The president of a house of worship in Connecticut told me that a congregant, well past retirement age, who said he had been a very successful marketing executive, stood up at its annual meeting to comment on the need for a better marketing plan to attract more members.
His remarks were not received well by the president. It had nothing to do with the merit of his ideas. “That’s great” she replied, at first. “Can you take charge of putting a plan together and managing it?”
His reply is what rankled her: “I don’t have time.” She then gently but clearly scolded him and put him down, literally: “You get up every year at this meeting and say the same thing, telling us you don’t have the time to do what you suggest we should do. Thank you, but we have to move along with our meeting now.” Next.
Similar scenarios are repeated countless times at meetings like that. There’s someone like the marketing maven above at every board of directors meeting that ever was held.
At a plenary meeting I attended as an officer of a new arts organization in formation, one of my colleagues offered his advice on how we should be mindful when building out the board with new members.
As an independent insurance agent and broker, based in Peekskill, Chuck Newman handles group health coverage and benefits, among other services, for lots of companies, including dozens of nonprofits.
He has more experience than just about anyone I know sitting on boards, including Peekskill’s Paramount Center for the Arts and Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce, as well as other groups to which he has brought his earnest and endless energy. He has been president of the Lakeland Education Foundation and of First Hebrew Congregation. At any point in time, I too find myself sitting on the boards of various organizations, including some Chuck and I are on together.
It is a rewarding way to serve the community and to keep yourself squarely in the center of local social activity and commerce, which can benefit your own business along the way as you meet new people at a variety of events. Besides, volunteerism for its own sake is salve for the soul.
It’s not to say that boards don’t get frustrating at times. Just ask that house of worship president who grew tired of hearing from someone who was more eager to pontificate than to roll up his sleeves and act out his own ideas.
Chuck charitably calls that identifiable type an “opiner.” Others might use earthier words, like blowhard or a pain in the butt. Every board has ‘em. (I don’t doubt that some of my fellow board members through the years have called me that on occasion, I’m sure deservedly so.)
What are some best practices boards can adopt to minimize the “Do-as-I-say-but-don’t-ask-me- to-do” syndrome? How does a board, to the best of its ability, do its part to extract the most value it can from board members?
Chuck has some wise thoughts on that, based on his extensive experience sitting on and working with boards of directors.
For future board members…
• Prospective board members must go through an interview and vetting process. What’s not wanted are merely warm bodies to occupy a seat. What is wanted are people who actively seek opportunities to serve on a board and who not only bring ideas, but who are ready to work on those ideas.
• A key question for prospective board members is how long they can commit to serve. It’s particularly relevant to know that for officers (i.e. president, vp, treasurer, etc.) who serve on the board’s so-called executive committee. The standard succession sequence is that officers move up, as Chuck says, “through the chairs.” Serving as a secretary for two years could be a prelude to becoming a vp, then president. That’s a tenure that could continue for at least six or more years, so reliability, dedication, and perseverance are crucial qualities to look for in a board member.
• Make sure future board members clearly understand the “Give or Get” expectation and agree in writing. That refers to a financial commitment toward the organization by each board member, one way or another. One way is to donate a minimum amount each year, personal finances permitting. Another way is to help generate a baseline dollar amount through work on committees, fundraising, creating new revenue streams, and so on.
For sitting board members…
• At the start of each meeting, ask members to put away phones. Ringing or pinging cell phones during a board meeting are not conducive to focusing on the agenda and getting business done as efficiently as possible.
• Meetings need to start on time and end on time with clear direction, following a prepared agenda everyone has at least a day or two in advance.
• Meeting duration should be maximum 90 minutes. When boards are not considerate toward the directors’ time, board members become rightfully resentful.
• Let board members know that they should think twice about recommending a new project unless they are prepared to take on the project personally and also solicit others to help them manage it.
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.