I am changing my tune! I’ve been wrong all these decades when I’ve been saying that in deciding about board service—and in recruiting individuals for board service—the most important thing is real passion for the mission of the organization. A board member has to truly believe in the goals and means of the organization.
Wrong! If I hear one more executive director say to me, in speaking about her/his board, “They are all such nice people, and they all mean well,” I think I am going to scream. Because I know the next thing I am going to hear, or the litany that I’ve just heard, is that these really nice, well-intentioned people who care deeply about the mission apparently don’t really mean that well or care that much that they will actually do real work! So, what good are they?
So, here is the correct message: forget about passion for the mission, worry only about the ability of prospective candidates to understand the full complement of their responsibilities (which, for the uninitiated, is more than simply attending board meetings once a month or every other month) and deliver. Make sure they have the time, the energy, the mindset to implement that full complement of duties.
I was at a meeting last night of the strategic planning committee of an organization with which I am working, a committee of board members that has worked tirelessly before, during and after the planning retreat to move the plan and their fellow board members forward. The discussion turned to the monitoring process and how the committee was going to ensure that the board, unlike in the past, really followed through with the plan. And a board member said, so matter-of-factly that there wasn’t any other possibility: “We are all professionals in our careers. We know what it means to be a professional. Naturally, we will do the same as board members.” I confess that I laughed out loud. (And those of you who know me know I have a rather deep and heartfelt laugh. Not a laugh that can be missed or overlooked.) Once recovered, I simply said, “On, would that were the case.”
So, individuals seeking board service and boards seeking board members: look for that professional who understands the need to be professional in all that s/he does, and not just that for which s/he is accepting money. Being a board member is a job, albeit a volunteer job.
And as for loving the mission: I give you a line from Fiddler on the Roof: “After 25 years, why talk about love right now?”