Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Seeking Board Perfection

It has been said that there are three kinds of boards:

“The one you wish you had, the one you use to have, and the one you do have.”

I apologize that I don’t know who to specifically give credit for coining that phrase. Wherever they are though, they are absolute right. Boards are tricky. And finding the “right” one for your organization talks time, effort, and patience.

Let’s start with the basics.

Not-for-profit organizations need a board of directors. It is legally required of them. However, for-profit businesses can benefit from them as well. They are a group of people that “ensure that all activities and resources of the organization support pursuit of the mission,” says Amy Kweskin, Program Director of the Arts Management Career Development online certificate program at California State University East Bay.

She says that the board accomplishes this goal by:

1. “Establishing broad governance policies and objectives”
2. “[Hiring], supporting and reviewing the performance of the [CEO]”
3. “Ensuring adequate financial resources and approving an annual budget”
4. “Accounting organization’s performance to its stakeholders”

Essentially the board has to make sure there is enough money, plan for the future with budgets and by putting a great person in charge, and make sure everyone is talking to each other doing what is necessary to make the organization run smoothly.

So where do you find the right people to make this happen? Where can you find people who know how to be on a board of directors and are intimately aware of your mission, vision, and values?* (For more information on mission, vision, and values check out last month’s blog entry.)

The simple answer: you can’t. They aren’t there. Sobering, I know. As an executive director/CEO of a not-for-profit, I was rather disillusioned in the beginning when the board of directors didn’t seem very aware of what they needed to do at the first meeting. However, there are people that really value your organization and are willing to learn how to support your mission as an active board member. With proper guidance, they can make all the difference for your organization.

Now I’m going to attempt (wish me luck) to spell out a five step recipe for creating a great board of directors.

I. Make a List, check it twice, figure out who is naughty and nice
Start by making a list of all the people you know who have supported your organization in the past: donors, audience members, collaborators, etc. If some of them are accountants or lawyers, they can be very helpful. Also, consider the personalities of each of these individuals. Are some of them natural leaders? Work well in a team? Are social butterflies?

II. Assess what skills are needed for your organization to fulfill its mission
This is where you can turn to your organization’s business plan if you are just starting out or if you’ve been together for a while, your strategic plan. Amy states that “the strategic plan is the backbone to the organization’s annual activities, setting the Board’s work plan. With it you can create a board matrix of skills and resources to put the plan into action. From there, continued Board engagement is reinforced with commitment worksheets capturing the motivation and contribution to the organization.”

III. Put together a prospective board member “show and tell” packet
This packet will be used to inform the prospective board member about what membership means and help them and your organization discover whether they are a good fit. This packet should contain your organization’s mission, vision and values; recent financial history; a summary of your activities; a list of current board members (if applicable); and most important, a board responsibilities page that clearly lists your organization’s expectations of them and their expectations of you. Other packet items can include a business or strategic plan, bylaws, and promotional materials.

IV. Approach and meet in person the prospective board members
After you have assessed what your organization needs and have your packet ready-to-go, meet with each prospective board member that is interested and discuss possible membership. I suggest emailing the packet ahead of time and bringing a hard copy with you to review in person. Look for signs that they read the documents. Are they asking a lot of questions? Do they seem engaged? Do you feel they understand what is expected of them? Clearly and succinctly state what you expect them to do in terms of hours per week and what minimum financial commitment you expect from them annually. It is critical that every one of your board members is invested in your organization. That means you need 100% of your board contributing annually in addition to giving time and resources in support of your mission.

V. Choose wisely and bring them together
After you have spoken to the prospective board member and considered whether their personality will fit well with the current board members or other prospective members (if you are just starting out), invite them to a meeting. At the end of the meeting and after the new prospective member(s) have left, discuss with the current membership if they feel it is a good fit. Then, follow-up with the prospective member and offer them a seat on the board of directors. If they decline, go back to your list in step 1.

Now, all of this takes a lot of work. However, writing grants, raising money, making connections in the community, hiring a CEO, creating budgets and making sure your organization is in strong financial health takes even more work. With the “right” board of directors, all of these aspects of a nonprofit get much easier.

A couple final thoughts:
1. Usually a board has between 5 and 15; even larger the longer the organization has been around. Pick a number that feels comfortable.

2. Boards of organizations that are just starting out are often “working” boards that do a lot of the hands on tasks necessary to move the organization forward. More established organizations often require larger boards due to needing adequate governance oversight and often having greater financial goals.

3. All the work, time, and patience to do the 5 steps above can be accomplished by the founder, CEO, staff members, a board committee, a board chair, or a combination.

4. Once you have a board in place, having a board chair is important. They should work closely with the CEO to set the agenda and make sure that there is an open dialogue between the board of directors, staff, and artists.

Creating a great board can be daunting, but well worth it at the end of the day. Your organization will be more connected to your community and ultimately, will reach its goals faster and with greater ease. Good luck.

About the writer: Daniel Wood is an entrepreneurial musician living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since 2000, he has worked and mentored large and small arts not-for-profits in the areas of management, marketing, development, and board governance. As a founding member and executive director of the horn quartet Quadre (www.quadre.org) and teacher at the Community School of Music and Arts (www.arts4all.org), Daniel publishes his music with Solid Wood Publishing (www.solidwoodmusic.com) and lectures on the business of music nationally as a "Savvy Musician" advocate (www.savvymusician.com)

1 comment:

Amy Kweskin said...

Great advice - good to hear you were inspired by the webinar.