2016 Nonprofit Education Symposium


Board Governance: What Keeps you Up at Night?   was the true-to-life title of the November 16 symposium and presenter Linda Jacobs Davis feels your pain! As CEO of the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL) and a member of many boards, Linda has wrestled both professionally and personally with the inevitable challenges that arise for both staff and board members of nonprofits.

The spectrum of issues she addressed was at once broad – including board members’ legal, fiscal, financial, fundraising and other responsibilities – and targeted, as Linda invited attendees to discuss specific issues they are dealing with in their organization.

Topping the list of concerns for anyone who serves on a nonprofit board might well be clarity about their legal obligations. Linda outlined three areas of board responsibility:

  • Duty of Care, using your best judgment and being an active, questioning participant;
  • Duty of Loyalty, avoiding conflicts of interest and putting aside personal and professional interests; and
  • Duty of Obedience, aligning with the nonprofit’s mission and obeying both public and organizational law.

In addition, board members are ambassadors, advocates and “ears” for the organization in the larger community.


An area of board involvement that is often murky and confusing to both board and staff arises when people wear two hats: board member and volunteer. Cristin Felso, Executive Director of Teen Services Sonoma, commented after the symposium, “I had several aha’s during the symposium and a big one was gaining an understanding about when a person serves as both a board member and as a volunteer.” She was not alone in appreciating Linda’s clear delineation of roles. When a board member is serving as a volunteer, Linda explained, they take off their board hat. They are no longer acting as a board member, are not in charge, and do not hold higher authority.

Another topic that sparked many questions is whether a board should require every one of its members to make a minimum annual financial contribution to the organization. One of Linda’s slides said it all: Fundraising – No Money. No Mission. Each board must grapple with the issue and come to a conclusion that supports the mission they are charged to serve. “The timing of this event was perfect for our organization as it moves from a hands-on to a fundraising board,” Cristin Felso commented. “After hearing Linda’s presentation I could tell our board that requiring one hundred percent giving is standard practice.”

The practical nuts-and-bolts information, as well as Linda’s insights gleaned over a long career working with and for nonprofits, was appreciated by all who attended the educational symposium. We wish them all a well-deserved good night’s sleep.

The next Impact100 Sonoma meeting for nonprofits, focusing on the 2017 grant application and review process, will be held on December 8, 3:00 pm, at the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center.

linda-cvnl-headshotLinda Jacobs Davis has served as the Chief Executive Officer with CVNL since 2002. She is the Board President of the California Association of Nonprofits (CAN), a Board Member for the Marin Economic Forum (MEF) and Marin County School to Career Partnership, and a member of the HandsOn Network Affiliate Assembly. She is a former appointee to the Marin County Women’s Commission, past President of the Marin National Organization for Women, and a former member of the Marin Independent Journal Editorial Board and the Marin Red Cross Leadership Council. In 2011, Linda was inducted into the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame. Linda can be reached at ldavis@cvnl.org.