The Ideal Candidate
After receiving multiple requests to continue discussing the subject of board training; the following speaks to the desired qualities of an ideal board member.
Editor’s Note: See Part 1 HERE
First, to distinguish my qualifications to speak on the subject, I formerly served on multiple boards which I categorize under the following two (2) scenarios: volunteer based led, and executive staff led. Under the leadership capacity in both venues, I have recruited individuals to serve on boards and during my tenure I’ve observed all levels of board participation (or lack of); accountability (disregard); conduct (abuse); and just when I want to say I’ve seen it all, it seems one reads or hears someone abusing their responsibilities to a whole new phase.
As a consultant I have worked with staff, members and employee groups to facilitate board training, retreats and team-building processes. So where do we start?
Qualifications: An ideal candidate should offer resources, a fluent network to support the organization/group and be available to attend board meetings.
For multiple reasons including adhering to meeting the attendance quorum to conduct business, individuals must commit to attendance. Although some might consider it unpopular, yet an organization’s bylaws should include mandatory attendance requirements. This should not be a “gray” area for interpretation either; the abuse takes place when determining if an absence is excused or unexcused. My recommendation when a board member misses three meetings within a calendar year, the person should be removed. In order for an organization to manage their affairs, board members must be available to be of service to lead the efforts.
As important, the candidate should be a strong advocate and committed to the organization and its primary objective. Board members should acknowledge their participation may require they serve, or eventually serve in a leadership capacity as an executive board member (president, chair, committee chairperson, vice chair, parliamentarian, treasurer or secretary). The chairman/chairwoman should follow a process that he/she recommends an eligible candidate (board member) to serve in an executive board capacity, however, my preference is that the candidate for whatever proposed executive role, be then approved by the board, individually and not as a slate. Your organization may already have a process it follows for executive board eligibility and appointment.
Aside from providing governance and advisory qualities, board members share in the responsibility to offer resources (fundraising, networking) to contribute to the financial health of your group/organization.
Diverse Representation: The majority of organizations should place emphasis that boards be culturally, and gender diverse represented. Another characteristic I recommend is that boards should have young and mature representation. Organizations might be missing invaluable resources of energy and wisdom that a diverse age board offers.
The majority of a board should be encompassed by individuals representing the interests of the group or organization. I once was a member of an ethnic business organization which 75% of the sixteen (16) seated board members represented the corporate sector. Under this scenario, can a board with a minor percentage of those it’s intended to represent, be effective to serve the “best” interests of their respective constituency, the answer is no.
Board members must have a common denominator to serve and benefit the interests of the organization. Example, if your organization emphasis is to support the interests of small businesses, then your board should be made-up by representatives of that commodity. If you wish to recruit participation from the corporate sector, perhaps a corporate board might be an alternative solution. Depending on circumstances it might be appropriate that bylaws define the required representation make-up of your board. The majority of your board should be represented by individuals, sensitive and committed towards the betterment organization’s mission.
I highly encourage a group to include term-limitations to serve as a board member, committee chair, or executive board capacity. I know of multiple organizations that don’t and it shows. It isn’t healthy for your organization to have a chairman serving, what seems an endless term. The tendencies for “burn-out,” becoming stagnant, not being inclusive (ownership) and depriving your group of the procurement of resources becomes evident.
Bylaws, Parliamentarian, Legal Counsel: The bylaws of an organization should provide sufficient guidance to manage your group. I have encountered bylaws containing outdated or questionable relevance, the exclusion of key principles, or being improperly amended. Firsthand, I’ve witnessed bylaws being amended or suspended at board meeting, when the bylaws state they can not be suspended; or that the only proceedings bylaws may be proposed to be amended are at the organization’s annual meeting, or at a general meeting in which all members are notified under a specific time-frame of advanced notice. I am of opinion that it is non-debatable that an organization must have a properly, trained parliamentarian (not a Sargent of Arms) to navigate meetings, enforcement and be fully-versed in the group’s bylaws. As I discussed in the aforementioned posting the legal counsel can be called upon to research a matter requiring a ruling or be defer to for clarification. If your bylaws are in order, with qualified parliamentarian and legal counsel, your organization’s meetings and procedures should run like a symphony. Since the parliamentarian is selected to serve in this capacity from the sitting board, one can see how valuable it is to have capable and/or qualified board members to be eligible to assume this prominent role for adherence in following policies and procedures.
Ethical Behavior: Ethical behavior is a non-wavering standard for all board members to adhere to. First and foremost, the mission and purpose must be paramount when representing the organization/group. I have witnessed firsthand, situations in which individuals use their board position to facilitate meetings with corporate/government sectors with the primary intent for a self-serving purpose, rather than the interests of the organization.
Recruitment Process: For so many reasons board recruitment is not a simple task. Depending on various characteristics of the organization (volunteer based or executive led) factors as conflicting personalities, inclusively, fears, and threats; individuals that might offer value to the organization as board members are often not recruited. The lack of a process or non-transparency become determent issues that suspend progress.
The chairman should not be allowed to solely appoint board members, nor should a CEO/Executive Director recruit board members. It has been my experience when the aforementioned is handled by the chairperson or CEO; the tendency to recruit independent candidates is neglected. It is my recommendation that the criteria of eligibility be established by policy and the recruitment be assigned to a committee to identify potential candidates, then submitting a list forwarded to the entire board for approval.
This effort provides transparency and substantiates a set process. Your organization benefits when comprised of individuals offering a multitude of ideas and independence. Too often, when this task is handled by executive staff, the executive director of CEO has the tendency to recruit individuals to support the same point of view as the administrator. This is the trend of organizations that I refer to as being executive led, the results: the board is comprised of “nodders” board members that nod their heads to comply with the objectives of the administrator and not necessarily, the best interests of the organization.
Volunteer-based organizations should mindful of the symptoms with ownership issues. One major detriment is the loss of trust when it comes to delegating responsibilities or when employing administrative support “do not empower others to drive the car without a backseat driver.”
In closing …the leadership, expertise and resource qualities board members offer should be the desired qualities leading to the continued success of your group/organization. My intent was to provide a perspective to consider in the progressive development of your organization. The opportunity to serve as a board member can be an invaluable experience. Yet, your participation should be one in which your full participation is required and expected.