Best Boards

The Best Boards conference is an all-day program designed by Rice University to help nonprofit board members and staff work together more effectively. 

Spring 2020

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.

Best Boards is currently not accepting registrations. Please join our waitlist to be notified when registration begins. Please consider our fall Board Service offerings in the meantime.


This conference meets the elective requirement for the Leadership Institute for Nonprofit Executives Certificate Program.

Browse our 2019 keynote speaker and sessions below. Our 2020 conference speakers will be released October 2019.

Elena M. Marks

Elena M. Marks is the president and chief executive officer of the Episcopal Health Foundation, a $1.2 billion philanthropy based in Houston. The foundation works to improve the health and well-being of the 11 million people of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, which covers 57 counties in east, southeast, and central Texas including Austin, Houston, Beaumont, Lufkin, Tyler, Waco and Bryan/College Station. Ms. Marks is also a nonresident Fellow in Health Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy where her work focuses on health reform and access to care for low income and uninsured populations. She serves on the boards of Grantmakers in Health, the largest national organization serving the field of health philanthropy, Harris Health System, an integrated health delivery system serving over 300,000 patients annually, and Community Health Choice, a nonprofit, community-based health insurance company with more than 400,000 members. Ms. Marks holds a bachelor’s degree from Emory University, a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law, and a master’s in public health from the University of Texas School of Public Health.  Ms. Marks’ previous professional experience includes serving as the director of health and environmental policy for the City of Houston, consulting in the healthcare industry with large systems and community-based providers, starting and directing a successful legal placement firm, and practicing trial and appellate law with major Texas law firms.

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’Neill
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: How Choosing the Right Chair Drives the Work of the Board

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. Intentional, strategic succession planning for the board chair is a key component to that success. In this session, learn the qualities that are essential for an effective board chair; determine the key differences between a chair’s role and that of an individual board member; and understand how defining the relationship between the board chair and nonprofit CEO can lead to a functional and successful organization. You will leave this session with clear next steps for creating your board chair succession plan.

The Promise and Peril of Public-Private Partnerships: How Houston Has Leveraged Public-Private Partnerships to Tackle Complex Problems

Moderator: Elizabeth Love
Panelists: Deborah Lugo, Kelly Sowards Opot, Anne Culver
Public-private partnerships have the potential to create systemic change and deliver regional impact by bringing together funders, community leaders and elected officials around a common goal and the promise of long-term sustainability. But, how do you know when the conditions are right for such a partnership? And how do you make them work? Elizabeth Love, senior program officer at Houston Endowment, will facilitate a conversation about the inspiration, development and implementation of three key initiatives in Houston that were made possible through public-private partnerships. She will be joined by Deborah Lugo, executive director of Arts Connect; Anne Culver, president of Scenic Houston; and Kelly Opot, executive director of the Harris County Youth Collective. 

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


UPDATE: Group registration is closed. If you and your group are still interested in attending the conference, you can access the conference waitlist using the button below.


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.