What do you look for in a potential board member? (part two)
Beyond the general traits listed in part one of this topic, what specific value am I seeking when I'm constructing my board?
After making sure all your board members have the universal traits discussed in part one of this topic, you should be looking to compose a board with a mixture of the following “Three M’s of Board Traits.” Very few members will contribute in all three ways, so the key is to construct a balanced lineup.
Every board member should be able to bring at least one of the following kinds of value.
EDs sometimes make the mistake of giving board seats to their biggest donors. The key is not how much a potential board member gives; it’s how much she will ask others to give. Board seats should go to folks who can multiply their impact by broadening your base. A person who is willing to introduce you to 20 new $1,000 donors is far more valuable to someone who will write you a $20,000 check and do no more.
You need subject matter experts on your board. This is to provide not just guidance for your leadership but also to give legitimacy to your organization. For instance, if you work with international refugees but you don’t have a leader of a governmental agency, you’re going to be suspect in the eyes of other big funders.
This is especially important for startups with small staff sizes. You need some roll up the sleeve contribution from the board in some competencies that otherwise would be beyond your reach. Marketing expertise is always valuable. Legal and financial management are also obvious areas to get pro bono help from the board.
When you’re assembling your board, you should be ruthless about making sure every invitee can make a major contribution in at least one of the “3 M’s.” Otherwise, there really isn’t a reason for their presence. A non-contributor exacts an “opportunity cost” in terms of what someone else could have offered in his stead. He also can exert a “culture cost” of dragging down overall board performance as other members start asking, “Why should I be busting my butt when that guy doesn’t do anything?
So don’t sacrifice. Get the board you really need.
For more on the board recruitment process, read this excellent article from Bridgespan.