Over the last three years, Charlotte has gathered, researched and debated how to address our low national ranking for economic opportunity and mobility.

As our community begins to implement the Opportunity Task Force’s recommendations, our local nonprofit organizations are leading the charge: Their programs, proximity, insight and solutions are essential to make Charlotte a city that offers opportunity to everyone.

That’s why the Lee Institute has created a new training program specifically for nonprofit board members to help them tackle this daunting long-term challenge.

One of the most powerful ways we can improve nonprofit impact is to strengthen the leaders on their boards of directors. Few businesses can overcome uncertain or untrained leadership.  Charities are no exception.

And for nonprofit boards of directors, comprised entirely of volunteers, training opportunities are few and far between.

Strengthening the Infrastructure

At the Lee Institute, where we serve and strengthen charities, community organizations and their leaders, we regularly see new board members join nonprofit boards and politely underperform for up to a year, unsure of their role and unwilling to overstep boundaries they can’t yet see.

This is never a factor of intentional neglect or willful ignorance.  Most new board members are eager and willing to learn, but the sector’s training infrastructure is weak. Joining a board is a process that varies based on the size, age, experience and leadership of each nonprofit. There is no standard orientation that guarantees new members a baseline of information or skill.

Even the reasons that new members join a board can vary. They may have been nominated by their corporate foundation or HR office. Maybe they were longtime volunteers at the charity and worked their way up to a board invitation. In some cases, they knew individuals on the board or the governance committee. Or they might bring special skills or backgrounds that the board needs.

The Lee Institute’s new training program, Greater Good: Becoming a Nonprofit Board Member, is designed to respond to these different perspectives.

Becoming a Great Board Member

Greater Good is a half-day workshop that offers a crash course in the basic responsibilities of nonprofit boards, including strategic planning, the executive director partnership, financial oversight, fundraising, and board culture and sustainability.

The Greater Good curriculum includes two online video tutorials on the legal and financial responsibilities of board members, along with a ten-podcast archive of interviews with prominent Charlotte board leaders talking candidly about their board experiences and what makes a great (or chaotic) board. All of the videos and podcasts are permanently available to participants in the half-day workshop.

Board membership at its best is an inspiring, transformational experience that connects us more deeply to our community and helps us improve the place we live and love. We work together to create a more compassionate, vibrant, inclusive Charlotte, and we do it side by side with other volunteers who are devoted to the same causes.

This higher-level board membership requires us to join boards knowing what is expected of us and what our jobs are, which gives us confidence that we can contribute in meetings and make a positive difference in the organization’s mission. That’s where the Greater Good program meets a critical need and lifts the entire sector.

Encouraging Diversity on Boards

It’s especially important for us to bring this training to current and future board members who fully reflect all of Charlotte’s residents.

For charities to serve our neighbors well, they need to include leaders with empathy and understanding for all backgrounds, ages and corners of our community. Nonprofit boards often lack diversity in their membership, which deprives the organization of creative viewpoints and broader perspectives in their decision-making.

So we’re reaching out over the next year to bring the Greater Good program to communities of color, millennials, underrepresented neighborhoods, LGBT groups and others whose voices are essential to our local nonprofit boards.  We won’t achieve the equality of opportunity we seek without everyone at the table, supporting the groups whose work is essential to our evolution as a city.

As we ask Charlotte’s nonprofit organizations to step up, lead boldly and help us turn Charlotte into a city of boundless economic opportunity, we must invest in the generous volunteer leaders who can steer them toward success.

Our Lee Institute team would love to support the nonprofits and causes in Charlotte that you care about.  If you serve on a board that would like to explore training and support, or if you belong to a professional association, alumni group or social club that would like a customized group training, please learn more at www.leeinstitute.org/greater-good.

Chrystal Joy is a director at The Lee Institute in Charlotte.