Anyone who has ever had to plan an event knows that there are so many variables and your Board is one of the most important!
This post will cover some of the prevailing myths about board members, expectations, and understanding your events through their eyes.
Let’s start with some…COMMON MYTHS ABOUT IMPROVING BOARD EFFECTIVENESS
Bigger is better.
Belief: Adding new members will improve board giving power and effectiveness.
Reality: New members quickly acclimate to the existing board culture and the sense of accountability is diluted even further. New board members will become demoralized and frustrated and the original board problem is now a larger one.
Once on the board, a wealthy person will soon make big gifts.
Belief: People with great giving capacity will make big gifts if they are on the board.
Reality: Wealthy people give in response to compelling factors and an appropriate ask just like everyone else. They do not make large contributions just because they are wealthy, or asked to serve on a board. Don’t expect a new board member to make a large gift unless they are committed to the vision for the organization, and everyone else is giving at the most generous level they can afford.
We are a working board, not a giving board.
Belief: Board members don’t have to give financially to the organization, nor help to raise money.
Reality: If they don’t give to your organization, they can’t ask others for contributions effectively or in good faith. If they do not belief enough in the mission of the organization to support it financially, do you really want them on your board? Organizations need board leaders to solicit support from community and business peers.
Board service is an honorary privilege.
Belief: An invitation to serve on a board is a confirmation of status and achievement by community leaders.
Reality: This person has not had a proper orientation by the board with clearly outlined expectations of performance and responsibility. Tolerating or condoning this behavior sends the message that this position is acceptable. When some are excused from work, others question why they should carry the load. Soon there will be no critical mass present to inspire and secure much needed charitable funding.
CRITICAL STEPS IN IMPROVING BOARD EFFECTIVENESS
It is never to late or to early to begin planning for reform. Below are some basic, yet fundamental steps, to strengthen your board:
- Establish clearly, what is or will be the board’s mandate. The primary focus of the board should be centered on leading the organization and securing financial support. Any other activities should be viewed as secondary and perhaps the domain of non-board volunteers. A sober assessment of the needs ahead will help board leaders to identify and articulate a clear and compelling vision for the board.
- Determine the composition of the board before any recruiting begins. This is the next logical step to building a strong and effective board. Considerations of expertise, personal and professional networks, ability to provide and secure financial support, and commitment to the well-being and future growth of the organization should be emphasized.
- Provide a detailed job description to every prospective board member (and current member if necessary). Describe everything you would want to know. What will be expected of me? How much time is necessary? How long is the term? Is there a probationary period? Work with the prospective volunteer to identify and tap into their talents and strengths. Everything should be clear before the volunteer attends his or her first board meeting.
- Point to the job description to make sure the prospective board members understands that annual financial support is expected of each board member. A minimal giving level should be established and observed.
- Adjust active board size to around 12 members. One effective method to reduce board size is to discuss a new job description with each member. Are they willing to do what is necessary or would they prefer to gracefully resign so a more motivated community leader can fill the position (or wait for their term to expire). Every board should have or institute volunteer term limits to systematically address problem of uncommitted board members.
- Another option is to create an honorary board or advisory board for volunteers who you would like to move off the board of directors, yet wish to maintain their affiliation with your organization.
There is never a better time to start addressing the weakness on your board than the present. Tomorrow will place additional demands on your organization—some new, some familiar. Will your board be up to the challenge? Take a moment to make an honest and objective assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your board. Work with your most committed leaders to identify long-term and short-term objectives and what needs to be done to achieve your goals. Approach the recruiting of a new board member with the same care you would use in hiring a new employee. Stick to the fundamentals and you will not only have a more effective board, you will have more enthusiastic board members. And you and your organization’s staff will be all the more happy for it.