The Best Boards Conference is an annual, one-day conference designed to help nonprofit board members and staff work together more effectively. Offered each spring, the program is valuable to both new and seasoned board members and nonprofit executives. The conference features sessions from experts in the field along with relevant, quality content to take back to participants' organization.

Conference Details

Ellen Cohen

Ellen Cohen has lived and worked in the city of Houston for the past 42 years. She served for 10 years as the executive director of the American Jewish Committee and for 18 years as the CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center. In 2006, she was elected as the Texas State Representative for District 134 and continued her public service career at home. She ran for Houston City Council, and was sworn into office in January 2012 as the Council Member representing District C. During her tenure on Council, Ms. Cohen has championed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, the elimination of the sexual assault kit backlog, the creation of a dedicated Human Trafficking Unit within the Houston Police Department, the introduction of a Parking Benefit District for the Washington Corridor, and many other initiatives to improve the quality of life of her constituents. She served her third, and final term, on Council as Mayor Pro Tem for the City of Houston from 2015 - 2019.

2020 sessions coming soon. See 2019 sessions below.

Effective Leadership: Utilizing Individual Strengths

Precious Williams Owodunni
The most effective teams - including boards, management teams, and project teams -leverage each member’s talents. According to Gallup studies, absent a strengths focus, engagement averages a dismal 1 in 11 (9 percent) Conversely, when leaders focus on strengths, the odds of engagement soar to almost 73 percent. Led by Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, Ms. Williams Owodunni, the "Strengths-Based Leadership" breakout session employs Gallup's StrengthsFinder tool to help leaders determine ways to leverage the unique talents of each team member and to build a strengths-based organizational culture. Attendees will gain an understanding of their unique strengths, key team dynamics, and practical action items a group can implement right away to maximize its collective strengths. You will leave this session with concrete next steps to enhance the performance and culture of their boards and organizations.

The Why and How of Planned Giving

Cindy Atmar, CFRE
Every nonprofit with a long-term vision can, and should, secure future support from its current individual donors. Many "ordinary" annual donors can and will make extraordinary gifts in the latter stages of their lifetimes. This is true for any size organization with any size budget. Get ready to learn why and how to establish a successful planned giving program with a minimal budget n this highly interactive workshop.

The Pitfalls of a Bored Board and the Value in Anticipating and Instigating Change

Ellyn Wulfe
Winston Churchill once said, "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” Although change can seem daunting, it is our responsibility to prepare staff members and leaders of our organization for the inevitable. Planning for and introducing change can be what is needed to invigorate an organization or a board that has become complacent. This session faces the topic of preparing for anticipated and unexpected leadership changes, while also introducing change to prevent your organization from becoming stagnant.

Consider an Interim Executive During Leadership Transition of CEO, CFO, or CDO

June O’Neil
Are you anticipating a change in leadership? Do you have a plan in place in the event of a leadership transition? Finding the right fit for a permanent leadership position can take much longer than expected, and engaging an interim is more than just hiring someone to keep the “trains running.” This transition period is an opportunity to gain a fresh perspective, contemporize and consider a range of scenarios all while doing business as usual. By the end of this session, have a concrete understanding of what your organization should consider before filling a permanent or temporary leadership position and the possibility of positive changes when you decide to utilize an interim.

Beyond the Numbers: The Art of Financial Storytelling

Kay Walther, CPA and Barbara Murphy, CPA
It is essential for an organization’s board to have a complete understanding of an organization’s financial story through its publicly available financial reports such as audited statements and 990 reporting. This session focuses on financial statement reporting requirements for nonprofits, financial red flags and identifiers of an organization’s financial health. This includes increased transparency, operating liquidity and telling your mission story. Learn how the 990 tax return can be enhanced to provide mission data such as stewardship and management efforts. Lastly, you will receive an update regarding the impact on nonprofits of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act.

A Framework for Governance

Ronnie Hagerty, CFRE and Leslie Wang
How do you choose a board chair? Research shows that the selection of this position can determine the ultimate success of a nonprofit. By accepting a role as a board chair member, you accept great responsibilities that come with unique challenges. In this session, learn the qualities that are essential for an effective board chair member; determine the key differences between a chair’s role and that of an individual board; and understand how defining the relationship between the board chair and nonprofit CEO can lead to a functional and successful organization.

Organizations with 3 or more participants wanting to attend qualify for the group registration discount of $135 per person.



Discounts are available for AFP, Apra and AASP members and Rice faculty, staff, students and alumni. Please contact us at 713-348-4803 or gscs@rice.edu to receive the appropriate discount code.

This conference meets the elective requirement for the Leadership Institute for Nonprofit Executives (LINE) Certificate Program. The LINE program is a 10-month journey designed to assist nonprofit leaders and those aspiring to leadership roles in the nonprofit sector to build their current skillsets and become effective and successful leaders of nonprofit organizations.


Enroll Now - Available Sections

Section Title
Best Boards Conference
9:00AM to 4:00PM
Mar 05, 2020
Schedule and Location
Contact Hours
  • Rice Campus
Delivery Options
Course Fee(s)
* non-credit $185.00