Local nonprofit boards need to step up!

The Sierra Christian school in Nevada City will close at the end of this month after a 12 year run, my sources tell me.

A one-month effort to raise $100,000 — the call for a “miracle” — has come up short. At least one teacher will lose her job; the others will be hired as contractors by parents to finish off the year.

My wife and I saw the handwriting on the wall when this was disclosed last month, and we put our son in another school. (A midyear transition is difficult for any child, and Nevada City Elementary was full for his grade.)

It didn’t have to end this way for a school with excellent teachers and dedicated parents. As it turns out, the school has accumulated debt during the past 2 1/2 years because of the poor economy, declining enrollment and the growing inability of parents to stay current with their tuition payments.

So why wait until last month to go public with a problem like this?

I place the blame on the board of directors. Boards are responsible for managing situations like this.

This is not the only example. I’m reminded of the Foothill Theatre Company in Nevada City. I admire Board President Lowell Robertson for visiting me at The Union to discuss the theater’s financial problems in August. 

But it also was too late in the game. The problems had gone on for years.

I raised this issue with Lowell, the principal of the school and others. Other local nonprofits, such as the Lutz Center, also have gone under.

What’s the problem? We have a plethora of nonprofits here, but too many inexperienced board members when it comes to managing financial problems that are bound to crop up. Many board members see the post more as a social activity. Some boards are too insular — an ongoing problem around here.

Boards also have to be much more transparent about their finances. What does the balance sheet look like? How much money is going to administrative costs? Donors deserve the right to know that.

It’s going to be tough sledding for nonprofits here this year and next. Consolidation and tough times is inevitable. The boards need to step up the challenge. In some cases this means recruiting new board members.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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