Use your Board Cleverly

Some­ti­mes in small to mid-sized Civil-Socie­ty-Orga­niza­ti­ons (CSOs), my expe­ri­ence is that the Board only nomi­nal­ly exists. A cau­se might be that mem­bers were tal­ked into joi­ning the Board wit­hout real deter­mi­na­ti­on (“some­bo­dy has to do this”). Or sala­ried employees form the Board. The lat­ter may lead to con­flict of inte­rest, sin­ce the Board as gover­ning body should set the stra­te­gic cour­se for the CSO as well as gui­de and con­trol manage­ment, not act as spo­kesper­son for the staff, at least not in the first place.

Good Boards in my expe­ri­ence are made up of com­mi­t­ed (often older) peo­p­le, who bring exper­ti­se as well as expe­ri­ence from a long (work) life. They are loy­al to the organization’s mis­si­on and don’t have to fear loss of inco­me should your CSO go into cri­sis. All this, in the best case, enables the­se peo­p­le to think stra­te­gi­cal­ly and out of the box in the inte­rest of the organization.

No doubt set­ting up your Board will cau­se con­sidera­ble addi­tio­nal work (and hea­da­ches) initi­al­ly: Howe­ver, I sug­gest that you con­sider the fol­lo­wing ques­ti­ons in order to choo­se the right people.

  • Who can give good advice for our work wit­hout pla­cing their own inte­rests first?
  • Who is wil­ling to take on respon­si­bi­li­ty and invest time for a num­ber of years?
  • Who will be an inte­gra­ting fac­tor with respect to Board, staff and manage­ment, crea­ting col­la­bo­ra­ti­on rather than conflict
  • Who has essen­ti­al skills and qua­li­fi­ca­ti­ons that you other­wi­se will have to pay for, e.g. as a lawy­er or MBA?
  • Who can open doors to donors, govern­ment agen­ci­es and other orga­niza­ti­ons that are important for you?
  • Who can gene­ra­te trust and some­ti­mes be the face of the organization?
  • Who will increase diver­si­ty by being able to share expe­ri­en­ces and insights that are other­wi­se lack­ing in your team and organization?
  • Who has the stan­ding and skills to media­te when the­re are con­flicts in the team or bet­ween team and manage­ment? And, if you feel that an ombuds­per­son for staff would be bene­fi­ci­al, who could act as such?