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Vivian Bass speaks with RespectAbility fellows at the conference room table

Vivian Bass: The Powerful and Necessary Bonds Between Nonprofit Staff and Board Members

Vivian Bass with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Vivian Bass with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 8 – After a successful career of more than 40 years as a nonprofit CEO, Vivian Bass, currently a board member of RespectAbility, visited the Fellows of RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program.  She shared her knowledge about nonprofit boards and gave advice on how to build better relationships between staff and board members.

As the former CEO of the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, she has contributed greatly to the disability community, so it was only natural that she was one of our speakers. As young professionals, we still are navigating the workforce, struggling with networking and negotiating workplace conflicts. According to Bass, there are five characteristics that strengthen the bond between staff and board members in a nonprofit: mutual respect, no surprises, transparency, accountability and partnership.

Mutual Respect

Vivian Bass and Naya Rhodes sit in chairs in front of the RespectAbility banner

Vivian Bass and Naya Rhodes

“Get to know your team,” Bass explained. Learning their names and interests can easily create a connection. The more information you have, the more respectful you can be of their beliefs and values. This is especially useful if you have conflicting beliefs within a workplace. Respecting your team also means working around schedules, respecting time restrictions and relaying information efficiently. Bass encountered a CEO that would call staff at 6:00 a.m. because she liked to chat while working out on her treadmill! This CEO may have strained her relationship with her colleagues, but she created a great learning experience of what not to do as a board member.

No Surprises

“Limit the unexpected,” Bass said. Your team and staff should never surprise a board member with sudden bad news. Share information proactively to limit the surprises your organization might encounter. It reflects poorly on your company if the CEO is unaware of new initiatives or policy changes. Everyone should be on the same page about policy implementation or any other issue that may arise- from lawsuits to hiring and firing. If there is information you aren’t sure you should share, use your best judgment.


“Be open but keep it professional,” Bass asserted. Being a tattle tell can come across as unsophisticated or petty. Use your discretion for sharing information and do it in a professional manner. There may be times when you’re asked about the performance of a colleague. If you and that colleague are close, you might stray from giving feedback to oversharing. You always should ere on the side of caution if you are unsure.


“Follow through on your promises and keep your deadlines,” Bass told the Fellows. If you know you won’t meet the mark, let your colleagues know. Reliability is a trait all members need to be a successful team. When asked how to handle a coworker not pulling their weight in a team, Bass suggested first confronting the coworker. They might not be aware of their shortcomings. Given the opportunity, they can mend the situation before it escalates. If they are still falling short of their responsibilities, consider bringing the issue to your supervisor.


“Find a mentor,” Bass asserted. Creating a partnership with someone among your staff, board or the company is valuable to your growth. A mentor can benefit your professional and personal development. We could all use some guidance, but don’t take advantage of your mentor’s pro bono time. Bass reflected on meetings she had as a mentor. She experienced mentees who would show up late to meetings they scheduled, and it gave her a poor impression. The way you present yourself, even in your personal time, affects your professional relationships.

Bass leads by example. Instead of the Fellows introducing themselves, Vivian introduced them. She took time to read about each Fellow’s background and connection to disabilities. It is important to practice the message you preach, in your personal and professional life. Bass does. Her presentation gave RespectAbility’s 2018 Fall Fellows the tools they need to navigate their current and future professional relationships.


RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. This fall, 11 Fellows had the opportunity to learn from a variety of guest speakers. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact [email protected] for more information.



Meet the Author

Naya Rhodes

Naya Rhodes’s knowledge and experience with disabilities come in part from her uncle who has bipolar disorder. She graduated from Kent State University with a bachelor’s degree in Actuarial Mathematics and a minor in finance.

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