he seeks out board members with diverse viewpoints in order to make the organization as effective as possible.
“The LGBT community isn’t just about the LGBT community supporting themselves. It’s about 100% of the community as a society supporting everyone,” Kling said. “I looked at it from the perspective of like, how do I reach everybody with a message that says, ‘This is what we do. You can help.’”
That’s why Kling got involved with Cincinnati Cares and its Board Connect technology platform. Board Connect is designed to help nonprofits create boards that are WIDER, an acronym that stands for welcoming, inclusive, diverse, equitable and representative.
“The process of finding a board member and connecting is very, very difficult and long,” said Cincinnati Cares CEO Doug Bolton. “This technology speeds that up.”
Cincinnati Cares relaunched Board Connect in May 2019 and held a series of four face-to-face events where leaders from local nonprofit organizations could meet people who were interested in becoming board members. More than three dozen nonprofit leaders connected with volunteers who are now members of their boards as a result, Bolton said.
Then COVID-19 hit, making such in-person events impossible. So Cincinnati Cares created an online system that allows volunteers to create a profile, figure out which types of organizations would be the best fit for them and then connect with those nonprofits.
The first virtual event is Aug. 12. Volunteers who want to take part are required to register and complete a profile by Aug. 7.
“Even before COVID, even before all of the social unrest that we’ve experienced in our country, this was a need because the old ways of recruiting board members to nonprofit board seats essentially relied upon the existing board,” Bolton said. “And in most organizations, the existing board looked exactly like me, you know. So a bunch of old white guys, to be honest.”
Making a long-term commitment
There are a lot of reasons for that, Bolton said.
One is the old model for nonprofits, he said, which called for recruiting board members with lots of money who could write big checks and who had rich friends they could tap for large contributions.
Money is still important to nonprofit organizations, of course. But now nonprofits recognize that people from all kinds of backgrounds can contribute to leading organizations in a variety of ways, Bolton said.
“If I were to go out and say, you know, I need $1,000 from every board member, some would say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have $1,000,’ and some would say, ‘Yeah, sure. No problem,’” Kling said. “So it’s more important to get them in the seat and then we figure out how to connect the dots between them and their community. Because that thousand dollars could much easier come from 20 different resources than putting the hardship on one person.”
Plus, the time and skills that board members contribute are just as valuable as money, he said.
Cincinnati Cares estimates that a single board member adds roughly $10,000 of value to a nonprofit organization each year.
The average board term is three years, for an impact of $30,000.
And many board members tend to serve several terms on a nonprofit board before they leave, Bolton said.
“It can be a nine- to 10-year commitment by someone,” Bolton said. “So you want to make sure that it’s the right organization.”
Board Connect helps volunteers figure that out, he said, and can help them understand what expectations will be.
“Most people think, ‘I’m no good at fundraising. I’ve never raised a dime in my life for anything.’ The fact of the matter is, it’s not that hard,” Bolton said. “All you have to do as an average citizen is ask your friends to donate to your nonprofit, whether it’s $10 or $1,000 or a million dollars. It doesn’t matter – they just need to be asked.”
Speed dating – but different
Tyree Fields is a doctoral student in education at Xavier University. He attended a Board Connect event last year after taking part in the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Leadership Action program and in the Leadership Council for Nonprofits’ BOLD program, which stands for Board Orientation and Leadership Development.
Fields saw the Board Connect event as a perfect way to learn more about giving back to the community, he said.
“I have been involved with other boards previously over the years,” he said. “I am interested in serving more.”
Fields said he doesn’t have the time to commit to board service right now but has been able to work with some of the nonprofit leaders he met through Board Connect and help them in other ways.
He believes boards benefit from diverse viewpoints of all types, he said, whether that’s diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and religion or in terms of people with disabilities.
“It’s almost like if you’re selling or marketing your product, you want to make sure that you’re mirroring the people that you’re serving, that you’re selling to,” he said. “It’s a social responsibility is what it comes down to.”
Kling found a board member through the time he spent with Board Connect last year, he said.
But even if he hadn’t, he said he would have considered the experience a success.
“They’re bringing together two entities that really need each other,” he said. “When you get into the room, you can’t help but be energized by the level of energy because everybody’s happy. They’re connecting. They’re talking. It’s just electric.”
Bolton said he’s hoping Cincinnati Cares can bring that same energy to the virtual event.
“I know everybody spends time on Zoom,” he said. “So we’ve tried to make it a little more of an experience.”
It will be like online speed dating, he said, but for the love of the community.