Wednesday, August 3, 2016

One board thing: Identify your member musts

If I could change just one thing to increase the effectiveness of my nonprofit board, I'd

Identify our member musts

What are the "musts" for your nonprofit board? What are the essential qualities that you expect of every member - the performance and values bottom line?

Does your board have a list of member musts? Is is part of your recruitment plan? If the answer is no to either or both of those questions, let me explain why now is a good time to change that.

I first encountered the notion of identifying board member "musts" from my friend, Hildy Gottlieb. Hildy has a fantastic, three-part process for identifying board recruitment needs that is the richest and most productive of any I've seen. Outlining the entire process lies outside of the scope of this post. (Besides,  you really need to add a copy of her book, Board Recruitment and Orientation: A Step-by-Step, Common Sense Guide, which outlines it in detail, to your agency library.) What I will share today is the first and most important step of the process, because the larger purposes are so powerful.

That step: articulating those qualities, capacities, skills, etc., that every board member must have.

Why is this so important? There are many reasons. I'll offer two that I consider to be most salient.

One, it identifies those essential expectations of every member, a process that not only helps in evaluating and narrowing the list of potential new members but also sets the foundation for performance that can both be articulated and evaluated. It becomes the touchstone by which the board, and individual members, define how they will work together, treat each other, and assess when reflecting on their performance.

Two, it reduces the potential for tokenism when identifying and meeting other recruitment needs. A person becomes more than his/her demographic profile if that individual first meets the essential criteria set forth for every member who serves. It is a leveling agent that counters some of the issues that recruitment matrices can bring (or frantic, "we need..." sessions a month before voting on new members). You're extending an offer to me, first, because I represent the core qualities that every member around the table brings.

Identifying your musts is a critically important process that should be done thoughtfully and inclusively. They become your commitment - to  your fellow board members, to your nonprofit, and to your stakeholders.

Affirming those musts becomes part of every recruitment process, every assessment process, every review of your member job description. It also offers rich conversation and reflection potential, within meetings and in special board development events. It provides an opportunity to remind members of the core commitments they made to you and why.

What are your member musts? Well, that's up to your board. I'll offer one personal caveat to get you started: if commitment to mission isn't number one on your list, start again. Board members cannot serve effectively if they do not understand and commit to serving and advancing your mission. (Passion is great. It may already exist for some members, or develop through service. But commitment is the bottom line.)

As you flesh out the rest of the list, consider factors like personal qualities that represent the kind of leadership you need. What defines the leadership approach of the board as a whole? What do  you need from every member to create that collective leadership?

Think, too, about the qualities and behaviors required to function as a team - to get the work done in a productive manner, that increases the group's impact potential. How do members need to function, together, effectively, to make the most of their time and energy?

What qualities and values must every member in the room have to ensure your board's success?

NOTE: The "one board thing" series is designed to remind boards that enhancing governance effectiveness and satisfaction often can be sparked by fairly simple adjustments to the ways in which they work. For quick access to series posts, visit my "One Board Thing" Pinterest board.

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