3 Nonprofit Founders Who Have Transformed Their Boards

by Joan Garry

Most founders start with what I call the “Friends of the Founder” boards. I’m talking about your tight knit circle. Maybe family, or even chosen family–either way they are 150% behind your mission and delighted to say, “Yes!”

It bears repeating: Founders are remarkable.

You won’t catch them sitting idly by waiting for things to get done. They have this unique kind of social vision that enables them to spot the gaps that need to be filled and the problems that need to be solved in their communities.

But, things begin to get a bit more challenging for nonprofit founders the moment someone says, “I’d like to donate.”

If you’re like many founders, this is likely the first time you’ve even thought about building a board.

So where do you start?

Most founders start with what I call the “FOF” board. FOF stands for “Friends of the Founder”. I’m talking about your tight knit circle. Maybe family, or even chosen family–either way they are 150% behind your mission and delighted to say, “Yes!”

They probably have no idea what they’re saying yes to. Maybe you don’t really know either.


Way too often, FOF boards develop into what I call a “Make Way for Ducklings” board.

So many founders make the mistake of filling their first board with ducklings – folks who say “let me know how I can help,” but are unavailable, unqualified, or just simply unsure of how to contribute.


Because it takes time to find board members you really need and the paperwork is due TODAY.

Your first board may start this way, but with a different perspective and some fine tuning, you can make something different happen. You can set your organization on the path to “built to last.”

Here’s the recipe…


Do you currently have a FOF board? That’s totally OK.

But have you considered approaching their mission a bit differently? Go ahead and put their names down on the paperwork, but then make a second request.

Ask your FOF board to meet with you for 2-3 hours and create a design for a board that will help your organization thrive. You might want to think about the gaps within your organization and the areas where you could use some help. What skills do you need? What experience should your board members have? What areas of expertise? Do they need to have lived experience?

Once you’ve narrowed down what you’re ideally looking for, brainstorm about where you might “fish” for folks who might be ideal board members.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say you decide that you’d benefit from bringing in someone who knows digital marketing to help spread the word about your work to keep your volunteers, clients, etc. in the loop. Where might you “fish?” To take it a step further, where might you find someone who adds diversity to your board?

The idea here is to let the founding board design the real board.

Maybe, just maybe, some of them will stay, but most will see that they have done the most important work as a member of your FOF board–helping you identify the board members you really need: the ones who understand the “WHAT” and can execute.


Today I’d like to introduce you to three remarkable founders who dug deep and transformed their boards. Each of the three are members of the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, my online membership program for board and staff leaders of smaller nonprofits.

Their efforts are really paying off, and you can learn a ton from them.

My colleague, Laura Zielke, did in-depth interviews with each of the three on the Lab’s podcast Your Nonprofit Life. Have a listen – I bet every single word out of their mouths will resonate with you deeply, especially if you’re a founder.

First, meet Natasha Pardeshi, the Co-Founder of The Landing, a drop-in center for survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in Houston, Texas. Whether providing them with an advocate, reaching out to them in the red light district, the folks at The Landing intend to meet people where they are—wherever it may be—and support them throughout their journey.

Natasha’s Episode: A Soft Landing for the Trafficked

Then there’s Jean Rosenbaum, the founder and Executive Director of Gifted Wishes located in Oregon but serving hospice patients throughout the United States. In this episode, Jean shares how her nonprofit was birthed out of her own personal health crisis and a desire to serve those on the cusp of eternity.

Jean’s Episode: Comfort When the End Is Near

And lastly, Wendy Perrone is the founder and Executive Director of the Three Rivers Avian Center (TRAC) in Brooks West Virginia. TRAC is located right next to the New River Gorge National Park in the southern portion of the New River Gorge National River down by Sandstone Falls Overlook. Wendy and her husband Ron founded TRAC back in 1990, and they still run it to this day.

That’s 31 years. Yup. 31 years.

Wendy’s Episode: Healing Is For The Birds

Three remarkable organizations. Three remarkable founders. Full stop.

Each of these founders began with FOF boards and thanks to grit, determination and support from the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, they are making the changes necessary to ensure that their work is built to last.

So pick an episode where the mission speaks to you, have a listen, and get ready to take some serious notes about their journey.

I guarantee it will enrich yours.

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