Leading a Not-for-Profit Board – my conversation with Carl Zylstra

“Over the years that I have been on boards, one of the new best practices that has been developed has been the board executive session at the end of every meeting.” -Carl Zylstra

Our guest today is Dr. Carl Zylstra, the former president of Dordt University.Those of you who’ve been listening to the Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership podcast will recognize Dr. Zylstra from the August 27th Episode Partners, Brothers, and Friends: How Two College Presidents Have Come Together For The Greater Good Of Christian Higher Education.

In that episode, Carl Zylstra and David Dockery share some about their friendship and ultimately the collaboration they’ve had over the years. If you haven’t listened to that episode yet, I encourage you to do so. It really is an insightful episode that you can learn a lot from and it will add more context to the conversation I have with Carl today.

One of the reasons I’ve asked Carl back to be our guest today is because of the breadth of his experience in working with and serving on nonprofit boards. My observation and experience is that being an effective nonprofit board member is not easy. And yet, the strength of a board can make or break the effectiveness of an organization.

In this episode, I ask Carl to share with us his experiences with nonprofit boards, the best strategies for board composition, common reasons for board turnover, and much more.

Please be sure to share this podcast with the nonprofit board members you know and not to keep us a secret.

I hope you enjoy my conversation with Carl!  

“Boards are our place to interchange with each other and with the administration all for the good of the overall mission of the institution.” -Carl Zylstra

Show Notes

[2:15] – An introduction to our guest, Dr. Carl Zylstra.

[3:05] – Carl shares his experiences that led to the presidency of Dordt University.

[4:33] – What does Carl remember about his first board?

[6:09] – We learn what Carl believes is the best thing a board can do when bringing in a new president. 

[7:31] – The best strategies for board composition, according to Carl.

[9:45] – Carl clarifies the Four W’s motif and the type of experience needed to fulfill them. 

[11:59] – Carl tells us what he believes goes into an ideal onboarding strategy.

[13:00] – How does a good board manual help outline the expectations for a board?

[14:28] – In Carl’s opinion, self study should be done at every meeting.

[16:35] – After establishing credibility for a new president, boards must guard the president against loss of that credibility. 

[17:50] – Carl suggests additional ways boards can be improved.

[19:04] – What are some words and phrases that Carl believes describe an outstanding chair for the board?

[20:50] – Common reasons for board turnover, in Carl’s experience.

[22:52] – Having the wrong expectations is a key part of why people leave boards.

[23:27] – Advice on how to reduce board turnover.

[25:25] – Tommy reveals that Carl has an amazing cufflinks collection.

“One of the best things a board can do [when bringing on a new president] is create credibility for the incoming president.” -Carl Zylstra

Links and Resources

JobfitMatters – Website

Meet Dr. Carl Zylstra

Follow Carl Zylstra on LinkedIn

Dordt University

Called To Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board by Max DePree

Partners, Brothers, and Friends: How Two College Presidents Have Come Together For The Greater Good Of Christian Higher Education

Max De Pree


Listen to Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas on:

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Google Podcasts

Menu