Do you want to learn how to build a board with a shared mindset?

Do you want to know why having a weak board is actually not to your advantage?

Should you have a list of the kinds of job titles you want on your board? Or is there another way to do it?

Do you want answers to these questions? Listen to the video, or READ ON!


MT: Hey, everybody. Welcome to this interview with Kishshana Palmer. Kishshana has spoken at my Fundraising Career Conference and the Nonprofit Leadership Summit for, oh my golly, four years. Every year she just inspires me with the quality of her presentation and how much she knows about our sector. I mean, it’s incredible. So she is way more accomplished than I am. She has multiple degrees and multiple certifications.

KP: Maz!

MT: She’s so good. So I know you’re Board Source certified.

KP: Yeah, yeah. I’m a Board Source certified trainer. AFP, which is the Association for Fundraising Professionals. Master trainer. I teach the CFRE professional course. I’m going to be teaching fundamentals. So teaching is my jam, y’all.

It doesn’t matter if it’s

  • A board of directors who is like, we need to fundraise.
  • Staff that’s at their point of inflection and they really just need someone to support them through that time and really help them figure out what their next steps are going to be.
  • An individual, whether it’s an executive leader, a senior leader, or even a middle manager who is just looking to grow in their skills, in their leadership, in their management. Shoot, in their life. Then that’s the kind of work that gets me excited.

MT: So at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit, Kishshana, you’re going to be talking about how to build a better board and how to find new board members.

KP: I am.

MT:  Do you want to elaborate on building a better board? What does that mean?

KP: Building a better board assumes that your board is fair to middling and you need some help, or you have a good board and you just want to be able to step it to the next level. I know I have my friends in the back who are like, and my board is terrible, help me, please, someone. What I’m going to try to do during our time together during our Nonprofit Leadership Summit and you know I love this Nonprofit Leadership Summit, Maz. This is my favorite conference to do. This is the only virtual one that I get excited about. It is. I get more excited than I do about my own, which is hilarious.

Nonprofit leadership Summit online

So for me, building better boards really thinks about how do we leverage the volunteer leaders that have chosen to help us grow our organizations, help our organizations to become sustainable, help us to have either deep or widespread impact depending on what our mission is?

How do we empower them to be able to govern in such a way that our organizations continue to flourish and grow?

How do we leverage them so that we can tap into the best of their resources, so that our organization can be the beneficiary of that and also be propelled to do greater work? So our missions can be propelled. It looks different for different boards.

For me, there’s lots of different schools of thought around how to build better boards.

What I really want us to be thinking about is, what do we need to do as leaders on the teams when we don’t always get to pick our boards, and we need to lead with influence because we don’t lead by position?

For us to have a good sense of what the roles and responsibilities are between teams and between boards, so that we can go into conversations like, you know what we should do? We should do an event.

So that you can go in and say, hold on.

Here’s what we need to be talking about, and do that from a place of confidence and do that from a place of authority and do that from a place of growing together. So that, to me, is sort of like my whole ethos around growing better boards. Really putting the people, both you on team, and your board, at the center of the relationships that are necessary in order to get those folks to be able to do what they are so excited to do, which is help grow your organization.

MT: Wow. So there’s so many things inside of what you just said. I want to just kind of raise my hand here and say, well, I’m a founder, Kishshana. I like that my board is weak because then I can do whatever the hell I want.

KP: Get over yourself, sister. You heard it here first. You do not want Kishshana to be your governance trainer because you will not like me at the end. No, ma’am and no, sir. Get over yourself.

First of all, this organization does not belong to you anymore. The minute you file that 501(c)(3) certification, it belongs to the community. That’s for greater good. I think there’s a lot of like, mine, my baby, mine! That goes into founders holding onto their organizations. Once you establish a 501(c)(3), you have the responsibility as founder, as senior executive, as chief executive, to make sure that you put people around the table who are going to care that your organization is healthy. Who are going to care that your mission is actually being activated, and who are going to care that the people who actually carry out the work are healthy and the right folks to be doing that job.

The board is really only responsible to you, Maz, founder, hello. You are charged with your team. But there has to be some simpatico and some understanding about what that means. So you don’t actually want a weak board if you want your organization to grow over time, and if you want to have a strong culture over time. Because if you want your board to be weak, then I bet money that secretly, on the inside, Maz – because you’d never say it out loud, you know. You want your team to be weak, too.

A great leader does not want to be surrounded by yes people.

That’s just what it is. You don’t get better as a leader. You don’t lead with love. You don’t become a transformational leader that sees your mission like in action, on turbo speed and sees your people fired up about the work that they’re doing, whether they’re in IT, in finance, in program, in procurement, in development and communications.

