Years ago I adopted a strategy when addressing board members in a way that’s direct but gentle, effective but compassionate.
When working with board members who serve at schools, a colleague of mine likes to ask new board members how many children they have attending the school. As most parents do, a smile will spread across their face as they respond, “We have one” or “We have three” or whatever the total may be.
It’s at this point my friend poignantly says, “Now you don’t. There are 500 students enrolled in this school.”
Whether it’s the number of persons in your family impacted by a disease, change brought to your marriage thanks to a nonprofit ministry working in the community you’re involved with, a youth organization working to be the hands and feet of Christ, or any other form of important work, board members go from representing the one to being the one to stand for the many.
Boards tend to form their own DNA or identity. It can be helpful to understand what category or categories your board subscribes to in order to lead in the most effective manner.
These boards are all about protecting and making sure the mission is upheld and doesn’t change. They are very on-guard and rather fear-oriented. I do not mean this in a negative way, but they are “protectionistic” you could say.
Other boards are pastoral, meaning, they’re constantly asking, “How true to our biblical groundings and our particular brand of Evangelic or Christian are we being?” For them, anything that smells off needs to be investigated and rectified.
Some boards are fiduciary in mind. A board always has a fiduciary responsibility, but these finance-focused boards are very protective and understanding that the fiduciary model in place is right, and whether or not investments and savings plans are right.
To be on this type of board you have to be able to give significantly, and to successfully encourage and lead others to do the same.
These boards are about the “new” thing or the “next” thing. Period.
Day to Day Boards
Unlike many boards, these board types have members who roll up their sleeves. It is a working board that fills up some of the capacity that is missing in the staff.
Boards in this category are made up of members who want to have a limited number of decisions that they make. Members are aware of what said decisions are; they affirm, support, and manage one employee with these tasks.
Boards can be all of these things at different times, but usually fall into having a bias or an identity from one or two types.
I want to take a moment to dedicate to development boards since one of the top questions my team and I encounter is: How can we make our board more development-oriented?
The problem with the development part of the board is that unless the board was formed from the very beginning with the idea that it was to be and remain a board of major givers and getters, it is incredibly difficult to transform a board into a development board since members were not recruited with this requirement in mind.
To suddenly say to a group of people that their responsibilities have changed and now include seeking out donations from friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers is to set oneself up for the sound of chirping crickets. I guarantee at least one member of your board literally becomes sick to their stomach at the mere thought of raising money.
The strongest boards I have seen are balanced – there’s a financial component with board members doing real work within specific areas of expertise. Participants bring unique sets of skills, experiences, and talents to the board and to the areas determined by the ministry to be the most important for the given organization.
I encourage you to take the chance to circle the wagons with your board to discuss where on the spectrum your board falls. Identify strengths and weaknesses to move forward with purpose. While you can’t go back to square one, you can take balanced, intentional steps forward.