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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, September 12, 2004

Roles of boards undergoing change

By Kelvin Taketa

One of the greatest challenges facing nonprofit organizations in Hawai'i is the recruitment and development of volunteer board members.

'Breaking Boardom' Board Leadership Conference

When: Sept. 15

Where: Hilton Hawaiian Village, Coral Ballroom

Some Topics:
• Hawai'i 2020: Trends That Will Change the Business of Nonprofits

• Finding Your Fund-raising Niche

• Succession Planning: Straight Talk on a Taboo Topic

Register at www.hawaiicommunityfoundation.org or call 230-3653
Do the math. With more than 5,000 registered charities in Hawai'i and with a presumed average of 10 board members per organization, that equates to more than 50,000 available board seats.

Of course, we all know what happens. As one executive director of an agency on Maui told me, "we all go after the same visible community or business leaders and there are so few of them available." We end up with many of these leaders, serving on too many boards and not being able to do a good job with most of them. Because of multiple obligations, it is difficult for many to exert the kind of leadership that the organization had hoped for.

Several years ago, the Hawai'i Community Foundation pointed to the impending shortfall of professional leaders in the sector as the current generation of 40- to 60-year-olds starts to retire and there are few younger leaders to replace them. And we are witnessing the same phenomenon with board service as well. Organizations are fearful of letting longtime board members go because of the difficulty in finding dedicated volunteers to replace them. Here are a couple of reasons for this dilemma.

The sector lacks significant infrastructure to match interested and qualified individuals with the appropriate organizations. Previously, large Hawai'i companies and unions played a critical role in encouraging its young stars to get involved in community service and helped guide them. Now, many interested people with time to commit and talent to provide, have a difficult time determining how to go about finding the right board to join.

Second, we may be facing a generational dynamics that will force rethinking about service. The World War II and baby boomer generations were joiners; the next generation is distinctly more interested in "doing" instead of joining. While their civic commitment is strong, they are more interested in projects than meetings.

Finally, with all its intrinsic rewards, the experience of serving on a nonprofit board, at times, can be frustrating to board members. Often, board members are uncertain about how to be effective and how much to be engaged. For example, board members know they're supposed to help raise money for their organization, but often they're not given enough guidance on how to do it. "Ask your rich friends," may not be the most effective way.

Board members also are increasingly expected to pay attention to the latest laws and proposed reforms as well as the details of financial controls and reporting of the organization and compensation of key staff. All of this can be time consuming for a volunteer board member and detracts from the "fun stuff," i.e., the mission and programs of the organization.

Board members can be a wonderful source of support and inspiration. They are vital links between the organizations and the community. Board members of nonprofits interested in learning more about current issues and responsibilities can attend the Hawai'i Community Foundation's Board Leadership Conference on Sept. 15.

Kelvin H. Taketa is president and CEO of the Hawai'i Community Foundation. E-mail him at kelvin@hcf-hawaii.org.