Nonprofit Boards in Arkansas Give Leadership

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Jul. 2, 2012 12:00 am  

CEO Phyllis Haynes stands near the fruit of the Arkansas Foodbank's board-led capital campaign: a new, nearly $11 million distribution center in Little Rock. (Photo by Mike Pirnique)

Volunteer board members manage and serve as key decision-makers for Arkansas nonprofits of varying size and scope, from organizations like Blackbird Academy of Arts in Conway with its $300,000 annual budget to those like Heifer International, which pursues global missions and oversees revenue of $127.6 million.

The nonprofits tap the business and social connections, finances, skills and time of their board members to function as organizations and accomplish their goals, whether their goals are education, service or arts-oriented.

As part of being a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, nonprofits must have an unpaid board of directors to govern them.

“The board’s responsibility is really to represent the public,” said Doug Smith, chairman of the board of Heifer International, based in Little Rock. Heifer works to eliminate hunger and poverty globally through agricultural programs and, in 2011, managed about $78 million in individual donor contributions, in addition to grants and other funding.

“Our role is to make sure the organization is really fulfilling the promises and mission that it says it is going to do,” Smith said. “We do that through monitoring and evaluating, visioning at a very high level and working [to ensure] the CEO and president, Pierre Ferrari, has what he needs to implement the vision.”

Heifer’s board also hires the organization’s CEO and president, who is the only employee who reports directly to the board.

Stephanie Meincke, executive director of the Arkansas Coalition for Excellence in Little Rock, which is the state’s nonprofit that works to support other nonprofits, said board members are legally and fiscally responsible for the organizations they lead.

“They’re responsible for setting policy, raising money and acting in the interest of the organization in their lives,” Meincke said.

Amy Rossi, an administrator for the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care in Little Rock, sits on the board of the Arkansas Foodbank, a local hunger relief organization.

A nonprofit’s executive director oversees daily organizational management, but the board is financially responsible for what occurs within the food bank, Rossi said.

“The final decisions rest with us, and we’re held accountable for those things,” she said.

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences surgeon Dr. Larry Kim serves as president of the board of Ballet Arkansas in Little Rock.

The board’s job is to promote the professional ballet company, follow the laws governing nonprofits, steward its finances, function as its ambassadors to the state and work to grow its budget and performance schedule, Kim said.

“We try to make every effort not only to follow the law, but also good business practice, good ethical conduct,” he said.

The University of Arkansas System is not for profit, and it, too, has an unpaid board that oversees it.

Mike Akin of Monticello is an Arkansas businessman and the chairman of the UA System’s board of trustees.

The UA System board has, generally, a twofold responsibility: to ensure the taxpayers get a good value and to hire the system president, Akin said.

Arkansas Foodbank CEO Phyllis Haynes said her organization’s board is responsible for providing oversight and financial support to cover operating costs.

“First and foremost, they set policy. And they set and review policy by engaging in a strategic planning process. They are fiducially responsible, which means, ultimately, the buck stops there,” Haynes said. “In addition to that, we expect our board members to be involved in advocating our cause in the community. … We ask each board person to make a personal [financial] contribution.”

An Evolving Structure

Meincke, with ACE, said nonprofit boards evolve over time. A new organization will typically have a founder or founders who start small and recruit their friends and acquaintances to be board members. As the organization grows and adds staff, its leadership looks to recruit board members with certain expertise, such as resource development, access to people able to donate money and backgrounds in finance or law, she said.

As its budget increases and the breadth of its work grows, what the organization needs or prioritizes in a board also can change.

For example, Blackbird Academy of Arts founder Jennie Strange is leading a 3-year-old arts education organization.

“Ideally, I wanted a board from a lot of different sectors because they reach out to completely different communities, have different friends … and bring a different perspective on what the community needs,” Strange said.

On the Blackbird board, the news, education, finance and food service sectors are represented, but the group recently formed a committee to recruit new members and should “evaluate over the summer what holes we have,” Strange said. 

Currently, all eight of Blackbird’s board members live in Conway, so the group might branch out and recruit from elsewhere in Arkansas, she said. Additionally, the organization wants to add board members to increase its leadership team from eight to 12.

On the other hand, Heifer started its farm animal gift-giving work in the 1940s and has had time to systematize its board development process.

Smith, the organization’s board chair, called the current 19-member board “mature.”
Among the international organization’s deliberate purposes when recruiting new board members is to keep the board globally and regionally diverse so it maintains a variety of leadership perspectives.

This year, for example, Heifer’s board member from Asia will leave due to term limits, so finding a replacement from Asia is a priority, Smith said.

“Really good board recruitment is a personal thing,” Meincke, with ACE, said. “You know people; they help you find the best board members. It’s not something you want to do blind. It’s all about networking.”

Why They Volunteer

Rossi, who is vice president of the Arkansas Foodbank board, offered insight into why she dedicates her time to six annual food bank board meetings, additional committee meetings and takes responsibility for guiding the organization.

“I’m mission driven as an individual. If the mission of an organization isn’t something that I wholeheartedly support, I wouldn’t be part of it,” Rossi said. “I think my experience over the years in nonprofits makes me a good candidate for a board. … I think it’s something I do well, and, like most people, you like to use the skills you do best.”

The Arkansas governor appoints the members of the UA System board, including two representatives from each of the four congressional districts and two at-large members. Akin, who has been a trustee for nine years, attends the board’s five regular meetings, as well as as-needed meetings. He said the time obligation is about 20 hours per month.

“It’s quite a commitment, but at the end of the day, it’s an honor to serve,” Akin said.

Kim’s 11-year-old son’s interest in dance first got him involved in Ballet Arkansas.

“We’re proud of what we do, enthusiastic about what we do,” Kim said of the board. “To me, [ballet] is the most beautiful art form and I can appreciate it even if I can’t do it.”

Smith said serving on the Heifer board can be a full-time job. The search that brought on board current Heifer CEO Pierre Ferrari required Smith’s time much as a second job could have, he said.

In addition to three board meetings per year and committee work in between, board members raise money and visit Heifer projects.

“I have seen Heifer work,” Smith said. “Not everyone in the world gets to volunteer for an organization like this at this level. It’s very humbling.”



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