Your folks are not going to be on fire if you’re not transformational, and you’re not going to be transformational if you want weaklings around you. Period. That starts with your board. Gotta have that board. Gotta have that board that really has that shared mindset.

MT: But how would I get a board with a shared mindset? Because they’re all just random volunteers.

KP: Sure. You have to decide what are the values that you want to be able to espouse as a leader, and what are the organizational values that you want to be able to drive in terms of building your culture? You have to be laser focused and clear as day about what those are so that when you go out and start talking to folks about the work that you’re doing, that they feel compelled to want to jump in two hands, two feet into board service. Because your board members typically are going to be your volunteers at some point. In terms of the actual doing of the work, depending on where your organization is in terms of its life cycle.

Your board members are your donors and they’re your donors that know your business. So you want to be able to really be thoughtful about the type of folks that you want to be able to know all your bits and your goods. As my mom would say, all your bits and your wiggles and your goods, right? All the insides of how your organization works to an extent, and how your organization plans to grow. So you’ve got to be able to look for folks who are seeking you too, and with the tools that we have right now – first of all, if you’re a founder. As a founder, you should be out there mixing and mingling in your community. Not just in the mission space that you’re in.

So if you’re with animals, not just with folks in the humane world. If you’re with the environment, not just folks in the environment world. But really mixing and mingling with other executive leadership. Getting to see other organizations galas so you can meet their people and their folks. Becoming known in the community. Making sure you yourself serve on a board so that you can actually be out there. As you’re out there spreading the good news about your organization and the impact that you’re having, you will meet folks who are like, oh, you know who you should talk to? You should talk to Kishshana. She would be great for your board. I don’t know if she’s interested.

Then you want to get on the phone with somebody like Kishshana who goes, I really don’t have time to be able to serve right now. Your organization sounds great. I’d be happy to give. Then you get to say to her, that’s awesome. Do you think there are two or three people I could be talking with right now who you think would also be interested and might have the time? So you continue to foster those relationships. So as an ED, you’ve got to get out there and start shaking hands and kissing babies. You’ve got to get out there. But then in the virtual space, the world is also your oyster. What you post on your social as a thought leader for your space. What you’re seeing on things like LinkedIn, other social media platforms that folks are seeking.

They’re raising their hand and going yes. It’s on their profile. I would like to do board service. Are you actually culling that from the types of folks who are interested in the types of work that your organization does? So fortunately and/or unfortunately, you’ve got to do some of that heavy lifting if you want the kind of board that is a better board and also if you want the board that’s going to help make sure that your organization gets to where you had imagined it and beyond it.

MT: That is such a good answer. I love that. That’s exactly the kind of thing people need to hear. So some people say that you should have a lawyer and an accountant on your board. When I was at a domestic violence agency, they made sure to have that on our board. Is that something that you would say, okay, just sort of fill out a list of the kind of job that you want the person to have?

KP: For me personally, I like to map out who do we need to have around the table to be able to have the most robust conversation we can have? That means,

  • Do folks who sit around the table mirror the folks who we serve?
  • Do we have folks around the table that have had a personal life experience, or been involved in life experience that our mission activates for them?
  • For the functioning aspects of our organization, particularly around running our organization, do we have folks around the table that when we pull out documents, everybody’s eyes aren’t going to glaze over because they’ve never seen it before?

So really answering those questions. Some of them are yes, no. Some of them are yes, but. Some of them are no, but. Allows you to be able to think broadly about who you might need in your organization, and it doesn’t confine you to just checking off a box. Know what I mean? You get to be able to really talk that through and think that through and create a framework that works well for your organization. So for some organizations, it could be like, we want somebody, a lawyer, an accountant, somebody in marketing, somebody in sales, somebody in HR, somebody in operations, bada bing.

You also have to remember that there are lots of professionals who don’t want to volunteer for the work they do every day. But having that expertise might allow for some conversations to run a little bit more smoothly. They will be happy to weigh in. But they don’t want to run that thing. Like I’m one of them. I don’t want to join a board to run fundraising. I’m a recovering fundraiser, as you know, Maz. Every time I get out they try to pull me back.

MT: I know.

KP: I’m tempted. I love fundraising so much. It is one of those things that I actually like to volunteer on boards to do other things. I like to do governance. I really enjoy it. I mean, it is a thing that for me, I would do for free. I just love it. So I love the governance work. I love the marketing work. So yes, I’ll chair that committee. Yes, I’ll help your team member and relieve some stress off of him or her around putting together your strategy and planning. You know, so you’ve got to be able to not just get so focused on Betty the CPA that you can’t see Betty the CPA does not want to do that work. She actually wants to flex her muscles another way. Spread your wings, y’all, and flex your muscles.

