M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

This year, we mark the 10th annual Board Leadership Faith-Based program. In honor of this milestone, we have taken an opportunity to hear from some executive directors, such as Elyse Nicholson of Eastside Academy, who have participated in this training and learn why they believe it is a valuable tool for other nonprofits.

A woman with short blond hair wearing a gray blazer looks at the camera in front of a gray backdrop.

Elyse Nicholson, executive director at Eastside Academy, knows that those who work for nonprofits do it because they are passionate and dedicated to the cause. But often, additional training and structure are needed to set an organization up for success. For Eastside Academy, the Board Leadership Faith-Based program was one such tool.

“Working in the nonprofit world, you work with amazing people who are there because they are so passionate about their work,” said Elyse. “Finding that balance of nurturing that passion and running an organization can be challenging.”

Specifically for Eastside Academy, an alternative high school in Bellevue, WA, for youth who are in crisis or cannot thrive in a traditional school setting, one challenge has been creating structures in place that allow each staff member to do their best work. Through this training, Elyse and the board were reminded of the importance of strong alignment at the highest level of leadership, creating a clarity that can then be felt at all levels of the organization.

“A lot of what has made us stronger is having a board who understands what’s needed of them. And that trickles down to every layer of the staff.”

When the Eastside Academy leadership participated in Board Leadership Faith-Based, it was almost entirely a new board. “We signed onto the training because it presented an opportunity for us to onboard a whole new group of people and set up established procedures and understand how we wanted to operate as a board. So, it was a very critical reset for us.”

But, Elyse encourages, this program isn’t just for those with new boards, or those who have a strong board in place. “It doesn’t matter where you are in your board journey. You can be a board that needs a lot of help. It could be messy. It could be ugly. You don’t know what to do as a board, or even what you need as a board. This training and coaching would work really well for you. Or you could be a board that is in a good place but you want to be better. That is when we came in, and we gained a ton of knowledge and were so enriched and blessed by this program.”

As a faith-based organization, Eastside Academy’s board was composed of people of faith, but this program gave them a chance to refocus their meeting structures around faith practices. Every gathering now begins with a prayer that helps the board focus on the spiritual significance of their work. It centers them and sets them up for thoughtful, prayerful decision-making.

“Being in a faith-led training, it made all the difference,” said Elyse. “For us, it was very grounding. It allowed us to focus to how we interjected faith into our meetings. That was really an eye-opener for me.”

At the end of the day, Elyse says, having a healthy, aligned board in matters of faith and business procedures matters for the sustainability of an organization – especially for small nonprofits like Eastside Academy. And it fills the leaders and staff with confidence, knowing their board is behind them every step of the way.

“Because there’s so much clarity that we gained from this training, it enables us to go off and do our work – do hard work – but feel really confident, knowing we have a whole team of people that understand what we do and how we do it, and that we took steps in place that enable us to have that clarity from the top to the bottom.”

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