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Non Profit Board Matchmaker

By Tom Watson on November 1, 2007No Comment

Active in New York City as a fundraiser and pro bono attorney, Cynthia sought the advice of several nonprofit leaders with whom she had worked on how she could be more supportive of the sector.  The consistent message was helping to strengthen nonprofit organizations by building stronger boards.  Jenny Morgenthau of the Fresh Air Fund took it one step further:  in addition to advising Cynthia to help nonprofits strengthen their boards, she was the one who introduced Cynthia to her first two clients, Emily Marks of United Neighborhood Houses and Sister Paulette LoMonaco of Good Shepherd Services. 

As the head of Cynthia Remec Associates, her work was focused on identifying high impact talent for her Wall Street investment banking clients.  To complement this role as a corporate headhunter, Cynthia added a new twist to her work to help the nonprofit community by becoming a governance headhunter, too.  She became a full service search consultant helping investment banks and nonprofits alike secure critical new talent.  The only difference was that there was no fee to either the individual or nonprofit for the board matching service. 

After doing both kinds of searches for a few years and in the aftermath of 9/11, Cynthia decided to focus exclusively on board matching and created BoardAssist, a 501©3 of which she is the Executive Director. “I wanted to create an organization that is about bringing people together for mutual gain.  I loved being a headhunter, but this is even better. I can’t think of many things more rewarding than building and strengthening the capacity of nonprofit organizations that are doing vital and important work across New York.”

A key tenet for Cynthia has been offering board matching services at no cost.  This frees BoardAssist from any potential conflict of interest, provides credibility with both candidates and organizations, and enables it to work with a diverse pool of nonprofits - from large cultural groups to grassroots initiatives.  “The great thing is that our matching service is a ‘win-win’ with both sides thinking they’ve gotten a great deal.”  BoardAssist uses personal contact to get to know board candidates and the organizations with which they might be matched.  And an intermediary like BoardAssist allows both groups to ask the tough questions from personality and fit to financial commitment and setting realistic expectations for both.

“The opportunity to serve as a board member is a great honor for our board placements, but it is not honorary.”  It is also not checkbook philanthropy.  The organization makes a commitment to engage the new board member for the intellectual capital and energy that he or she brings.  In fact, a majority of BoardAssist placements are in leadership roles with their organizations within one year. 

Cynthia is confident that BoardAssist’s model will succeed and hopes that it will be replicated across the country.  Like all nonprofits, she wants to create an organization that is sustainable and delivers meaningful service to the community in the form of qualified, engaged board members.  She’s finding support from foundations committed to capacity building and strengthening governance; corporations – especially those that have had executives placed; and individuals – often those who sit on boards with her placements and have seen first hand how much value her board members have added.

Maintaining the ideals of offering the board matching service free of charge is a challenge, but one to which Cynthia is committed.  She realizes that BoardAssist is just a small part of the nonprofit community in New York, but is happy to do her part to strengthen the sector.  Others say that BoardAssist may think it is small, but its role in building organizations is huge.

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