I’ve watched many non-profits struggle because they have the wrong people on their boards. Even conscientious organizations with lists of criteria used to carefully recruit qualifying board members usually get it wrong.
Yes, you need diversity. At the very least, that likely means you need to consider race, gender, and age. Depending on your focus, you may need diversity of experience and socio-economic representation as well. If you are a member organization, the diversity of your board must reflect your member base or desired member base.
For example, if you are a Chamber of Commerce, you need Board members from big businesses and little businesses. You need owners and employees. Young and old. You need businesses from main street, down the street, around the corner a bit, as well as from the next town. You need representatives from different types of businesses as well: retail, hospitality, manufacturing, and professional services.
You also need expertise. A lawyer, realtor, and banker might come in handy.
Don’t forget about donors! And people with strong connections to donors!
Oh, and credibility! The reputation of your board members colors the thinking of everyone from bankers to donors to prospective members.
I’m probably forgetting other possible criteria, but matching recruits to this list ought do it, don’t you think?
Unfortunately, no. Because you’ve left out the two most important criteria.
What You Really Need
What you really need, in all of your board members, no matter how many other bases they cover for you, is:
- Strategic thinkers with an
- Abundance mentality
You need strategic thinkers who think big. You need people who can see opportunities and convert them into possibilities. People who can suspend long held beliefs and assumptions long enough to get their minds around real change. People who put more value in a compelling vision than in the difficulties of achieving that vision. Who can start with the future and work backward to find the shortest path. You don’t need people who think exclusively in terms of incremental improvements in the current direction. You don’t need people who believe current obstacles must be removed and ducks must be in a row before its possible to leap ahead. You don’t need people who are so concrete that they can’t stay out of the weeds and get beyond operational details and traditional constraints.
You also need people with an abundance mentality, not a scarcity mentality. Non-profit organizations spend way too much time fussing about money and resources and forgetting that if you create value, the resources and support will follow. People who operate with an abundance mentality are more likely to see possibilities. They are also more likely to take prudent risks. They don’t believe that winning requires someone else to lose; it is not a zero sum game. People with a scarcity mentality are ruled more by fear than opportunity.
Pack your board with a diverse mix of strategic and abundant thinkers. If you need expertise or worker bees or additional diversity or any other traits after you’ve run out of strategic and abundant thinkers, put those people on committees, not on your board. The world is moving fast these days. You don’t need anchors to slow you down and tell you what you can’t accomplish.