Moses was pretty amazing. He gave up a life of Egyptian royalty to live with Hebrew slaves. He was a terrible public speaker, but championed his people’s freedom, and once earned, he endured 40 years of, “Are we there yet?” But after all Moses did, it was Joshua who led the Hebrews into the land of Israel.
I don't bring up Moses because I’ll use any excuse to put my religious studies degree to work, but because boards are full of Moses. They’re the true-believers we need to get our organization off the ground. The people who are willing to knock on doors, pick up a paint brush, wait all afternoon at the Building Department. While they’re critical for starting an organization, like Moses, they might not be the leaders who bring you into the promised land. As you shift from starting-up to focusing on refinement or replication, your board needs to shift from a management focus -- filling in operational gaps -- to a focus on strategy.
Transforming your board requires an honest look at its members' strategic capacities. Whether you want a smaller group focused on governance or a larger board that helps with community relations and fundraising, most organizations need leaders with the following expertise:
You need a leader -- preferably your board chair -- who knows how effective boards operate. They keep others focused on strategy, push the heavy lifting to committees, and make sure your meetings end on time! They’re also on the constant look-out for new board talent.
Good short and long-term budgets and good analysis of financial reports are critical to squeezing six cents out of every nickel. If you’re working with public funds, there’s even more pressure to get these decisions right.
3. Human Resources
Good HR policies and procedures are key to keeping your organization on the right side of the law and best practices. A good HR leader can also help develop creative strategies for diversifying your staff.
If student recruitment is a priority, your organization needs some professionals to help advise your marketing strategy. If many of your board leaders are from outside the community you serve, it’s also important to have leaders with strong local ties.
Building development capacity requires leaders with experience in fundraising. Not fundraising professionals -- though many make excellent board members -- but community leaders who've helped organizations raise funds as volunteers. They’ll set the tone for your board, help staff develop a strong fundraising strategy, and will be critical to connecting with other philanthropically-minded community leaders.
Transitioning from the “roll-up your sleeves” style management board to the strategic and fundraising board is a delicate process. Hopefully the Moses analogy (and well-timed term-limits) help.
Speaking of Moses, here’s one of my favorite Mel Brooks’ clips.