What characteristics should we look for in prospective board members once we have articulated the job outputs of the board of directors? Do not confuse management skills as substitutes for any of these characteristics.
- People who can think about principles and values
- People who can enjoy creating the future rather than merely evaluating the past
- People with moral courage strong ethics, possess integrity
- People who are willing to let others be strong
- People who are intelligent and willing to learn, creative, open-minded
- People who can be team players
- People with an ability to empathize with the owners
- People who have demonstrated commitment to the values and mission of the organization
- People with connections to the “moral ownership” and resources
- People with time and energy to meet
- What other characteristics would you add?
The work of the board is thinking work more than doing. People who have the interest and discipline to work in the abstract might be good board members. The big job of a board of directors is to ensure the organization does what it should while avoiding unacceptable situations and circumstances. Job outputs include: (1) explicit board policy to articulate the values of the organization, (2) monitoring, and (3) linkage to the moral ownership.
A couple of really good suggestions that I haven't added to the handout, but I will certainly share in the workshops:
From Dan: I would add under characteristics "Alligator hide" and a no "BS" sort of guy/gal or in more appropriate words "intentional and focused, result oriented." I am always repeating this to ED's and management.
From JB: "While I think a creative thinker is important, I also believe it's important for board members to be able to think independently and question the status quo. Whether the status quo is represented by staff or other board members. I've been on enough boards to know that many board members don't ask tough questions and are willing to let the past guide the future. While history is important, it's also the board's responsibility to set the future of the organization and understand what the organization must have for today to be successful. Ultimately the board must ask the question, what is the reason for this organization to exist, and is it still valid today."
And for those who suggested management skills such as fundraising, I am still not convinced. While there is a board role in resource development it is not the core of governance. Successful organizations are going to hire those skills as part of operations and hold the results accountable. Individual board members will certainly participate as volunteers but not in a role confined to board members. My experience clearly shows that there is no reason to confine the fundraising work to the board. Some significant donors and volunteers told me that they are . . . "happy to give and volunteer--but don't put me on the board, that's just not my thing."
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