By Zach Ingallina
When building a board of directors in a for-profit business, you may tend to focus on investors, experienced chairmen or people who make meetings meaningful, and being significant value. It is not uncommon for board meetings to be dreaded, everyone fears long, drawn-out meetings with members bickering and grabs for power and control. Of course, not all boards suffer this same fate. “Boards are really at their best when they’re providing guidance and leadership and insight at a higher level,” president of the Center for Public Skills Training, Frank Martinelli states.
However, building a board of directors in the non-profit world has some significant differences. These board members are simply volunteers, which can make building a successful board daunting. So, we ask ourselves: how can we fill a board, without simply filling seats? Chris Grundner, a non-profit pioneer, perfectly aligns this question with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Often placed in a triangle, with our most fundamental human needs at the base, it begins with physiological needs like food and water. It’s followed by safety, social needs, esteem and finally self-actualization.
The parallel Grundner creates in the non-profit world starts with passion at its base. He explains passion is essential for board members to have but it isn’t everything; things like showing up and financial contributions form a good basis for how a board should be built but it’s not enough to bring your non-profit to the pinnacle of success. To build on the base of passion, Grundner’s next criteria is standards and best practices, things like understanding their role and their legal responsibilities and to build on that adding job descriptions and term limits for your members. If you make exceptions for your board, the team and the mission will suffer as a result. When moving forward, the next step would be to establish a diversity of skill sets to hear all perspectives. As we encroach the peak of the triangle, planning for future board generations becomes crucial to success in order to not lose momentum during turnover.
To sum this analogy up, Grundner uses three points: always raise the bar, hold the organization and its members responsible, and be all in for your organizations. Non-profits are the essence of social action and share the common mission of improving quality of life. We, as a society need them, so finding people that can help fill these needs is of great importance.