by Anne Desrosiers
As a social entrepreneur there is a phrase that pains us to articulate – but that only helps yield long-term success for our causes and organizations once we confront it.
“I don’t know how to…”
While no one’s ego will allow them to admit it, in general people are hesitant to admit when they do not know something. We live in a society that promotes self-reliance and self-determination (“pull yourself up by the bootstraps; “self-made” millionaire). As start-up nonprofit leaders though, it is important to constantly assess what you do not know how to do, to identify gaps in your knowledge.
Gaps in knowledge, skills, resources/network are the key indicators of the support and assistance you and your organization will require in order to maintain and promote growth. This knowledge should be the driving force behind one major driver of a nonprofit’s success that is difficult for most executive directors: the board of directors.
Identifying, recruiting, and maintaining engaged board members next to funding has been my biggest challenge – until a recent memory of signs from London’s underground flashed in my mind: “MIND THE GAP!” The idea that what one does not know won’t hurt them is untrue for nonprofit start-ups, where lack of larger staff sizes and financial resources can lead to inertia and ultimately failure to launch or scale. Members of start-up boards should be carefully selected based on the major “I don’t know how to’s” facing your organization.
Budget creation, marketing, communications, social media, and fundraising – most executive directors have some talents but none of us know how to tackle all of these critical functions and/or have the time to. These are all functions that are required for any successful and sustainable organization and if not filled, these gaps can swallow up even the best efforts and most well-intentioned start-up leaders. This is all the more reason why saying the phrase “I don’t know how to…” can help leaders of start-ups identify gaps in knowledge, skills, resources and network to strategically build a board that creates a wide net of support, the foundation for any nonprofit’s sustainability.
Board members fill the gap of knowledge with their expertise, service, and volunteerism for nonprofit start-ups. Approached this way, board service takes on a different meaning to both recruiter and recruited. “Mind the gap,” reflects the requirement of engagement, and awareness from board members and directors. Fill the gap provides intrinsic evaluation of contributions made to construct the foundation of the organization. While not wildly popular and hard to admit – as a springboard for board recruitment, “I don’t know how to” can yield a better type of know how for you and your organization.