Let’s continue with our consideration of good board governance. When we left off, we were discussing the first of three key board ownership questions: Do we have written policies addressing the board’s culture, conduct, and commitments?
No guessing, no dodging
A living and comprehensive board policy manual lays the groundwork in defining expectations concerning the board’s culture and appropriate categories (director, advisor, volunteer) for board member engagement. It should also delineate the specific commitments board members are being asked to make—and for which they will be held accountable as a condition for ongoing service. Once these expectations are adopted by the board and recorded in its handbook, they should form the basis of conversations with board prospects and board members eligible for reelection to subsequent terms.
Typical board member expectations
Here, for example, is a brief overview of obligations to which we ask ABHE board members to commit:
PRESENCE at most, if not all, board meetings (Note: attendance is recorded and poor attendance is a disqualifier for future service)
ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT in dialogue with and counsel to board and executive leadership relative to opportunities, threats, strategies, and policies (Note: while some board members are more vocal than others and may have more external processing styles, consistently passive or disengaged board members will not be retained)
HEART INVESTMENT reflected in commitment to pray for and willingness to regard the association among top personal stewardship priorities (Note: I do not subscribe to the “give, get, or get off the board” mantra, but I do subscribe to the biblical principle that, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also;” there should be an explicit and monitored expectation that board members should make what is, according to their means, a substantial annual donation; some suggest that if a board member cannot commit to making the organization among their top three charitable priorities, they should not accept the invitation to serve)
CONNECTING the association to others in your network (Note: sometimes these connections are far more valuable than anything else a board member contributes, materially or otherwise; one way to do this is to practice what ABHE board member and veteran higher education advancement guru Terry Munday calls a “gimme five” habit—asking board members at every meeting to supply the names of five individuals in their network that they are willing to help connect to your ministry)
Markers of mediocrity
Absence or ambiguity regarding board member expectations is a major marker of mediocre boards. It’s really simple: when we make expectations explicit, we not only have an effective prospect filter, but also we deliver more satisfactory and satisfying board member service.
Next time, we will take up the second board ownership question: Do we have a plan to optimize board composition and continuity?
Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …
I’ve remarked to more than one person recently that America’s current political season evokes feelings reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s. Foment and fear-mongering seem the order of the day. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s gaze penetrated the fog of his day and, in my view, offers us clarity and challenge for ours.