Anyone who knows me knows I hate touchy-feely. Basically, I hate cute! Thus, if one more person starts singing the praises of the “Ws” or the “Ts”—or even the “Es,” I will not be responsible for my actions. Playing cute games is simply not the way to approach as serious a subject as whom you bring on to your board.
If by some fluke there are any uninitiated out there, let me explain and then immediately borrow the memory eraser from Men in Black. Some time, long ago, an evil person descended into the midst of the nonprofit sector and spread this wicked thought that has derailed board development across the sector. Honestly, I do not know which came first, the Ts or the Ws, but in the order in which I was exposed, here they are.
If you want to build a good board, follow the three Ts: recruit board members for their Time, Talent and Treasure.
The Ts were joined by the Ws: recruit board members for their Wealth, Wallop, Work, and Wisdom.
And then came the three Es, which, truth be told, are the least harmful of them all: Energy, Expertise and Evangelism.
Now, look into my memory Neuralizer. Blue Flash! You never heard of TWE.
Why do I rail against these so? Simple: they take us down the wrong path, encouraging people to believe that there are quick fixes for finding new board members, that people with treasure and wealth will bestow it all on our organization, that people with clout with use it on our behalf, etc. They have people searching for the celebrity board member; they have people chasing the money instead of the work. (People say to me all of the time, “If we only had people with money on our board, we’d be in great shape.” No one ever says to me, with the same lustful lean in their voice, “If we only had people who would give us their time and really do the work, we’d be in great shape.”)
And, most importantly, where in the Ts and Ws do you see the number one, first and foremost, most important criterion of a good board member: passion? It simply isn’t there. It is implied in the three Es (hence, why I like them the best) through evangelism: most folks aren’t evangelical about things about which they are not passionate.
Unfortunately, while folks are busy being cute, they are diverting much needed energy, effort and good will from doing things the right way. And while doing things the wrong way, they are increasing their frustrations because their Ts, Ws – and yes, even the Es – aren’t helping them to get it right. The truth is, there are no short cuts to finding and recruiting the best board members for this time in your organization’s life cycle. You simply have to do the work.
What is that work? In brief, it is identifying what you really need on the board in terms of demographics, skills and expertise, connections, and personality traits and interpersonal skills in light of your current strategic priorities and organizational lifecycle. It is taking the time to set up a recruiting process that both educates and assess the candidates, identifying documents to share and experiences to offer, looking strategically for the gaps you’ve identified, and being willing to say, “No thank you.”
It takes recognizing that building a board is not a once and done process that operates one month out of 12, but year ‘round, a perpetually functioning operation that is always conversant with current board needs, forever scoping out candidates, constantly building a pipeline through committee service and other options, and is never, ever complacent or uncritical. Work? No question! Worth it? Absolutely!
Granted, there is much art that goes into building a good group that is a board; yet there is much science, too. But there is no room for thinking or behavior that trivializes the process, for that also trivializes the end result as well.
When you truly know and understand the scope and nature of the job that a nonprofit board must do, regardless of where its organization is in its lifecycle, then you know you cannot build it well by following pabulum.