Great Boards are Like Fine Gardens

Looking back over my 45 years in the non-profit world, I continue to be struck by the frequent and recurring lament over the “quality of the board”.  This concern usually takes on a number of interpretations:                                                                  

  • Failure to attend scheduled meetings;
  • Failure to be fully prepared for meetings;
  • Failure to comprehend completely the mission, history and culture of the organization;
  • Failure to lend strong financial support and public advocacy; and,
  • Failure to focus strategically (vs. operationally) on the organization’s challenges and future.

 In short, failure to be of real consequence – or value – to the organization.

A recent report “Consequential Boards: Adding Value Where It Matters Most”, published by the Association of Governing Boards (AGB) cites seven imperatives for boards in a time when leadership for change is more important than ever. Gone are the days when boards were largely honorific. The financial, social and political pressures on non-profits today simply cannot be managed successfully if a board is distant or focused on inconsequential issues. We at West Avenue Associates highly recommend this report to all of our clients and friends. You can access it at www.agb.org.

The issue of “board development” is a matter of great concern to most non-profits.  How do we entice, recruit and otherwise “train” good board members?  A major New York investment firm has been known to counsel its senior managers about how they should approach service on non-profit boards.  Their advice continues to be sage:  

  • Limit your service to not more than three (3) boards of non-profits, ones that you truly care about
  • Perform thorough “due diligence” on every board opportunity, scrutinizing each organization as you would a new corporate client. Just say “no” if you don’t like what you see;
  • Treat your board service as seriously as your job;
  • Focus on providing reasoned strategic advice;
  • Accept the condition that the typical non-profit is slow to change;
  • Willingly provide a full measure of financial and public support;
  • Anticipate those conditions or situations which if left unaddressed, may become crises; and, 
  • Remember that the relevance and achievement of mission is the bottom line of the non-profit.                 

In sum, be a board member of real consequence.

The development and management of a good board is akin to raising a great garden. It must be constantly tended, encouraged and, of course, pruned.  It is not a part-time exercise. Left alone, the weeds will take over.

What does your board look like?  How should it be changed? How can you manage such change? How can you make your board a Consequential Board?      

Think about it.

– David C. Johnson, President, West Avenue Associates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back over my 45 years in the non-profit world, I continue to be struck by the frequent and recurring lament over the “quality of the board”.  This concern usually takes on a number of interpretations: 

                                   

                                    Failure to attend scheduled meetings;

                                    Failure to be fully prepared for meetings;

                                    Failure to comprehend completely the mission, history and culture of the organization;

                                    Failure to lend strong financial support and public advocacy; and,

                                    Failure to focus strategically (vs. organizationally) about the organization’s challenges                                                   and future;

                                    IN SHORT, Failure to be of real consequence – or value – to the organization.

 

A recent report “Consequential Boards: Adding Value Where It Matters Most”, published by the Association of Governing Boards (AGB) cites seven imperatives for boards in a time when leadership for change is more important than ever.   Gone are the days when boards were largely honorific.  The financial, social and political pressures on non-profits today simply cannot be managed successfully if a board is distant or focused on inconsequential issues.  We at West Avenue Associates highly recommend this report to all of our clients and friends.  You can access it at www.agb.org.

The issue of “board development” is a matter of great concern to most non-profits.  How do we entice, recruit and otherwise “train” good board members?  A major New York investment firm has been known to counsel its senior managers about how they should approach service on non-profit boards.  Their advice continues to be sage: 

                  Limit your service to not more than 3 boards of non-profits, ones that you truly care about

                  Perform thorough “due diligence” on every board opportunity, scrutinizing each organization as           you would a new corporate client.  Just say “no” if you don’t like what you see;

                  Treat your board service as seriously as your job;

                  Focus on providing reasoned strategic advice;

                  Accept the condition that the typical non-profit is slow to change;

                  Willingly provide a full measure of financial and public support;

                  Anticipate those conditions or situations which if left unaddressed, may become crises; and,

                  Remember that the relevance and achievement of mission is the bottom line of the non-profit.

                  IN SUM, be a board member of real consequence.

 

The development and management of a good board is akin to raising a great garden.  It must be constantly tended, encouraged and, of course, pruned.  It is not a part-time exercise.  Left alone, the weeds will take over.

What does your board look like?  How should it be changed?  How can you manage such change?  How can you make your board a Consequential Board?      Think about it.