The question is: how do you create a board of directors that is present, active and engaged?
Picking up from the first part of the post, here are a few pointers that experience has shown to be useful.
First, you have to build up a job profile. In other words, you need a description of your ideal board member.
How do you do this?
You start by answering a few questions:
- what does a director have to do in our organisation?
Does he or she have to be operational, i.e., follow a certain area in person?
If so, a specialist is needed - if I need a director to follow the development of fundraising, it makes sense to look for someone with knowledge and experience, perhaps because they have already helped the organisation with this type of initiative. An organisation with an important restructuring or new building program involving relations with the local authorities, with engineers and skilled workers, might think about appointing an architect or a construction engineer - the board of directors of La Collina degli Elfi of which I am vice-president includes an architect, and the difference was clear to all the other directors as soon as the architect began following all the modernisation and restructuring operations.
Or perhaps it needs to be someone prominent in the community in which the organisation operates? In this case, it would be wise to turn to an "authoritative" name who is also interested in the organisation's cause. It makes no sense – and I want to be clear about this because on several occasions I have had lengthy discussions when boards were being renewed – to appoint a well-known person who has no relation with or interest in the mission and accepts the post simply as a favour to the person asking them. If they are elected, in the best-case scenario they will have no impact on development … unless you've been clever enough to spark their interest in the cause along the way (it does happen)!
Say something about possible conflicts of interest?
- how much time will he/she have to devote to their work as a board member?
This question is often (very often) left hanging, in the belief that somehow or other things will sort themselves out. In these cases, the result is a chair that stays empty for months.
Being clear and transparent from the start is a great source of simplification later on.
The message "don't worry, if you can't take part, we'll manage somehow" is something I've heard and continue to hear quite frequently during recruitment of possible candidates.
Said candidates, for a variety of reasons, allow themselves to be persuaded; but then they really are unable to take part, and end up as a name on paper, but in practice do little or hardly any "real" work.
Would it not be more honest - and strategic too - to quantify the extent of commitment beforehand?
How many board meetings are expected to be held during the year? One a month segments the candidates differently compared to two or three meetings a year.
Also: if the answer to the previous question is that an operational director is required, how much time will the appointment take up (indicatively)?
Moreover, if the director I need has to be operational and so commit to the organisation to some extent, is it advisable for them to live or work close to the organisation? Because if the board meetings are held 4 times a year and all the directors are technologically equipped to attend from remote locations, then the candidate can operate from a distance. Otherwise, the work of the board runs the risk of becoming bogged down in an endless stream of emails, Doodle requests, constantly shifting calendars.
Clearly, the answer to the first question affects all the rest. And the more precise the question - with a proper starting grid - the more predictive the answer.
- what is expected from the ideal director?
That they make their network of contacts available to the organisation (to the organisation's fundraising activities)?
That they personally promote the mission, for example, by communicating and sharing the mission messages on their own social channels? Or, if they are a professional or an entrepreneur, on their own website?
That they fundraise in person, by contacting their own acquaintances and building up support or by organising small events to promote the organisation?
Or that they make their expertise available to the organisation - for example a solicitor who donates his time during a legacy campaign, or the architect mentioned earlier who prepares the project renderings in their free time?
Let me conclude with a point I consider of fundamental importance: always, always bear in mind that every director is, first and foremost, an ambassador for the organisation, its cause, the values it embodies, its "approach" to the world.
When you're thinking about the ideal director, consider this first of all, and ask yourself: could the person I'm thinking about be an ambassador for my organisation? If the answer is yes, carry on with the questions we've looked at above - and many others we'll talk about in future posts; otherwise wait a moment before sending out a request, try and think of the ideal ambassador and draw up a list of characteristics the person you're thinking of should have, and only then move ahead.