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Nonprofit Excellence: the change Welborn wants to see

By Lynn Sygiel, editor, Charitable Advisors

For over two years, Candice Perry has worked to develop nonprofit leaders. In her position as the Welborn Baptist Foundation Nonprofit Excellence Officer, her key responsibilities have been to strengthen nonprofits executives and develop a talent pipeline. The foundation is based in Evansville and serves the Tri-state area.

Perry has carved out several approaches for this work. Some times for invitation-only programs, and at other times she or another program officers may identify an organization that needs a consultant to strengthen its efforts.

“The organization may be telling us in their application that they need funding and programming, but we also know that they aren’t going to be successful, if they don’t also put some effort into creating a fundraising plan. So we invite them to share a little bit of information with us, so that we can then connect them and finance the opportunity for a consultant to work with them,” she said.

The foundation has also partnered with Indiana University’s School of Public & Environmental Affairs (SPEA) to create the Next Generation Leadership Academy. The program’s six modules cover governance, finance, fundraising, evaluation, marketing, communication and strategic planning.

“We reached out to organizations that we are familiar with and asked their leadership if they have a next-generation participant or someone in the wings whose skills they would like to build and strengthen.” New executive directors who don’t fall into that category, but need to gain strength, might also be invited.

The academy is being offered a second time, and isn’t just limited nonprofits that are grantees. Indiana University instructors come to Evansville and spend two concentrated days covering a subject. Over the course of nine months, the cohort covers all the topics and participants receive a certificate upon completion. With the group size limited to 15, the program lends itself to interaction.

“We want to offer it not every year, but perhaps every other year or according to the need. There are a lot of organizations in our footprint that are not aware that we’re doing this or that it is an option. It gives us an opportunity to continue to know organizations that we really haven’t had the pleasure of knowing or understanding,” said Perry.

Perry also realizes the importance of developing board members. As a cohort-learning series, it offers Sustain-abilities. An executive director and a board chair are learning partners and spend three full-day sessions at the foundation. Between the in-person sessions, there are webinars with a consultant who is the series facilitator.

The two primary focus areas are fundraising and building an organizational culture. An organization is invited back, if progress is shown and there is an interest to continue.

“What we have learned is that executive director and that board chair have taken back their learning and shared it with the rest of the board. There’s this embedding of information that starts to occur,” said Perry.

This particular series was an experiment that the foundation had started prior to adding Perry’s position.

“It was one of the pilot offerings that helped inform them that we need a Nonprofit Excellence impact area. There was a space that we need to fill,” she said.

At the time, Perry was an executive director and attended the pilot with her board chair.

“I can tell you first hand that I saw those aha moments that my board chair was having throughout that series,” said Perry. “I saw the change that occurred in that board chair and how it translated to how he ran our board meetings, our development of our board members, the way that board chair interacted with the other board members, staff and myself. There was a definite shift that occurred for the organization that was strong enough and still is there today, even though that board chair and I am not there. It has continued for that organization.”

The foundation is now working to create a Board Leadership Academy. The concept is to equip board members to better engage with a nonprofit by explaining what is needed of them and what questions to ask when considering joining a board. Perry started investigating this option by going to other entities that were offering board trainings and then look at what fits the Evansville community.

“And where we landed was going to some specific businesses that are well-known in our community for supplying people to serve on boards, and we worked with their HR departments,” she said.

Each corporation supplied three participants for a consultant-led, one-day training. Each potential board member was assigned to a local nonprofit for three months to receive an introduction to services and learn about the organization’s financials.

“They’ll be treated as if they were onboarding that organization. But there’s no expectation that they join that board.

In three months, together with the corporation’s HR person, they will discuss how has this changed perspectives about community engagement.

The Welborn Foundation sees itself as a critical contributor to Evansville’s nonprofit leadership development.

“Everything the foundation does has an evaluation plan around it, so hopefully we can watch the needle move and the community will see the change,” Perry said.

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