Board Leadership Boot Camp: Helping Nonprofits Thrive

About 4 years ago, Michael Williams began volunteering for Executive Service Corps (ESC), helping them provide affordable consulting and capacity building services to nonprofits in the Triangle. Since 1987, ESC’s 72 volunteer consultants do pro bono work provide support nonprofits in Chatham, Durham, Orange, and Wake counties. Volunteers come from a variety of management backgrounds, are in different stages of life, and are all committed to making a difference in their communities. This includes people who are working, people who are in transition, and retirees.

“ESC helps other nonprofits thrive through capacity building, strategic approaches to maximize missions, coaching, and board development,” explained Williams, who lives in Cary with his wife and two sons and now has a new role with ESC, as its Executive Director. “I love being in this role. We are impacting the growth and sustainability of the more than 150 nonprofits we touch a year, so they have the best opportunity to be a vibrant part of our society.”

One of the programs Williams helps oversee at ESC is their Board Leadership Boot Camp, funded by Triangle Community Foundation’s Fund for the Triangle. ESC brings together members of nonprofit board leadership teams for a series of training sessions, with a new group of 25 participants announced twice a year. The series is aimed at board chairs and board members who are key to board leadership, and the goals are to strengthen the performance of nonprofit boards of directors, increase understanding of roles, and promote better board leadership through increased knowledge.

The six training sessions are designed to inform nonprofit board leadership about best practices in critical areas that will impact their effectiveness and provide significant guidance for those volunteering in the nonprofit sector through board service. This includes governance, fundraising, financial oversight, the difference between what the staff does and what the board does, and how the board and executive director should work together.

“We are ensuring that the nonprofits supporting the infrastructure of the Triangle have the best chance to be sustainable,” shared Williams. “That’s why this training and peer learning are so important.”

Nonprofit organizations are selected twice a year from a large pool of applicants to participate in the boot camp. Each of them commits to send three to four board members, including their Board chair, to the series of six training sessions. “The first session is always an awakening in terms of leadership,” explained Williams. “It really allows people to take a quiet inventory of who they are and what they should be doing.”

Amy Cipau, President and Founder of Lung Cancer Initiative (LCI), a recent participant, recognized early on that she and her board members could benefit from the program. The highlight of the experience to her was “learning more from other organizations.” In addition, she shared that learning other steps her board could take to be better leaders would be vital to the future of the organization.

“Networking with other local nonprofit leaders was a rare experience,” said Jim Sheegog, Board Member, LCI. “For us, it was a chance to take a time out and talk about what is governance, what is the role of the board versus managing the day-to-day. That time is something that can be hard to carve out in busy schedules.”

Erin Kauffman, Executive Director of Durham Central Park (DCP), also participated in the program this spring, and is glad she had the chance, after wanting to participate for a few years.

“It was a good opportunity to give us the tools to look internally at our organization and to bring it up to speed as the organization and the park itself has grown over the past 20 years,” she said.

She and DCP’s board are still putting what they learned into practice. “The boot camp ended in June but we are still talking about it,” Kauffman said. “We learned that we need to update things. The organization has grown really rapidly, and the development around the park as well. We’ve been working hard to keep up with everything that is going on, and finally had an opportunity to look internally at our operating practices, board structure, and board commitments.”

That is exactly what ESC wants the boot camp participants to do. “We want our boards to walk away knowing what they can and should be doing to support their communities and how they can make a difference,” shared Williams. “Board governance is essential for success and we want to be a part of that.”

To learn more about ESC’s Board Leadership Boot Camp and apply for the next series of training sessions, visit http://www.esctriangle.org.