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June 25, 2022
Comprehensive Guide Helps Nonprofit Board Leaders Do Their Best
Book - Holding the Gavel
While there may be born leaders, those who lead nonprofit boards stand to benefit from the experience and guidance of others who've been there before, which is what Holding the Gavel: What Nonprofit Board Leaders Need to Know delivers with clarity that will educate and reassure novice and veteran leaders like.

Authored by Nanette Fridman, a Newton-based leadership coach, consultant, and trainer, Holding the Gavel is a natural follow-up to her earlier expert guide for current and aspiring board members.

First things first. For the sake of simplicity, Fridman uses "director" to refer to trustees (most often used for charitable trusts) or directors (used by nonprofit corporations). She also notes that while there are distinctions between board "chair" (where the organization has a chief executive officer) and a board "president" (often used when someone else in the organization doesn't use the title), the two terms are often interchangeable.

Today's board chair, according to Fridman, needs to be a facilitator, manager, cheerleader, mediator, coach, strategist, fundraiser, investigator, spokesperson, and leader. It's not for the faint of heart, but being a board leader provides committed and thoughtful (and energetic) women and men an opportunity to nourish and shape an organization they cherish.

Holding the Gavel at its essence is a handbook that nonprofit board leaders should, literally, keep within arm's reach, as it provides guidance on all aspects of the job ”“ from by-laws and procedures to working with executive directors and staff, conducting board meetings, and understanding finances to fundraising, evaluating board members, and recruiting new ones.

Being named board chair, while a strong statement of confidence, can leave newly elevated leaders feeling isolated despite the fact they often have worked with their fellow board members in various capacities. It takes getting used to. Fridman advises checking in with former board chairs of your organization, as well as with board chairs of other local nonprofits. And, likely most importantly, she suggests that board chairs delegate.

"It's your job to give other people roles where they will have a chance to contribute in a meaningful way and to excel," Fridman writes. "Then it's your job to stay connected with them, encourage them, and help them solve specific problems as needed."

A key value of Holding the Gavel flows from the check lists and step-by-step guidance Fridman provides, all backed up with appropriate detail. For example:
  • Holding meetings: Give ample notice with end times, set an inclusive agenda, make sure everyone has materials they need, stick to the agenda, and more.

  • Common board and staff challenges: Avoid micromanaging, be alert to board members acting like staff, help board members and staff who are maintain clear lines of responsibility.

  • Recruiting prospective board members: Develop a profile of an ideal candidate, create a board development tool kit, engage in networking.
In addition, readers can access supplemental worksheets from Fridman's website (password provided in the book's introduction).

New board leaders will find Fridman's book to be an invaluable resource in their new role. Perhaps one of the most important things they can do is give members of their board a copy of the book so they have a chance to think about a future leadership role before they get there.

Holding the Gavel: What Nonprofit Board Leaders Need to Know is available from Fridman Strategies.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

May 2019
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