Wearing Two Hats

As the executive director of Greater Columbus Sister Cities International, my role exposes me to daily engagements and learning opportunities with partners worldwide. With Sister Cities in ten different countries, the potential for personal and professional growth is limitless.

Despite the challenges of language and distance, I’ve discovered that my counterparts across the globe share many similarities with me. We all engage in budgeting, strategic planning, and the pursuit of top talent to ensure our organizations are well-prepared. Preparation, for me, is an active and dynamic experience. Surprisingly, I found that by assuming a board member position at a different nonprofit, I became even better equipped to lead my own organization.

Joining the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s (GCAC)board in 2021 has been one of the best decisions of my tenure. I expected to learn about best practices, board engagement, and the thriving arts scene in Columbus. However, what surprised me was the valuable perspective it gave me on my relationship with my own board, donors, and global partners.

This realization has been transformative. By engaging in a slightly different form of leadership, I’ve gained valuable insights and honed my skills. The experience has enhanced my ability to guide and drive our organization’s success. It’s a testament to the power of diversifying leadership roles and embracing opportunities beyond direct management.

Being a GCAC board member has revolutionized my collaboration with the board at Greater Columbus Sister Cities International. I now approach board members’ roles with a fresh mindset, considering their commitments and valuing their time during meetings, fundraisers, and community initiatives. This newfound perspective has instilled a deep sense of gratitude for the dedication that goes into board service.

By balancing my roles as an executivedirector and as a board member, I’ve gained insights, broadened my understanding, and fostered stronger relationships within the nonprofit sector.

Here are a few things I have learned as a board member that have helped me as an executive director:

  • Focus on fiduciary duties—keep your attention on the financials, ensuring accuracy in bookkeeping, projected expenses, and audits. Your responsibility as a board member lies in oversight, maintaining the organization’s financial integrity.
  • Take an advisory role in programming—offer advice and observations based on your experience, refraining from interfering with program implementation. However, if there are concerns about program viability or effectiveness, as a fiduciary, it’s appropriate to ask questions and suggest solutions.
  • Keep your eye on the KPIs—concentrate on the organization’s objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs). Leave the day-to-day operational details to the organization’s staff. Your role as a board member is to ensure that goals are defined, and fair measurements are in place.
  • Mitigate conflicts and establish an executive director review process—to navigate conflicts and ensure effective annual reviews for the executive director, it is crucial to be proactive and diligent. In the nonprofit world, where familiarity with organizational leaders and funders can create conflicts of interest, it is important to recuse oneself at even the slightest hint of a conflict. Equally vital is the board’s role in supervising the executive director, who may be a friend. Establishing a set review process for key day-to-day personnel helps insulate individual board members from personal conflicts and ensures objective oversight. By prioritizing transparency, accountability, and fairness, the board can fulfill its governance duties and safeguard the organization’s integrity indecision-making processes.

As you step into the boardroom, remember the distinct role you play. Your experience as an executive director brings an oversight and advisory perspective. Although the chair may look the same, your lens will be different. Embrace this unique position and contribute to the organization’s success through effective board governance.

I encourage fellow nonprofit executives to consider similar opportunities, as they provide a unique vantage point that propels personal and professional development. Embrace the unexpected pathways that can lead to newfound preparation and success in your own organization.

Click here to learn more about Greater Columbus Sister Cities International

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