Event encourages leaders to get on board: Not-for-profit agencies looking for help at the top

Call it high-stakes matchmaking-with a twist.

For the third time in as many years, Indianapolis-based Lacy Leadership Association is gearing up for a massive blind date, hoping to connect communityminded individuals with not-for-profits that need their help.

And “Get on Board” has been more successful than most fix-ups: Two-thirds of the 500 people who turned out in 2004 got involved with a participating agency in some way; nearly 20 of them took the leap into board positions.

Interest already is running high for this year’s event, scheduled for 4-7 p.m. May 9 at Glendale Mall. More than 100 organizations applied for about 70 available spots, and hundreds of would-be volunteers are expected to stop by to explore the possibilities.

Observers say it’s a good way to address an increasingly difficult situation.

“There is such a big gap between the need for non-profit board members and the available supply,” said Sam Pettway, founding director of Atlanta-based BoardWalk Consulting, who has no affiliation to the local event. “Any effort to narrow that should be applauded.”

But closing the gap won’t be easy.

Nationally, about 1.2 million board positions at not-for-profits are open at any given time and another 1.8 million seats turn over each year, according to a 2002 report from management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and New Yorkbased Volunteer Consulting Group.

About 40 percent of Indiana charities say recruiting and retaining qualified board members is a major challenge-perhaps even more so as the state loses corporate decision makers to mergers and relocations.

“The faces are changing,” said LLA Executive Director Theresa Farrington Rhodes. “We look at Get on Board as a tangible way to counter that, to get new leaders connected.”

The fact that the event has gained traction so quickly is evidence of the need, she said. About 60 organizations took part in the inaugural event in 2003; twice as many applied this year. Individual interest also has remained strong, with attendance hovering around 500 each year.

The set-up is simple: Participants navigate past tabletop displays representing each notfor-profit, gathering information and making contacts along the way. Organizations that find a match follow up after the event.

Michael Hunt came away from last year’s event with a list of about 20 people who were interested in the Indianapolisbased Fine Arts Society, which produces classical music programs for the radio. Only one joined the organization’s board, but he wasn’t discouraged.

“It is extremely valuable for us,” said Hunt, the agency’s executive director. “There is no other place we know of where willing volunteers are searching for organizations that match their interests. Even if we don’t find any board members, it’s still a wonderful way to get the message out about who we are and what we do.”

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And hope runs high. This year, Fine Arts Society is looking for two board members-specifically people who can help with fund raising and marketing.

Before Get on Board, the pool of candidates could be quite shallow, Hunt said.

“It was word of mouth, [asking] friends and family,” he said. “We did not have access to that many willing volunteers.”

But making a match is more complicated than finding a willing body and an open board seat. Organizations specify which skill sets they are looking for, and individuals are given that information as they make their rounds.

That’s a smart move, said Pettway, the Atlanta consultant.

“From where I sit, the best board recruitment is that which takes place in response to strategic needs,” he said, running through a simplified version of the process. “This is our need and we have these resources. Here are the gaps. Now let’s find people who are well-positioned to fill those gaps.”

But the process of finding a square peg for the square hole isn’t always easy, said Bryan Orander, an Indianapolis not-forprofit consultant who encouraged LLA to organize the first event. “It’s a very inefficient marketplace,” Orander said. “There are a lot of people interested in serving on boards, but they’re not interested in taking the time to investigate the possibilities. It’s daunting.” And Get on Board helps. “It raises the visibility of the issue, gets people thinking about it,” Orander said.

About 500 people attended Get on Board last year.

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