When you sign on to being on a board, you are actually accepting fiduciary responsibility for the organization. The Secretary of State of North Carolina believes you to be responsible for this organization, so it’s not something you should take lightly.
As the governing body, the board has a duty of care to the organization, a duty of obedience. They’re literally in the bylaws — responsible for making sure that the organization is operationally and fiscally sound.
Real measurement of a good board is that they have a functional succession plan. The issue is not IF your executive director will leave, it’s WHEN. The executive director will leave most likely when you least want them to.
Pretty quickly when you get involved with the board, if you’re an executive director and you’re observing your board of directors, you want to see engagement, you want to see energy, you want to see passion — and that rises to the top.
Your question of “Is my board any good?” — I would change it to, “Is my board as good as it needs to be?” And there are lots of ways to measure a good board. A good board manages a staff well. A good board understands the relationships in the community that can be impactful. A good board chair is a really important advocate and sounding board for a good executive director, but the rest of the board needs to have the talent pool that you can’t possibly hire.
I want my board members to feel the magic because it propels action forward on behalf of the organization. I honestly think it’s kind of a dance — I’m the CEO, and it’s my responsibility to fundraise for the organization. So, how are we holding each other accountable as a group all working together to achieve the same mission? How do I make sure I’m saying, “Here’s what I’m doing, what can I do to support you?” And on their end, they’re saying, “How can we support you?” It’s the partnership in the work and the accountability on both sides.
This was told to me by the chairman of a very large company: the toughest thing to do in the board room is to have the courage of your convictions. Courage of your convictions is very hard to have, yet probably the most significant thing.
We wanted a board that had, one, the lived experience that could really understand the needs of the fellowship and, two, a board that was ‘on board’ — that was ‘on board’ for the vision of the organization — that was ‘on board’ to support the fellowship.
Where are the real rock stars on this board? Get them in the right position, get them heading the right committees and then get them to try and energize those that might not be as fully engaged.
The board needs to look at it holistically and make sure that the staff, the board and the whole organization is focused on its mission and what it wants to accomplish.
See more from the People Matter series here.