MT: Flex your flight muscles.

KP: Flying and flexing, flying and flexing.

MT: Flex on it.

KP: Drop down and get your eagle on, girl. Hey. Now we’re ready for that. We’re ready for the eagle. Come on. This is why you can’t put me on the video.

MT: Yes. No flex zone!

KP: I love it. But seriously, guys. One of the things that I hate to see is when we are so prescriptive that we are directed in how organizations should go about their boards. I think that we need to spend more time asking detailed, deeper questions and going to the end of the line to answer those questions about:

  1. What our organization needs in order to be able to survive, and then
  2. Move from surviving to sustaining. Then
  3. Move from sustainability to growth. Then
  4. Through that point of inflection, where you have growing pains again, and then so forth and so on through the cycle of organizational growth.

I think we really have got to spend a little bit more time doing that and not be so rushed to figuring out what to do about the board itself. That’s part of building a better board, to have a good sense of the foundation of where you are, where you hope you’d like to go, where the gaps feel like they are, and then allow for conversation to fill those gaps and for people to fill those gaps and for resources to fill those gaps. So yeah. So that’s my thought process on that.

MT: Wow. I just have one more question-What is Governance?

Kishshana PalmerKP: If you think about it from a business perspective, governance really is around establishing policies and the continued and ongoing monitoring of their implementation within an organization by the governing body. So by that board of directors. It includes sort of like the tools, mechanisms, processes, systems, pick a word, any word, that is required to balance the power of the board itself with what they need to do to make sure the organization is sustainable. It also injects their primary duty of care in enhancing the prosperity and viability and visibility of the organization.

So in a sense, governance is really about – if you think of a bowling alley. For those of you who are watching, you see my hands here. For those of you who are listening, I am doing the like – when you’re at the airport and you’re doing the – with the hands giving directions on the runway. When you think about the bumper rails. When you go bowling and you’re a little kid, they put the railings up so that the bowling ball can bounce from side to side and the kid can feel confident when the ball goes in, right? Governing well, and governance itself. If you imagine it sort of like having those bumper rails up. Making sure that within a confine, that is established. That is agreed upon. That has a systematized approach. That you are able to make sure the organization is growing, prosperous, viable, healthy, and that the folks who are in it are carrying out the mission and the strategic direction of that organization.

Did I get to it?

MT: I think you did. Yeah, there’s a lot there. So it sounds like being a board member is more complicated than just showing up to a meeting.

KP: Absolutely. Listen, y’all. If you’re just here for the snacks, you have signed up for the wrong activity, okay?

MT: Yeah, because if the nonprofit gets into fiscal trouble, you are legally responsible to discharge that debt. Some people don’t realize that when they sit on a board. Like oh, you mean if I don’t watch the budget and we go in the hole, I’m responsible?

KP: Correct. That’s why part of building a better board is that individuals need to understand what board service really is, and what they as individuals and then collectively as a group are supposed to really be doing in order to ensure that the organization is run well.

MT: So come join us at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit and Learn MORE about how to build a better board! Kishshana, where can people find you aside from the Nonprofit Leadership Summit if they want to get more of your wisdom?

KP: I’m Kishshana of the internet. You can find me on all social platforms. I typically hang out on Instagram and LinkedIn the most, and Twitter. So any of the platforms you can find me @funddiva. If you want to check out my site, you can check me out at kishshanaco.com or fabulouslyfundraising.com. I will be excited to connect with you guys and chit chat. I respond to just about all my messages. I would love to be able to hear all your questions if you have any coming into the conference, so that I can always do a little tailoring if I need to for the audience. Because I’m excited to be able to talk to y’all about how to build better boards.

Nonprofit leadership summit

Here’s more about Kishshana’s session at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit!

Building a Board You Love

Monday, September 24, 2018

8:15am-9:15am PT (11:15am-12:15pm ET)

No matter how many times you read about, talk about it and lament over it; building a board that understands how to govern and also wants  to champion your organization is no easy feat. As the chief executive, it can be frustrating, time consuming and soul sucking (if we’re being honest).  But that ends today! It is possible to recruit a board that governs with joy, gives you space to lead and creates a lasting partnership that supports the growth and sustainability of your organization. 

In this session, you will learn:
–The Three Things You need to do as a Chief Executive to Build a Board You Love
–The Three Things Your board needs to do to feel successful
–What you can do right now to turn your board into ambassadors and your “bosses” into your partners