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Dorri McWhorter has worked across corporations, both as a board member and executive. But she’s truly found her niche in the nonprofit world, first as a board member and then as a nonprofit executive, where she leads organizations to better serve their communities.

In 2021, McWhorter became the president and CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. Before joining the YMCA, McWhorter served for eight years as CEO of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, where she spearheaded many innovations, grew the operational budget nearly fourfold, expanded the YWCA’s footprint by 10 locations, and launched an exchange traded fund (ETF) for women’s empowerment.

An active board member throughout her professional career, McWhorter currently serves on six boards, including 1871, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and the Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Council. She also currently serves as the Rustandy Center’s Nonprofit Engagement Executive in Residence.

McWhorter understands the impact board members can have on an organization. To help nonprofits in this work, the Rustandy Center has put together the Nonprofit Board Toolkit and Workbook. This resource helps new board members prepare, navigate, and thrive during their first 90 days serving on a nonprofit board. The toolkit can be useful both to individual board members and to organizations onboarding new members.

The Rustandy Center spoke with McWhorter about the benefits of serving on a nonprofit board, how she evaluates boards before joining, and what traits she looks for in board members.

Rustandy Center: What are the benefits of serving on a nonprofit board of directors?

Dorri McWhorter: There are personal, professional, and community benefits. Serving on a nonprofit board also helps broaden your perspective and gives you an opportunity to learn.

Going into a board experience with a growth mindset is important. It gives you the potential for greater impact, as more informed and curious people tend to create better outcomes. Board service is ultimately about helping a community, no matter how you define it—a neighborhood, school, city, country, or even the global community.

RC: What do you look for in an organization, and how do you evaluate whether to join a new nonprofit board?

DM: While mission alignment is the top priority for serving on any board, it’s also important to understand the operational maturity of the organization. This is true whether it’s a startup or an established organization. You should determine what the organization needs and if you have the interest, skills, and capacity to support the organization in its current state.

The board also has phases of maturity. For example, where is the board operationally focused? Is it an operating board or more focused on strategy and governance? You can find the best fit based on your interest, skills, and capacity.

“I view board members as catalyst to amplify the impact of the organization. Board members who approach their work as partners-in-change can help an organization become more successful.”

— Dorri McWhorter

RC: You have served on several boards and chaired a few. Are there certain traits or qualities that you look for in a board member?

DM: If a board member can find ways to immerse themselves in the organization by attending events and learning about the organization, they can be highly valuable. Valuable board members are also inquisitive, open to learning about the sector and issue areas that the organization is trying to address.

RC: What about in the board’s leadership?

DM: Board leaders are making a significant commitment to the organization. They’re most effective when treating the leadership role as a partnership with the organization’s leaders.

RC: What are some of the most impactful things a board member can do?

DM: There are so many ways that a board member can be impactful. I view board members as catalyst to amplify the impact of the organization. Board members who approach their work as partners-in-change can help an organization become more successful.

RC: What does Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion mean to you as it relates to board service?

DM: At board level, it includes understanding how the organization is fulfilling its DEI commitments. But it also means ensuring that the board is mindful of new opportunities. For example, is DEI considered during committee and leadership opportunities? Is it considered during the board’s process to procure services to support the board? Boards should look for how they can include DEI specification when looking for services, such as strategic planning consulting and audit services.

RC: What words of advice do you have for new board members during their first few months on a board?

DM: LEARN. LEARN. LEARN. You can absolutely jump in and contribute right away; however, it is important that you are continually learning about the organization—its history, impact, evolution, operating model, strategy, the population it serves, and so much more. Also get to know the people within the organization as best you can. The executive director/CEO is an important contact, but the other leaders and staff are also essential to get to know.

RC: Why did you choose to be involved with the Rustandy Center’s suite of nonprofit strategy and governance programs?

DM: Creating a positive impact in the world is a high priority for me. The Rustandy Center’s approach to supporting nonprofits to become better organizations will absolutely help them create more impact in their communities. I want to be a part of advancing any effort that helps nonprofits do good. The center is leading the way by providing these organizations with the tools they need to accomplish their goals.

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