Over decades of service on nonprofit boards, I have interfaced with board colleagues who possess a variety of performance styles and behaviors. Certain of these types seem to be common to all boards. My comments below are based on adaptations of a director classification system suggested by David Frankel, Partner of Founder Collection.
The Eager Beaver
This board member (30s to early 40s) has probably been successful as an entrepreneur or is, perhaps, rapidly rising through middle management in a larger organization. He/she wants to “get things done”. His/her impatience with the typically slow nonprofit rate of progress can be channeled and directed by the CEO or Board Chair. Discouraged by lack of action, this director may quietly exit the board on the pretext that work pressures have increased. On the other hand, if properly nurtured, this category can offer substantial leadership contributions.
The Checked-Out Check Writer
Serving on a nonprofit board has likely become a family or company tradition for some directors. (Some local nonprofits are now about 100 years old or older and have had family ties for a century.) Regardless of the person’s dedication to the mission, nonprofit board service becomes part of this director’s DNA. Often they develop into respected leaders and can be conduits to modest or substantial donations. In addition, they have access to interpersonal networks that are useful in recruiting other able board members. This cohort should be valued and their contributions acknowledged.
The Vanilla Director
This is a director who attends meetings regularly, occasionally makes an interesting comment. He/she is dedicated to the mission of the organization and can make substantial financial or other contributions. One such director I observed, volunteered to assist the staff with a difficult field problem. According to Frankel, these directors are “less critical and offer encouragement…. ” However, like many other nonprofit board members, across behavioral types, avoid rigorous discussions at board meetings. If a substantial conflict appears between factions of the board on a major issue, they may resign instead of taking an unpopular stand.
The Nonprofit Entrepreneur
This is a director who has a substantial understanding of the nonprofit sector. He/s has served on other nonprofit boards and is dedicated to the nonprofit’s mission. He/s has a desire to help move the nonprofit to its next level of service to clients. He/s often brings bold or different perspectives to the board and management. She/h knows that to achieve growth and improve client services, it is necessary to “sell” ideas to other board members, as well as the CEO. It’s important that the nonprofit entrepreneur and CEO are on the same page in terms of the organization’s future and potential to serve clients. If not, the CEO, unfortunately, may view the entrepreneur with his/h “fast track” style as a disrupter.
Nonprofit boards tend to focus on the unique set of traditional skills and work experience they bring to the table (doctors, professors, information tech, marketing, accountants, etc.) A closer look at the board suggests another layer of classification i.e. individual styles, motivation, and behaviors. Herein is the challenge and opportunity to develop meaningful board experiences for each individual who has said “yes” to the call to service.