What are organizations looking for from their board members? Sometimes, even the CEO doesn't really know what to do with their board members once they have them. A High Impact Board knows that its job is to determine the WHY of the organization and leave the HOW to the staff. They do that by setting policy and then holding staff accountable for performance.
In my experience managing the board function for three different organizations and serving on the boards of another dozen nonprofits, I have found that there are five key attributes that must exist if you want a high-functioning board.
- There must be a Commitment to the Mission, so your recruitment practices should be crystal clear on that point. All members must be able to support that mission in board meetings and in the community. Otherwise, they are doing your organization a disservice and should consider whether this board seat is the right match for them.
- Specific Skills –Boards that recruit members with a variety of skills and experiences are more typically higher performing. Accounting, Legal, Marketing, Finance, Risk Management, & Information Technology are some of the more common ones. But think about industries, too - Manufacturing, Retail, Government, Education, Hospitality.
- Willingness to work – You don’t just want a name - you want your board members to work for your organization. You want them to participate on committees; provide advice and counsel to the members and CEO; and certainly come to meetings well prepared.
- Influence – Board members should be prepared to help connect the organization to investors, potential board members, and influencers that can support the mission.
- Diversity of thought – A diverse board, quite frankly, makes better decisions. I don’t simply refer to ethnic diversity, but age, gender, education, income, geographic, experience, and more. Some of the best decisions that I have witnessed a board make have been because of this diversity of thought.
Not all board members will - and perhaps even should - have all of these five characteristics. Commitment to the mission is key, but you can fudge on at least some of the others if - as a body - your board is balanced. If you have board members who represent your target population, for example, those members may or may not have the type of influence a Board member who is the CEO of a local company may have. The key is to have a well-balanced board that is thoughtful, prepares for meetings, is willing to pitch in where needed, and uses their talents for the benefit of the organization. That almost always results in a high performing board that truly makes a difference for the organization.
Well, it's not really that simple, but it is a good start to a high performing board. In future posts, we'll talk about some of the other attributes of high performing boards such as policy setting, fiduciary duties, meeting design, strategy, and succession. But for today, let's focus on securing members with these five attributes for your board.
It may not be all smooth sailing after that, but the waters will certainly be calmer.