During a recent meeting of development professionals one asked, “How do you fire a board member? ” Another answered, “very carefully.” Succession planning encourages new leaders and healthy transitions.
Organizations outline their expectations of board members in job descriptions and annual evaluations. These activities are managed by the Board Chair and Board Development Committee not the Executive Director or CEO.
The organization looks to its governing board for diversity and skills it does not have at the staff level. Diversity does not only refer to race but also age, area of residence, and etc. The board helps to identify these areas as part of an annual evaluation. During the evaluation, members brainstorm candidates that fulfill these gaps and develop a plan to engage these new friends in leadership committees and fundraising events. Creating open seats on the board provides an opportunity for these new friends to step up.
As potential board members explore opportunities to serve, provide them with the job description and board contract. These documents specifically state board members’ role as ambassadors, fundraisers, and financial contributors. Once the board member is ready to join the board his/her contract outlines the specific duties, including board committee(s) he will be on as well as the financial contribution the organization is depending on him to make and how and when it will be made (one lump sum, monthly, etc),. The more tailored the board contract is, the easier it is to implement.
Often organization leaders are scared to ask potential board members for money for fear they will be scared away. Leaders mistakenly feel connections are enough or that once new members join they will automatically give. Financially supporting the organization is a key responsibility of the board. Board members ask each other to financially support the organization and will be disheartened if their fellow board member does not. Non contributing board members will find it next to impossible to make a strong case for someone else to give.
Organization’s are not the only ones looking to gain from adding a new board member. Leaders often engage in board activities for personal as well as community gain. Encourage them to articulate and achieve their goals. Learn financial skills, connect with new people, advocacy training; these are all essential functions. Asking board members to identify their goals makes everyone happy. These goals may change as board members become more involved. Make this part of the annual evaluation.
Use term limits as an opportunity to check in and discuss board members’ roles and next steps. Often there are signs leaders ignore or miss before a board member becomes disengaged and completely burnt out. An annual evaluation and term limits provide opportunities for members to discuss these important issues. Without an annual evaluation discussing these issues can be awkward and strained.
Yes, a board member should leave while he is still engaged and empowered in the mission. Waiting until he is tired or burnt out leads to strained relationships after the transition. Create an advisory body for board members after they compete their term(s). Advisory boards need job descriptions and clear expectations as well.
Board member transitions are a form of departure defined transitions. Sometimes staff transitions are departure defined as well. We will explore these transition in the next post.