December 7, 2014; Loveland Reporter-Herald

We’ve heard it time and time again: Nonprofit organizations, just like for-profit businesses, come in a range of disciplines and sizes. Some nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, like New York’s Museum of Modern Art, have large annual budgets and employ thousands of workers; others function on a minimum budget of below $100,000 with a complete volunteer staff and board of directors—like community choruses and bands, for example. Regardless of size, each type of organization has its place and impact throughout its local and regional community, and sometimes beyond.

In the past, the Loveland Orchestra in Colorado relied on its performing musician members to not only be the artistic crux of the organization but also to take on staff duties like ticket sales and marketing. However, the Friends of the Loveland Orchestra group (formed in July of 2014) now takes on many of those staff-like duties for the musicians. The Friends group consists of non-musicians who hold an interest in the operations and activities of the orchestra. The volunteers in this group bring an array of different skillsets, including financial, marketing, and an understanding of various community groups. The Friends of the Orchestra’s goals are to increase attendance to the orchestra’s season, raise funds to expand the orchestra’s stage, and increase musician membership. The group could almost be seen as an extension of the Board of Directors, but these individuals are more hands-on, rather than behind the scenes directing the strategic path of the orchestra.

But can a line be drawn between these types of volunteer groups and an organization’s Board of Directors? Eventually, members of the Friends of the Loveland Orchestra group may be approached to serve on the Board of Directors in the future; does that stop their hands-on involvement then? One of the ongoing discussions about “working” boards versus “governing” boards can be explored through the Loveland case study.

CompassPoint Nonprofit Services classifies a working board as one where board members actively do the organization’s work—in other words, board members participate in program work, fundraising work, and administrative work. A governing board, on the other hand, reflects a transition of the board’s duties as the organization needs the board to change its focus from doing administrative work to oversight of finance and administration; from doing program work to overseeing program work; and from doing fundraising to both doing fundraising and overseeing fundraising. This overall transition is doing to oversee the doing.

In 2012, NPQ featured an article that analyzed boards of directors’ duties, breaking them down into those that direct an organization’s path (where the board “steers “the organization) and those hands-on activities (where the Board “rows “the organization) that achieve immediate goals.

When “steering,” the board collectively:

  • Sets the direction of the organization;
  • Determines which values and logic will guide it; and
  • Ensures the organization’s resources are used prudently to advance its work.

When “rowing,” board members individually or collectively expand the organization’s resources by, among other things:

  • Offering pro bono professional services or expertise to management;
  • Volunteering as front-line service providers;
  • Advocating for or championing the organization and its mission in the community; and
  • Helping to raise funds to sustain the organization’s work.

Organizations range in size, discipline, mission, and scope, and management methods are not one-size-fits-all. It’s important to review all options when it comes to the roles of the Board of Directors, volunteers, and staff and make sure those abide in powerful and meaningful balance for the best of the organization. It cannot be determined at this point what role the current Loveland Board of Directors follows, but what we do know is that there is a team of volunteers willing to take the administrative and “rowing” duties from the musicians.—Jennifer Swan