Looking for Leaders: Leadership Upper Valley Trains Board Members for Nonprofits
When Susan Shinn joined Hanover’s Outreach House as administrator 14 years ago, she was hired by a strong and active board of directors largely recruited from the neighborhood where the previous administrator regularly walked, she says. Today, she’s struggling to find people to fill the eight or more board positions that are critical to keeping the small residential care home for seniors running.
From business oversight to fundraising support and serving as ambassadors and connectors in the community, she says, an effective board of directors is crucial to the success of Outreach House — or any organization. But members are getting harder to come by.
Shinn’s case is not unique, says Rob Schultz, manager of the Leadership Upper Valley program at the regional nonprofit Vital Communities.
When Shinn called Schultz in March looking for board member referrals, she joined numerous nonprofit board members and directors who have looked to LUV over the last decade for introductions to people with passion, skill and connections to a broad range of resources, organizations and community members.
“The number of nonprofits is growing incredibly every year, because there is a need for the work that nonprofits do, and they constitute a large percentage of the greater Upper Valley economy. For nonprofits to be healthy, they need strong boards. Boards hold the process. They ensure good financial and strategic planning, assess and avoid potential conflicts of interest and evaluate the executive director in a meaningful way,” says Schultz. “If really good board process is what keeps nonprofits healthy, we need more good board members — so how do we train those people?”
Vital Communities’ Leadership Upper Valley is one way. Each September through June, participants spend one day a month learning together about a different aspect of the greater Upper Valley while building an expanded network of partners and exploring ways to provide services to the community.
The program’s total 80 hours of professional development include sessions on education, arts and the creative economy, health and human services, economic development, justice, government and politics, transportation and livable communities, and the environment.
“Leadership Upper Valley is one component of excellent board training because it provides an orientation across geography and across the many different business sectors so that each graduate has a much broader horizon of what they’ve seen and thought about,” Schultz says.
“The difficulty is finding a person that is passionate about your particular cause, has the time to dedicate to meetings and has the skill that the board is lacking,” says Jennifer Riccio, an associate-owner at Hypertherm, a graduate of the Leadership Upper Valley Class of 2017 and chairwoman of the Upper Valley Humane Society board of directors. “This is where LUV is an invaluable resource. LUV exposes participants not only to their classmates, but to alumni and other nonprofits. Individuals involved with LUV already have the passion to be involved in the Upper Valley community, and many are looking for ways to give back.”
When the UVHS board needed to recruit new members, Riccio first turned to people she had connected with through LUV. The two alumni she recruited have far exceeded her expectations, she said.
It’s not just about connecting people and organizations so they can find ways to work together, though, said Sarah Brock, an LUV graduate and energy program manager at Vital Communities. It’s about building knowledge and confidence, too.
When Brock moved to the Upper Valley five years ago, she knew she wanted to become “meaningfully involved” in the community.
“I wanted to be part of a board, but I was a little timid about whether I was ready,” Brock said. “LUV made the leap possible because the message is very much empowerment. The whole point is that any of us can find meaningful ways to give back, and we should not shy away from that. Because of LUV, I was exposed to lots of people giving back in lots of ways, and I gained a sense of understanding of how the pieces fit together in the Upper Valley. It gave me the confidence to step up and say, ‘Yes, I do want to join your board, and I have something to give.’ ”
Brock joined the board of COVER Home Repair in White River Junction, where she continues to serve.
“Part of what keeps us satisfied as human beings is being connected to our community, and that starts with awareness,” Schultz says. “The goal of LUV is to help participants become aware of many things happening in the Upper Valley—and then to inspire and prepare them to play a more active role in creating more livable communities.”
Allison E. Rogers Furbish is the communications and database manager at Vital Communities, which brings people together to take on critical regional issues. A freelance writer and longtime Upper Valley resident, she can be reached at email@example.com.