Commentary: Wanted: board member who offers more than a big checkbook

Barry Hessenius, WESTAF Blog, 1/22/12

There are really two principal criteria that invariably govern our decision to invite someone to join our boards: 1) someone who will actually show up; and 2) people willing to write a check -- the bigger the better. We don't, for the most part, vet potential candidates much more than that. Nominating committee members seek out like-minded people more often than not from some similar background, and while there may be some attempts to cast a wide net, that simply does not happen that often. Bottom line: almost never does an arts organization reject a potential board candidate. We can't afford to -- the pool is too small, the competition too fierce and the options too few. The profiles of many board memberships are self-perpetuating -- including the questionable practice of re-electing board members to multiple terms. Boards really ought not to get involved in day-to-day operational decisions. In reality, boards often see their job as making all kinds of decisions. Many an organization gets into serious trouble because the board and staff are at odds. Board training is pretty much confined to some brief, and more often than not, meaningless orientation session, the proverbial board handbook with sections on the bylaws, finances and a roster of phone numbers, and the once ubiquitous annual Board Retreat -- which seems to have fallen out of favor. In such a climate, one would think that putting more thought into the recruitment (and then training) of board members would be accepted thinking for every organization. Yet it seems to me we have been moving away from paying more attention to our boards; less emphasis on who we want and how we get those people, let alone what professional development we provide them not only at the beginning of their tenure, but during that tenure as well. We really ought to pay more attention to what a board ought to be, how it ought to function, who we want on our boards v. who we will accept, and what we expect of them once they agree to serve -- beyond showing up with their checkbook.


Commentary: Questions to ask prospective board members

Jan Masaoka, Blue Avocado blog, 12/5/11

The most important area to explore is specific to what your organization is seeking someone to do (rather than seeking what someone is):

  • One of the reasons we're talking to you about possibly joining our board is because we think you can help us connect with the ______community. Are these connections you could help us make?

Other questions can help spark conversations:

  • What interests you about our organization? Which aspect of our organization interests you most?
  • What are some of your previous volunteer experiences or leadership roles?
  • What appeals to you about board service as a volunteer activity?
  • If you were to join our board, are there any experiences you'd like to have as a board member or people you'd like to meet?
  • What skills, connections, resources, and expertise do have to offer and are willing to use on behalf of this organization?
  • Do you have any worries about joining the board?
  • Is there anything you think you would need from this organization to make this experience a successful one for you?

If fundraising is an important activity for board members, be sure to raise it now:

  • We're hoping that if you join our board, you'll be a member of the fundraising committee. In fact, we hope that you will be able to ask five or ten of your friends for contributions of over $1,000 each. Is this something you think you could do?

Questions you should be prepared to answer, if the candidate asks:

  • Why are you interested in me as a board member?
  • What role do you see me playing on your board?
  • What are your expectations and commitments?
  • What is unique about your organization?
  • What do you feel is unique about your board?
  • Are there particular discussions this board has difficulty handling?
  • What weaknesses are there in the way the board works together and with staff?
  • What are the major issues this board is facing? How are you addressing them now?
  • If I were to join this board, what would you want me to do during my first year?
  • If I were to join this board, what could I reasonably expect to get out of the experience?

Caution: An easy mistake to make is to allow someone who is "not quite right" to join the board. Maybe he doesn't bring sufficient clout or expertise to the table, or maybe she seems like too short-tempered a person. It's hard to say no especially if the nominee is a friend of a current board member. Keep in mind that the five horrible minutes of saying no now is not as bad as three horrible years of a not-up-to-par board member.


Commentary: The future of board member recruitment

Reina Chadwick, Arts and Business Council of Miami website, 1/17/12

We are in the age of internet lifestyles, web-based services and a cyber-universe. The Arts & Business Council of Miami is excited to start the process of developing Arts Board Match, a program to strengthen the recruitment efforts of governing boards in the arts with the help of a development grant from the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation. Gone are the old ways of board development. With the help of the newly released Power2Give Miami website, Arts Board Match has begun its campaign to raise money towards developing a platform that will change the way we explore, develop and participate on non-profit boards. Arts Board Match is an innovative resource that will close the crisis gap in the number and diversity of board candidates accessible to arts organizations in South Florida. With over 1,000 non-profit cultural groups competing for board members the need to expand the pool of interested prospects is great. Imagine hundreds of business executives and professionals channeled onto arts boards throughout our community. Imagine it being based on a careful match of their personal interests and skills to the nonprofits that need strategic expertise to meet today's challenges. Consider the range of experience these board candidates might bring -- legal, human resources, public relations, strategic planning, marketing, pricing strategies, fundraising, real estate, financial, accounting, information systems, and so on. Consider the circle of influence these new board members will bring to the table through their networks of associates, colleagues, friends and clients. Imagine further that each business executive and professional chooses only the board where they feel a personal passion and commitment to the mission. It will be powerful and transformative. This will be Arts Board Match.


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Study: Exec directors with a strong board chairman feel less isolated, burnt out

Rick Moyers, Chronicle of Philanthropy's Against The Grain blog, 1/23/12

Recently I presented the findings of Daring to Lead 2011, a national study of nonprofit executives that I co-authored. Among the 3,000 executive directors surveyed, a majority (52%) characterized their relationship with their board chair as functional. A large minority (39%) described the relationship as exceptional, and just 9% called it dysfunctional. Compared with executives who described their board-chair relationship as merely functional, those executives who reported an exceptional relationship were more positive about their jobs in several key areas: 10% less felt isolated, 8% less felt burned out, and 15% more experienced higher overall job satisfaction. An exceptional relationship with the board chair also had a significant correlation with executive directors' satisfaction with board performance. 17% more executives who felt they had an exceptional relationship with the chair were very satisfied with board performance over all. While I've learned not to overclaim what the data prove, many years of experience with executives and boards have given me plenty of evidence that executive directors with strong working relationships with their board chairs are happier in their jobs, are less likely to be burned out, and believe that their boards work better because of the chair's leadership. Which suggests that we who believe that nonprofits need stronger boards, or are concerned about executive-director overextension and burnout, should view board chairs as key to supporting executives and strengthening boards. And because board chairs matter so much, we need to create better systems and resources for training and supporting them.

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