(THE) ASK

My Nonprofit Experience Hello, and welcome to my blog!  In my 20+ years of working in the nonprofit sector, I found that having engaged board of directors and staff is what makes the difference between high functioning nonprofits and those that struggle to fulfill their mission and organizational goals.  To that end, I will dedicate my first blog post for The Confident OBM to all the amazing nonprofits I have worked for, continue to work with, and those  making a difference in our communities.    A healthy and functioning board of directors is one of the MOST valuable resources a nonprofit can have.  Board of directors are “ambassadors”, by helping spread the mission of the organization, and bring valuable resources in the form of time, expertise, donations, and most importantly overseeing the overall work of the organization.  If a board of directors is unengaged in the nonprofit they serve, this can prove to be detrimental to its the proper functioning.  It can hinder an organization’s leadership team, their ongoing work, and their nonprofit status.  On-Boarding New Board Members Managing the succession and on-boarding process of new board members is extremely important to ensure there is enough time to find the best individuals; community members and professionals that fit the needs and mission of the organization.  One best practice is for existing and former board members to submit recommendations for potential additions to the board.  When a space is anticipated, either due to planned retirement or need for additional support, these candidates can be reviewed by board members for potential fit.  As one of the candidate that went through this process, I want to describe my own on-boarding process as a board member. To start off, I had an initial meeting with my “sponsor” (a board member) and the organization’s executive director.   As you might expect this meeting was entirely different from an interview.  As we already knew each other, we enjoyed a lunch together while we ensured that we understood each other’s expectations.  We understood right away, that if the expectations were out of line in either direction, that was an opportunity to stop getting further involved. What made this on-boarding process very effective was that once we agreed on interest and fit, I was provided with personalized access to the nonprofit’s secure web portal, which provided a listing of the events, board expectations, available resources, meeting minutes, financials, etc.  Having some time to review the information, I was again contacted and asked if I had questions and gently probed if I had read the information and still wanted to commit, which I did!  The following step was a meeting with a staff member (the Director of Development) to get to know the process and share resources.  During my meeting with said staff member, I was informed of my “board dues”, upcoming meeting dates, yearly obligations, and expectations. This multi-level of engagement between the Executive Director, board members, staff, and prospective board members, allowed for an on-boarding process that expanded over a couple of weeks, and ensured that the board was filled with people that were fully prepared to support the mission of the nonprofit organization.   Communication One of the critical points in keeping board members engaged is maintaining regular communication.  As a best practice, one nonprofit had a staff member call and email each board member 2-3 days prior to the board meeting as a reminder.  They provided a back-end portal on their site, exclusively reserved for board members, where they stored pertinent organization and board of director’s working files, making the documents available 24/7.  The nonprofit also ensured that board members received personalize commitment/event updates and timely upcoming board meeting agenda, materials, and action items, so that they could be reviewed by each board member prior to the board meeting.   Keeping constant feedback with board members invigorates them to take their role in both oversight and as “ambassadors” seriously, driving forward the work and mission of the organization.  It is key for nonprofits to provide board members with resources and trainings that will help support their goals and organization achieve its mission.  For example, I wanted to host a small fundraiser at my house for friends and family, in order to raise funds and awareness for the nonprofit I was a board member of.  The nonprofit supplied me with a vendor list, allowed me to use their logo and letterhead to create invitations, and helped me by sending out email blasts to my list of contacts.  They also had the Director of Development come to my house the day of my event and give a brief presentation about the organization.  The event was successful, in that it achieved its purpose; they were able to gain a couple more donors, and together we raised some funds for the ongoing work of the organization.   Needless to say the event would not have been as successful without the help and support of the nonprofit’s staff and their diligent communication and follow-up.

Organization Organization is key, no group of people can pull together effectively without a well-organized plan.  As a board member I always appreciated that the Executive Director was organized, and the staff properly prepared the board meeting packets ahead of time for review.  It is necessary be prepared as a board member in order to appropriately discuss relevant issues at board meetings, otherwise meetings can become long winded sessions, without much being accomplished.  By preparing information ahead of time, board members are able to provide appropriate oversight so that nonprofits remain true to their mission and make effective investments.  Time is an irreplaceable resource, and when used efficiently it is the lifeline of any nonprofit, so dedicating time and resources to maintain clear channels of communication preserves resources and provides maximum results in helping a nonprofit achieve it’s  mission.  About “(The) Ask” In nonprofit lingo we commonly refer to the term “the ask” as our “sales pitch”.  When speaking among staff, funders, community organizations, and stakeholders we constantly think about “the ask”.  What is it that we are asking people to commit to?  Foundations to fund? Communities to work for?  Normally we want “the ask” to be a 60-second elevator speech.  We want the most “important” points to be addressed, and for individuals to at the very least remember the name of the organization we are representing.  It is my goal, through a series or newsletters/blog posts to share with you what I found to be the “key” to help me navigate 20+ years in the nonprofit sector, why it is important for me to continue my work and support of nonprofits, and to leave you with a take-away that will be useful to you whether working in your own nonprofit, business, or personal life.  Respectfully, 

Maria Ochoa Emprender Creative


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