Someone recently asked the following question: What type of expectations do you communicate with new board members and when and how is it best to communicate such expectations?
First, and as a preliminary general comment, if a nonprofit a difficult time answering these questions, that nonprofit is probably experiencing a dysfunctional, low-performing board. We Semble believe it is incumbent on the leadership of the nonprofit to clearly articulate in writing its expectations for board members with an understanding that not all board members are recruited for the same reasons/expectations. As you think about the expectations you have established, here are a few guiding thoughts to take into consideration as nonprofits recruit board members and set expectations:
- Recruit with “Intentionality:” Look at the needs of the nonprofit and develop a generic “dream team” of board members. In other words, identify the attributes of a board with the ideal complement of time, talent and resources for the purpose of advancing the mission of the nonprofit.
- Recruit “Doers:” All nonprofits need board members with sufficient time to take on time-intensive projects. Organizations cannot expect business and community leaders working 70 hours a week to volunteer to take on a project requiring a significant commitment of time.
- Recruit “Maven:” Malcolm Gladwell used the term in his book The Tipping Point (Little Brown, 2000) to describe those who are intense gatherers of information and impressions. In other words, these are your board experts: Marketing, accounting, legal, social media, nonprofit finance, technology, etc.
- Recruit “Connectors:” Also in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, he describes “connectors” as people who simply know a lot of people. You might actually think of them as being “hyper” extroverts with a vast reach of relationships.
- Recruit “Evangelists:” Recruit people that can answer the question of “why?” “Why should others support the nonprofit?” Often times these are individuals who have directly or indirectly been impacted by the mission of the nonprofit and, as a result, they speak with passion and authority. Note: We believe every board member is expected to be an “Evangelist” or “Ambassador” of the nonprofit and if they are not prepared to be an Ambassador then you need to think long and hard about appointing such a person to the board. We have actually observed situations where board members are vocal critics to members and supports of the nonprofit they are serving and that simply is unacceptable.
- Recruit “Money:” Organizations need not be bashful or beat around the bush, they need to recruit people who have been blessed financially. While it is a topic for a different post, nonprofits need to change their mindset about board members with financial means. We believe without qualification, if expectations are properly deployed and the relationship is appropriately managed, the “financial board member” will derive as much or more benefit than the nonprofit as a result of their financial support. In short, by allowing board members to deploy their financial resources toward the mission of the nonprofit, we are helping them fulfill what we believe is a primal drive in every living person which is: To live a life with meaning, purpose and significance.
- Create a “Written Job Description” for Each Prospective Board Member: Prior to someone joining the board, a board job description should be put in writing and reviewed with the prospective board member prior to them joining the board. It is in this meeting that expectations are clearly communicated.
Finally, here are just a few other random thoughts about expectations that need to be communicated before board members join the board:
- Participation in Board Meetings: While there might be good reason for exceptions, as a general rule, we believe all board members need to commit to attending board meetings and if a certain number of meetings are missed, that may be grounds for removal.
- Attending Board Meetings and Organizational Events Prior to Appointment: We believe all prospective board members should attend at least 3 board meetings before being eligible to participate on the board. A preferred practice is to have a prospective member take a leadership role on a task force or committee for the nonprofit just to get a sense of their leadership style. Also, as a general rule, we think it is dangerous to appoint someone to the board that has not previously demonstrated a heart and passion for the nonprofit and its mission.
- Set Governance Philosophy Expectations: We believe it is very important for nonprofit boards to adhere to philosophy of “alignment” behind the final decisions of the board. While we always want to foster healthy discussion/debate around important topics involving the nonprofit, once a decision is made, it is critical to the health of the nonprofit that board members “align” 100% behind the decision so that leadership is speaking with one voice; vocal and public board member decent to a board decision by a board member can be devastating to the health of nonprofit.
So, how about you? How would you respond to these questions?
Todd R. Tarbert CEO / @Semble