Characterizing an activity as formidable can conjure up frightening thoughts, but when describing efforts to construct the best board, it sets apart a challenge worth pursuing and in the end rewarding.
When talking about board members it isn't long before someone says, "Remember to consider the 'Three Ws' criteria for board service: wisdom, work, or wealth; a board member must possess at least two of these." Of course if you use this criterion, and it's a bit simplistic, these possessions will be realized. Another commonly given bit of "folk" advice features the "Three Gs" "give, get, or get off," not classy, but something to think about.
Most board members today don't accept or seek membership because of the honor, but most do because they can contribute to and be associated with a "winner." The board "pool" is very active, lots of candidate choices, but the candidates are much more discriminating. To be more specific, parties – those recruiting and those being recruited – should and will be selective. Recruiters should seek candidates with helping potential, not because of past performance or achievement, but individuals with essential skills and strong leadership abilities. For the Christian school, board members must possess a "passion" for Christian education. In like fashion, a candidate will need assurance that their gifts and skills will be valued and used wisely.
Governing boards are expected to "lead, act, and advocate." This means giving generously of their financial resources and helping development and public relations do their job successfully. The board is the "eyes and ears" of a school in the wider community. They introduce donor prospects and host luncheons, dinners, and receptions. Candidates need to take care especially if asked to serve as a "trustee." This is serious business. Trustees have "fiduciary" responsibility with financial and legal expectations. In this regard, "trustees" and also "governors," "managers," and "directors" need to be aware of their service and especially need to be more than "show pieces" for the school. It should go without saying that liability insurance should be in place to cover all board members.
Process is always important and for board selection it should receive "top priority." Identification, screening, cultivation, and selection of outstanding candidates form the process for this "high profile" activity. The process is perpetual, ongoing; the recruitment committee is always looking for excellent candidates and maintains an active candidate's file.
A former colleague and friend from the Stony Brook School, the late Bill Graf, and I exchanged ideas about building a "board profile." As such it contains at least 16 candidate considerations: profession, geography, social/business/political connections, specialized knowledge of a one school cost center, gifts and skills, prior experience, church affiliation, age, gender, ethnicity, ability to mediate disagreements, understanding of land and facilities use, knowledge of donor prospects, leadership preparedness, familiarity with not-for-profit law, and fundraising skill.
You see, in light of these needs, considering only wealth or gaining a "yes" isn't valid. The process should go deeper. Quiz the nominator, what are his ties to the candidate? Seek out third party references and hold an exploratory interview. Don't hide the "work" involved and the lack of "perks." Make it honest!
Board responsibility should be in the hands of those who have demonstrated commitment and perspective! The board must be strong, encouraging, and offer constructive change while remembering that the authority, not power, lies in the full board and not any one individuals, committee, or officer. While an individual member may acquire information as an individual and may even do an initial investigation as an individual, "the board works as a unit," except to the extent that the bylaws and policies authorize.
For this unit to thrive and survive, communication must always be held paramount as should the transfer of information among committees and to the board as a whole.