Optimizing Board and Volunteer Involvement in Real Estate Projects

Dec 20, 2012 9:00 AM ET

Excerpt from an interview conducted by Professor James Hagy, Director of The Rooftops Project at New York Law School, with Alice Korngold:

RTP: Many real estate professionals, whether they are lawyers, or architects and designers, or contractors, or real estate brokers, may be transactional or project focused. In the life of a not-for-profit, real estate projects may ramp up for a particular period of time, and then in between there may be only smaller projects or nothing. How can a real estate industry professional think about where he or she might best benefit an organization when he or she is not sure whether that organization might have an event, a project or a transaction coming along that might use their resources in the best way? Is that important, is it not important, or should they join for the general benefits that they might bring to the organization?

Alice: First, I love that with The Rooftops Project you are focusing on real estate as an industry and a skill set that is valuable to not-for-profit organizations. It is such a major element of the formula for nonprofits. For most organizations there are real estate issues, whether they are renting, or buying, or sharing. It is odd that it has been in a way an unappreciated area. It seems that it should be obvious, but it hasn’t always been. So the attention and education that you are providing is a huge value.

I think someone with a real estate background has a whole variety of skill sets, all of which are highly relevant to an organization in developing, growing, relationship-building: strategic view, organizational development, negotiation, relationship-building, financial skills, legal skills. And if you are passionate about the mission you might very well be interested in fund-raising, which is valuable to any organization.

RTP: So it is not necessarily important to find an organization that the very next day is going to be building a building, or buying or selling, or leasing just because that it what you do in your day job?

Alice: No. It is important for someone with a real estate background to think about their skills and expertise more broadly than very specifically real estate. And if you are with a business or a firm that is small or medium-sized, that can be highly relevant, too. You and the organization can relate to each other better sometimes more than someone from a larger company.

RTP: Let’s look at it from the organization’s perspective, then. What if the organization does see a major physical asset event coming along? It is going to lease, or build, or renovate. The organization doesn’t have board members with that day-job expertise on the board. Organizations may sometimes be inclined to create board positions for those professionals in order to get the benefit of their experience for the task. Others may be reluctant because it is a one-time event, albeit an important one.

Alice: Here again, I think it is important for an organization to look at board candidates more broadly. Sure, real estate skills and expertise can be useful to have on your board. Real estate is a key part of your overall strategy, not just issues related to the finance, but the location, the aesthetic feel to your space in terms of clients and how they are welcomed, treated, received. Many aspects related to real estate are part of the vision, the revenue model, and the strategic and financial success of your organization.

Most importantly, the role of the board is to help envision an organization’s greater potential and to help create and achieve the organization’s revenue model. Ideally you need a group of people who can do that together and bring a variety of perspectives. You want people who are passionate about what you are doing and connect with it.

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