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 Post subject: Re: museum management
PostPosted: Sun Dec 06, 1998 7:09 pm 

Whoa! Jim Lundquist posed a big, meaty question. There are alternative approaches to setting up a nonprofit Board of Directors. Each is effective in relevant situations, and could be a disaster in the wrong situation. Hard to tell which without knowing a lot more about this museum's situation (perhaps reason for an off-line chat - I'm at ebt4evr@aol.com).<br> There also are trends in what regulators, funders, and the nonprofit community as a whole (those hundreds of thousands of other 501(c)(3)'s who can teach us a lot) look for in the Board of a well-run nonprofit.<br> Perhaps oversimplified, there are two basic models for nonprofit boards of directors. The responses in this string have blended both, which can be a prescription for trouble. Maybe not right away, but....<br> One model is the "entrepreneurial board." This is where all board members are appointed, usually with the objective of adding a particular, skill, access, or checkbook and usually after a talent search and/or recruitment (well, how much talent does it take to write a check). This model does have high potential for marshalling particular strengths for a given nonprofit mission. An entrepreneurial board usually is self-perpetuating and, therefore, can be very weak on accountability to rank and file members of an organization.<br> Until recently, about 90 percent of the nonprofits in the United States followed the entrepreneurial model. That hasn't been unreasonable considering that, historically, a nonprofit has been a small group of like-minded people following a charismatic leader in a cause that society (in the form of the IRS we know and love) sanctions as a public trust. That's one thing if you are Jane Adams crusading for public housing. It's something else again if you are a railway preservation organization living on dues and small donations from a large membership.<br> The alternative is the "mutual model" as in, simply defined, "mutual consent of the governed." This is where the Board is elected by and, therefore, (in theory) accountable directly to the voting membership. Rail preservation groups seem to find the mutual model much more comfortable intuitively. That makes sense: to date, not the Ford Foundation, but a wellspring of small donations and volunteerism have kept the wheels turning in railway preservation (such as they do).<br> Not just because it is easier to construct a sense of real participation for rank and file members, the mutual model usually is to the advantage of rail preservation groups. One of the trends, alluded to above, is for regulators and funders to use accountability as a yardstick for organizational strength. For this and a lot of other reasons, more nonprofits generally are adopting the mutual model. Showing that you listen to and respond to your members on how to accomplish the nonprofit mission that binds everyone together in the group sure is a good way to demonstrate to a donor or regulator that your mission has the support of the public - even though it may be years before No.11 runs again.<br> As in everything else, the test of good intentions (also true for the entrepreneurial model) is in the application. Witness the calamity that mis-application of its own rules brought onto the United Way and the long road back that organization has had to travel (with apparent success, thankfully).<br> For a mutual model of a Board to work, the organization has to have a good leadership development program. If that is in place and used, then candidates for the board developed from among the rust scrapers and weed hackers might turn out to be every bit as effective as the types usually recruited by entrepreneurial boards. <br> A leadership development program ought to be a natural fit for a railway preservation organization. We worry about the next generation of people with the rail-specific knowledge and skills to sustain the heritage. A natural extension should be to mentor promising people to become effective organization leaders. Most of us come to rail preservation not with fat checkbooks, but determination, wit, and passion. Doesn't reaching out to share leadership as well go to the essence of our charity?<br> Leadership needs to be committed to the board election process, which must be fair and open. This cannot depend on personalities: it must become part of the institution.<br> There must be a constant effort to avoid cliques, cronyism, and dynasties (actually, not a bad description of what most entrepreneurial boards devolve into). Inclusion is one baseline strategy for growing a healthy, expanding leadership. <br> Inclusion may not be as hard as it would seem. The tendency that I have observed in rail preservation groups is a too-easy acceptance by leaders of an us-them mentality in which "the members don't care as long as the magazine comes out and the train still runs - we have to do all the work ourselves." To counter that, remember this: in survey after survey on why committed volunteers got involved, the answer given most often by far is, "I was asked."<br> In case I sounded too hard on the entrepreneurial model, I should say that, coming from a mutual background in noprofit leadership, I recently have recommended the entrepreneurial model to two groups, one of which was a proposed rail museum start-up. It all depends on circumstance.<br> There is a lot of good help out there on this and other Board questions. Find the web page for the Center for Nonprofit Boards and check out what they have to offer. <br> Good literature on nonprofit management, until very recently, was horrendously expensive on the theory that "everybody is taking a tax deduction for it anyway." No more. Increasingly, foundation sources of good nonprofit management advice are cutting the cost of publications, even to a loss, as part of their mission to reach a wider audience among nonprofits -- like us. After all, the foundations are in a real bind: surging stock profits mean tht, by law, the have to give out more in grants, but they haven't got the staff for oversight. helping nonprofits to better manage themselves is in the foundations' interest.<br> Take advantage of that. At least a modest annual pot for Management Training and Eduction ought to be a line item in every rail preservation nonprofit's budget. In additioon to the Center for Nonprofit Boards, an early step is to check out the web site of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. A terrific resource at a very reasonable subscription price.<p>Phil Padgett<br><br>



ebt4evr@aol.com


  
 
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