Thursday, July 22, 2010

Board criteria: Must haves, would be nice(s?)

I'll write about these lists (and the event in which they were generated) later; but I'm anxious to share them, both with participants in yesterday's board recruitment roundtable and readers of this blog.

(Note: Click on pics to see enlarged view)


Anne W. Ackerson said...

Debra --

I've done this activity with boards at the beginning of executive searches -- very useful in that capacity. I've also done something similar with governance committees, including writing a vision statement of the organization's ideal board.


Debra said...

This was the first time I've engaged any group in this activity, Anne. My goal was twofold: to model a process they could use with their own boards (either as a brand new opportunity to think through or to confirm previous efforts to articulate) and to create a framework for our discussion that did not focus not on all the things that are missing in our board recruitment efforts. Hopefully, some of the participants will comment, either on this post or on the next one (which will report more fully on the discussion).

I was so pleased to have someone bring up an idea I've been bouncing around for awhile, hosting a community open house (loved your job fair description on Twitter!) to introduce our local nonprofits with prospective board members who may not be on their radar screens. Our Albany County Boards Initiative WILL be following up on that (with, I hope, a bit of help from new friends).

Jennie Haarsager-Lieske said...

Debra- I enjoyed this discussion yesterday. To expand on the topic: I wrote down a couple of tangents in my head.
1. How to keep board members engaged when your board does not meet often (we now meet quarterly) and you have a "strong ED".
2. I think you mentioned that there is a website where I could find information about what the different board "roles" are and how to fill these positions (ie. treasurer)
3. I am also thinking about sending a mass mailing to our list of about 500 supporters asking for board member interest. Is this too broad?

Debra said...

Marvelous topic ideas, Jennie. Thanks so much for sharing - I'm adding them to our list of possibilities, since I know both will resonate with segments of our boards community.

We're still learning re: finding the right format for engaging board members, obviously (and I'm realizing there may be a different group that may enjoy/appreciate opportunities to explore governance challenges: your fellow EDs!). It would be wonderful to have, perhaps, a monthly learning and networking event - if there is interest.

Obviously, this topic (like many we'd address) needed far more than an hour to do it justice. That's probably where I see venues like this, or an online community space, allowing us to continue the conversation and resource sharing.

Speaking of resources...

My list of bookmarks on nonprofit board roles will have a mix of resources on the topic. I'm always adding to them, so it's good to check back now and again to see what's new. For readers who weren't at the event, those links can be found at

I haven't created separate tags for different leadership roles, but there will be sources related to many in that set of bookmarks.

We'll definitely be following up on that boards "job fair" (thanks, Anne!) that Katie brought up yesterday. It would be terrific to have all of the United Way agencies represented in that effort.

Debra said...

Oh, phooey. I forgot to address your question about your donor list as a potential recruitment resource.

You're on the right track, looking within an already supportive group for leadership. I'm not sure that a separate mailing for this purpose would be worth the printing and postage (though it does feel appropriate at include a note in a newsletter or other mailing going out to the same audience).

Where the list may be more effective is a starting point for your board to explore. Now, there's some risk, since they'll gravitate first toward people they already know. But it's at least a bigger pool for beginning that conversation.

You also may use contacts on that list (e.g., former board members, who know your organization better than most) to extend your search and ask for referrals. The board would still want to do its homework in identifying its true recruiting needs. But you've moved in the right direction by starting with a group of people who already are demonstrating support for your mission in a pretty tangible way.

I'm thinking other readers of this blog will have a thought or two on this subject, too. Feel free to chime in!

Buckin' for the Cure 2010 said...

So, we talked about qualities that are an absolute must to have for board members, and those that would be nice to have. I was curious, in your mind, what are those qualities that are not desirable - and of course I am interested in your rankings.

Debra said...

Great question, Christiane. I've never sat down and generated that list, actually. My first response would include a lot of the opposites of the "must" list entries. But I suppose my definite "nevers" (the list we didn't get to) might include:

-- lack of commitment to the vision and mission. That's absolutely a disqualifier for me.

-- Self-interest as the only motivation to serve. It's silly to pretend that we govern out of purely altruistic motives. We derive many benefits from board service. But when that's the only thing driving you (see first bullet point), you have no business being on the board.

-- Related to that: unchecked ego. That links to several things, especially the ability and willingness to work collaboratively that you mentioned as we were brainstorming the musts.

-- Someone who is not willing to lead (and able to think big picture), or is too interested in managing.

I think those are the biggest, and the sources of most of the others I haven't yet brought to consciousness. I encourage anyone else to contribute your thoughts about Christiane's question. It's a good one - and one that contributes to added clarity for the board.

Buckin' for the Cure 2010 said...

Just looked at my Hildy Gottlieb Board Recruitment book and saw that she has a list also:
Qualities discouraged: somebody quarrelsome or domineering, people with a business conflict of interest. She also talks about married people - I have NEVER found this to be a problem though and have sat on boards with my husband (typically we are the ones who disagree with each other on issues).
I agree with your list. Would like to add this one: Someone who only has great ideas (usually given in the form of advice) but will not or cannot follow through with them when there is nobody else who can implement one more new thing.
I will think about this more.

Buckin' for the Cure 2010 said...

Just listened to Anne Ackerman's webinar (fulfilling a role or just filling a seat). VERY informative. This should be a requirement for all board members! Thank you!