When adding non-profit directors, the key attributes are finding people who have a passion for the mission, who work well with others in groups, who feel empowered to ask questions and not just go with the flow, who can assist in providing funding either personally or from others, and who are significantly diverse.
An expert panel convened in Boston today by the New England Chapter of the National Association of Corporate Directors noted that robust statistical evidence, in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors, supports the proposition that diverse boards perform better; diversity is not just a moral issue, it is an element of good governance.
What is diversity? It includes but is by no means limited to racial, ethnic and gender diversity. It is an inclusiveness of generational diversity and of representatives of the cohorts which a non-profit entity may serve or with which it interfaces. It includes differences in thought and experience and, sometimes, geography.
What about the pressure to place large donors on boards? It is appropriate if they are otherwise engaged and provided they do not confuse the board function of supervision with attempting to run the organization itself, or with believing they are entitled to great influence based on their personal financial contribution. The panel noted that raising funds on the part of board members who cannot afford to make a fixed contribution is a teachable skill that also cements younger supporters into future leadership.
Onboarding diverse board members is a critical task; one panelist stated that his large non-profit provides in effect a director’s boot camp for new and often diverse board members, and provides an assigned mentor for the first year of service.