With mere tenths of a point separating the top three finalists, this year's competition for Governance Matters’ Brooke W. Mahoney Award for Outstanding Board Leadership was the tightest ever. But in the end, the nonprofit GallopNYC, which uses therapeutic horsemanship to serve individuals with disabilities, edged out Dorot, Leake & Watts, Storefront Academy and Union Settlement for the win.
"Surprised" is the word GallopNYC Board Chairwoman Suzanne Marquard used to describe winning the award. She was interviewed for New York Nonprofit Media’s “At the Board Table” segment after being named a finalist for the award. You can watch the interview here.
GallopNYC was founded in 2005 and is led by Executive Director Alicia Kershaw.
“In all honesty, this is the strongest class we’ve ever had,” Governance Matters’ Director David LaGreca said. “The winner tonight was a smaller organization that had managed to do some incredibly long-range planning things very quickly. Very impressive,” LaGreca said.
The Brooke Mahoney award was established in 2010 to recognize a board for its commitment to, and work on behalf of, its organization. As part of the application process, nonprofits in the metro area answer questions such as, “What percentage of your organization’s budget comes from your board?” and, “Define good governance for your organization at this point in its life stage.” A jury selects five finalists who are interviewed in person. The award includes a heart-shaped trophy and a $5,000 gift for the organization, underwritten by The Rauch Foundation.
Barbara Krasne, who served as a jurist for six of the seven years the award has been presented, knew Brooke Mahoney, who served as executive director of Volunteer Consulting Group for 38 years. She explained Mahoney’s thoughts about the role of a board:
“She had a very strong opinion about boards and the importance of boards working together as a unit and having a diversification of opinion around that table, and how it was absolutely critical to have a strong board in order to have a strong organization.”
Rather than measuring a board’s success simply by its longevity or the size of its organization’s budget, Mahoney would define a strong board as, “one that knew what its roles and responsibilities were, one that was engaged and clearly understood the implications of their decisions, that had a strong working relationship with management and were willing to address the hard questions,” Krasne said.
This year was the first time the award was presented by a recently reconfigured Governance Matters organization. The organization was founded by the New York chapter of the Harvard Business School Club in the 1960s as the Volunteer Consulting Group. In 2008, David LaGreca, who was serving on the Board of Governance Matters, took over as the organization’s second executive director. He helped facilitate the merger of VCG and Governance Matters. Last year, Governance Matters became a subsidiary of the New York Council of Nonprofits and plans to expand its services throughout the state, said Governance Matters Board Chairman David Birdsell.
Along with presenting the Mahoney award, Governance Matters' board celebrated LaGreca’s commitment to the organization and his service over the previous eight years as its acting and executive director.
The finalists were acknowledged for their board’s accomplishments, which included leading their organizations from near-closure to significant fiscal growth and through productive strategic planning processes. Other accomplishments included handling leadership changes, helping their organization create a new revenue stream after the loss of a major funder and providing critical reviews of programs.
When asked why he thought this class was so competitive, LaGreca said, "I don’t know whether it’s – they’re being faced with either changing and scrambling to succeed or dying. … I’d like to think it’s because they’re getting smart about (governance), combined with – if you’re running a social service agency that’s depending on public money you have to be very careful in managing the risk of that.”
GallopNYC’s winning board was acknowledged for its commitment to volunteer management, leading the organization to significant growth, both financial and programmatic, and the establishment of an ad-hoc site committee that led to an agreement for a new service location. The board also developed a rising professionals group and established a “Colic fund” that they are building to hold four to six months of operating funds in reserve.
Why “Colic?” “It’s not exactly like the baby thing, but horses can have this condition called colic which is really kind of like an upset stomach.” Marquard explained. “It’s not understood what causes it necessarily, it could be a lot of different things, so it kind of comes as an unpleasant surprise.”
“This really is like Miss America,” Marquard said about waiting for her organization’s name to be called. “We will be motivated, I think that’s how we’ll celebrate. We’ll be motivated to go on and do what’s next.”