Field Guide to Developing, Operating and Restoring your Nonprofit Board
by Carter McNamara

ISBN:978-1933719054, Publisher: Authenticity Consulting, LLC; 3rd edition (2008)
Reviewed by: Julie Garland McLellan*

I foolishly believed a field guide would fit comfortably in my pocket; this book is huge. It is also hugely useful and well worth the effort of picking up. There is a reason it is now in its third edition and I suspect that is because it gets sold out.

The key attribute of this book is that it retains the plain English, no nonsense style, that characterises Carter's writing. He makes his point, supports it, gives some further ideas and moves on to the next point. His matter of fact approach to topic headings such as (I kid you not) 'How to quickly replace your CEO' is practical and refreshing. For any action you are contemplating as a director, there is probably a good description of a reasonably successful method somewhere in this book.

There are really three books here. The first is a step by step guide that will help anyone establishing a not-for-profit organisation to get it created, registered and soundly governed by a well disciplined skills-based board. There are sample policies, job descriptions, agendas, and other 'goodies'. Better yet; if you are too lazy to type up your own plagiarised version, the book is backed by a website where you can download up to date copies of each sample in word format.

The second book is a pleasant but not Pollyanna-ish look at a wide range of board activities, including oversight of fundraising, hiring and firing a CEO, board and meeting evaluations, aligning with community interests, and even setting up a solid suite of committees to do the detail work. Like a few not-for-profit specialists Carter lists the audit committee as ad hoc but suggests a finance committee as a standing committee with many of the functions that I would expect an audit committee to fulfil. Taken in its entirety this book would probably give you a well functioning board: Taken piece-meal you will need to check the cross references to make sure you don't duplicate or omit anything.

The final book lists some common signs of a board that is headed for problems and gives clear advice on how to turn it around. The section on how to manage interpersonal conflicts is succinct, practical and unemotional. If you can get persons A and B (no hypothetical names or case studies here - just authoritative clear advice) to do their bit you will definitely make progress. If you can't even get them to do that there is a nice section on reaching workable decisions in the face of conflict.

The inner trilogy comes full circle with a discussion of 'Founder's Syndrome'; salutary reading for prospective founders (this should possibly appear before the beginning; it would avoid a lot of grief if founders could become inspired by the vision of the organisation carrying on without them). Then there is a treasure trove of appendices. I literally couldn't put it down. This is a book I shall return to often when I need common sense in a nonsensical board situation.

The book is not a substitute for proper legal advice but, as its name suggests, a worthy part of your survival equipment before you venture into the field of not-for-profit governance. Far from detracting from its utility, the lack of legal references gives the book a readability and practicality that make it a relevant and useful reference wherever a not-for-profit board might operate in the world.

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* Julie Garland McLellan is a professional non-executive director, board and governance consultant and mentor. She is the author of "Presenting to Boards", "Dilemmas, Dilemmas: practical case studies for company directors'", "The Director's Dilemma", "All Above Board: Great Governance for the Government Sector" and numerous articles on corporate strategy and governance.

Julie Garland McLellan to judge 2011 Global eBook Awards